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General information

Geography - People - GovernmentEconomy - BusinessTransportation - Communications - Defense Forces


Location: Middle East, bordering the Mediterranean Sea, between Lebanon and Turkey

Map references: Middle East

total area: 185,180 sq km
land area: 184,050 sq km
comparative area: slightly larger than North Dakota
note: includes 1,295 sq km of Israeli-occupied territory

Land boundaries: total 2,253 km, Iraq 605 km, Israel 76 km, Jordan 375 km, Lebanon 375 km, Turkey 822 km

Coastline: 193 km

Maritime claims:
contiguous zone: 41 nm
territorial sea: 35 nm

International disputes: separated from Israel by the 1949 Armistice Line; Golan Heights is Israeli occupied; Hatay question with Turkey; ongoing dispute over water development plans by Turkey for the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers; Syrian troops in northern Lebanon since October 1976

Climate: mostly desert; hot, dry, sunny summers (June to August) and mild, rainy winters (December to February) along coast; cold weather with snow or sleet periodically hits Damascus

Terrain: primarily semiarid and desert plateau; narrow coastal plain; mountains in west

Natural resources: petroleum, phosphates, chrome and manganese ores, asphalt, iron ore, rock salt, marble, gypsum

Land use:
arable land: 28%
permanent crops: 3%
meadows and pastures: 46%
forest and woodland: 3%
other: 20%

Irrigated land: 10,000 sq km (1992)

Environment current issues:

deforestation; overgrazing; soil erosion; desertification; water pollution from dumping of raw sewage and wastes from petroleum refining; inadequate supplies of potable water
natural hazards: dust storms, sandstorms
Environment International  issues:

party to - Hazardous Wastes, Nuclear Test Ban, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution; signed, but not ratified - Biodiversity, Desertification, Environmental Modification

Note: there are 42 Jewish settlements and civilian land use sites in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights (August 1994 est.)


Population: 17,213,871 (July 1999 est.)

note: in addition, there are about 37,200 people living in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights—18,200 Arabs (16,500 Druze and 1,700 Alawites) and about 19,000 Israeli settlers (August 1998 est.)

Largest cities: Aleppo, 1,591,400; Homs, 644,204; Latakia, 306,535; Hama, 229,000

Age structure:

  • 0-14 years: 46% (male 4,032,620; female 3,840,431)
  • 15-64 years: 51% (male 4,515,274; female 4,322,415)
  • 65 years and over: 3% (male 246,812; female 256,319) (1999 est.)

Population growth rate: 3.15% (1999 est.)

Birth rate: 36.95 births/1,000 population (1999 est.)

Death rate: 5.4 deaths/1,000 population (1999 est.)

Net migration rate: 0 migrant(s)/1,000 population (1999 est.)

Infant mortality rate: 36.42 deaths/1,000 live births (1999 est.)

Sex ratio:

  • at birth: 1.05 male(s)/female
  • under 15 years: 1.05 male(s)/female
  • 15-64 years: 1.04 male(s)/female
  • 65 years and over: 0.96 male(s)/female
  • total population: 1.04 male(s)/female (1999 est.)

Life expectancy at birth:
total population: 66.9 years
male: 66.75 years
female: 69.48 years (1999 est.)

Total fertility rate: 5.37 children born/woman (1999 est.)

noun: Syrian(s)
adjective: Syrian

Ethnic divisions: Arab 90.3%, Kurds, Armenians, and other 9.7%

Religions: Sunni Muslim 74%, Alawite, Druze, and other Muslim sects 16%, Christian (various sects) 10%, Jewish (tiny communities in Damascus, Al Qamishli, and Aleppo)

Ethnicity/race: Arab 90.3%, Kurds, Armenians, and other 9.7%

Languages: Arabic (official), Kurdish, Armenian, Aramaic, Circassian, French widely understood


  • definition: age 15 and over can read and write
  • total population: 70.8%
  • male: 85.7%
  • female: 55.8% (1997 est.)

Labor force: 4.3 million (1994 est.)
by occupation: miscellaneous and government services 36%, agriculture 32%, industry and construction 32%; note - shortage of skilled labor (1984)


conventional long form: Syrian Arab Republic
conventional short form: Syria
local long form: Al Jumhuriyah al Arabiyah as Suriyah
local short form: Suriyah
former: United Arab Republic (with Egypt)

Symbol: SY

Type: republic under leftwing military regime since March 1963

Capital: Damascus

Administrative divisions: 14 provinces (muhafazat, singular - muhafazat); Al Hasakah, Al Ladhiqiyah, Al Qunaytirah, Ar Raqqah, As Suwayda', Dar'a, Dayr az Zawr, Dimashq, Halab, Hamah, Hims, Idlib, Rif Dimashq, Tartus

Independence: 17 April 1946 (from League of Nations mandate under French administration)

National holiday: National Day, 17 April (1946)

Constitution: 13 March 1973

Legal system: based on Islamic law and civil law system; special religious courts; has not accepted compulsory ICJ jurisdiction

Suffrage: 18 years of age; universal

Executive branch:
chief of state: President Hafiz al-ASAD (since 22 February 1971 see note); Vice Presidents 'Abd al-Halim ibn Said KHADDAM, Rif'at al-ASAD, and Muhammad Zuhayr MASHARIQA (since 11 March 1984); election last held 2 December 1991 (next to be held NA December 1998); results - President Hafiz al-ASAD was reelected for a fourth seven-year term with 99.98% of the vote; note - President ASAD seized power in the November 1970 coup, assumed presidential powers 22 February 1971, and was confirmed as president in the 12 March 1971 national elections
head of government: Prime Minister Mahmud ZU'BI (since 1 November 1987); Deputy Prime Minister Lt. Gen. Mustafa TALAS (since 11 March 1984); Deputy Prime Minister Salim YASIN (since NA December 1981); Deputy Prime Minister Rashid AKHTARINI (since 4 July 1992)
cabinet: Council of Ministers; appointed by the president

Legislative branch: unicameral
People's Council (Majlis al-Chaab): elections last held 24-25 August 1994 (next to be held NA); results - percent of vote by party NA; seats - (250 total) National Progressive Front 167, independents 83

Judicial branch: Supreme Constitutional Court, High Judicial Council, Court of Cassation, State Security Courts

Political parties and leaders:
National Progressive Front includes: the ruling Arab Socialist Resurrectionist (Ba'th) Party, Hafiz al-ASAD, President of the Republic, Secretary General of the party, and Chairman of the National Progressive Front; Syrian Arab Socialist Party (ASP), 'Abd al-Ghani KANNUT; Arab Socialist Union (ASU), Jamal ATASSI; Syrian Communist Party (SCP), Khalid BAKDASH; Arab Socialist Unionist Movement, Sami SOUFAN; and Democratic Socialist Union Party, leader NA

Political pressure groups: non-Ba'th parties have little effective political influence; Communist party ineffective; conservative religious leaders; Muslim Brotherhood


Diplomatic representation in US:
chief of mission: Ambassador Walid MUALEM
chancery: 2215 Wyoming Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008
telephone: [1] (202) 232-6313
FAX: [1] (202) 234-9548

US diplomatic representation:
chief of mission: Ambassador Christopher W. S. ROSS
embassy: Abou Roumaneh, Al-Mansur Street No. 2, Damascus
mailing address: P. O. Box 29, Damascus
telephone: [963] (11) 333-2814, 714-108, 333-3788
FAX: [963] (11) 224-7938

Flag Description: three equal horizontal bands of red (top), white, and black with two small green five-pointed stars in a horizontal line centered in the white band; similar to the flag of Yemen, which has a plain white band and of Iraq, which has three green stars (plus an Arabic inscription) in a horizontal line centered in the white band; also similar to the flag of Egypt, which has a symbolic eagle centered in the white band


Overview: In 1990-93 Syria's state-dominated Ba'thist economy benefited from the Gulf war, increased oil production, good weather, and economic deregulation. Economic growth averaged roughly 10%. The Gulf war provided Syria an aid windfall of nearly $5 billion dollars from Arab, European, and Japanese donors. However, the benefits of the 1990-93 boom were not evenly distributed and the gap between rich and poor is widening. A nationwide financial scandal and increasing inflation were accompanied by a decline in GDP growth to 4% in 1994. For the long run, Syria's economy is still saddled with a large number of poorly performing public sector firms, and industrial productivity remains to be improved. Oil production is likely to fall off dramatically by the end of the decade. Unemployment will become a problem for the government when the more than 60% of the population under the age of 20 enter the labor force.

The main components of the Syrian economy are agriculture and oil. In the agricultural sector, which employs one-third of the working population, cotton is the main commodity as well as a key export. Wheat, barley, fruit and vegetables are the other main products, the bulk of which are grown for domestic consumption. With little manufacturing industry beyond that established to meet local demand, the Syrian economy has survived only by virtue of its oil reserves, which contribute two-thirds of export earnings. The Gulf War was a mixed blessing. Like all Iraq's neighbours, Syria's trade suffered but, by joining the US-led coalition, Damascus benefited from aid packages from the West and the Gulf states. Upheaval in the Soviet Union has caused some difficulties, since Syria was historically a major trading partner and a recipient of much Soviet heavy machinery, particularly armaments, but economic reforms, including the removal of restrictions on the private sector and promotion of a market economy have compensated for any negative effects and the Syrian economy has shown small but steady growth during the 1990s. Further economic progress depends significantly on reform of the top-heavy state sector. The long-term economic issue most worrying the Syrians is water supplies, although these have been guaranteed in the short-term by the treaty with Turkey. Germany, Iran and Italy are the country's main trading partners. Trade with Britain declined to near zero after the diplomatic breach in 1986, but has since increased.

Monetary unit: Syrian pound

National product: GDP - purchasing power parity—$41.7 billion (1998 est.)

National product real growth rate: 2% (1998 est.)

National product per capita: purchasing power parity—$2,500 (1998 est.)

GDP—composition by sector:  agriculture: 26% , industry: 21% , services: 53% (1997)

Inflation rate (consumer prices): 15%-20% (1997 est.)

Population below poverty line: 15%-25%

Unemployment rate: 12%-15% (1998 est.)

Labor force: 4.7 million (1998 est.)

Labor force—by occupation: services 40%, agriculture 40%, industry 20% (1996 est.)

Household income or consumption by percentage share:   lowest 10%: NA% ,  highest 10%: NA%

Budget: revenues: $3.5 billion

expenditures: $4.2 billion, including capital expenditures of $NA (1997 est.)

Exports: $3.6 billion (f.o.b., 1994 est.)
commodities: petroleum 53%, textiles 22%, cotton, fruits and vegetables, wheat, barley, chickens
partners: EC 48%, former CEMA countries 24%, Arab countries 18% (1991)

Imports: $4 billion (c.i.f., 1994 est.)
commodities: foodstuffs 21%, metal products 17%, machinery 15%
partners: EC 37%, former CEMA countries 15%, US and Canada 10% (1991)

External debt: $19.4 billion (1993 est.)

Industrial production: 0.2% (1996 est.)

capacity: 4,160,000 kW
production: 19.3 billion kWh (1996)
consumption per capita: 19.3 billion kWh (1996)

Electricity—production by source:

  • fossil fuel: 63.73%
  • hydro: 36.27%
  • nuclear: 0%
  • other: 0% (1996)

Industries: petroleum, textiles, food processing, beverages, tobacco, phosphate rock mining

Exports: $4.2 billion (f.o.b., 1998 est.)

Exports—commodities: petroleum 65%, textiles 16%, food and live animals 13%, manufactures 6% (1997 est.)

Exports—partners: Italy 18%, Germany 13%, France 12%, Turkey 10%, Lebanon 7%, Spain 6% (1997 est.)

Imports: $5.7 billion (c.i.f., 1997)

Imports—commodities: machinery and equipment 40%, foodstuffs/animals 15%, metal and metal products 15%, textiles 10%, chemicals 10%, consumer goods 5% (1997 est.)

Imports—partners: Ukraine 14%, Italy 7%, Germany 6%, Turkey 5%, France 4%, South Korea 4%, Japan 4%, US 3% (1997 est.)

Debt—external: $22 billion (1998 est.)

Agriculture: accounts for 30% of GDP and one-third of labor force; all major crops (wheat, barley, cotton, lentils, chickpeas) grown mainly on rain-watered land causing wide swings in production; animal products - beef, lamb, eggs, poultry, milk; not self-sufficient in grain or livestock products

Illicit drugs: a transit country for Lebanese and Turkish refined cocaine going to Europe and heroin and hashish bound for regional and Western markets

Economic aid:
recipient: no US aid; $327.3 million (1995)

Currency: 1 Syrian pound (#S) = 100 piastres

Exchange rates: Syrian pounds (#S) per US$1 - 11.2 (official fixed rate), 26.6 (blended rate used by the UN and diplomatic missions), 42.0 (neighboring country rate - applies to most state enterprise imports), 46.0 - 53.0 (offshore rate) (yearend 1993)

Fiscal year: calendar year


Formal suits are necessary for business. Business people generally speak English and French. Appointments are necessary and visiting cards are widely used. Arabs often discuss business with more than one person at a time. A list of notarised translators is available from the British Embassy. Office hours: 0830-1430 Saturday to Thursday. All government offices, banks and Muslim firms close Friday and remain open Sunday; Christian firms are generally open Friday and closed Sunday. During the month of Ramadan, Government offices start work one hour later than usual.


total: 1,998 km
broad gauge: 1,766 km 1.435-m gauge
narrow gauge: 232 km 1.050-m gauge

total: 31,569 km
paved: 24,308 km (including 670 km of expressways)
unpaved: 7,261 km

Waterways: 870 km; minimal economic importance

Pipelines: crude oil 1,304 km; petroleum products 515 km

Ports: Baniyas, Jablah, Latakia, Tartus

Merchant marine:
total: 80 ships (1,000 GRT or over) totaling 233,701 GRT/364,714 DWT
ships by type: bulk 10, cargo 68, vehicle carrier 2

total: 107
with paved runways over 3,047 m: 5
with paved runways 2,438 to 3,047 m: 16
with paved runways 914 to 1,523 m: 1
with paved runways under 914 m: 67
with unpaved runways 1,524 to 2,438 m: 3
with unpaved runways 914 to 1,523 m: 15


Telephones: 541,465 (1992 est.)

Telephone system: 512,600 telephones; 37 telephones/1,000 persons; fair system currently undergoing significant improvement and digital upgrades, including fiber optic technology
local: NA
intercity: coaxial cable and microwave radio relay network
international: 1 INTELSAT (Indian Ocean) and 1 Intersputnik earth station; 1 submarine cable; coaxial cable and microwave radio relay to Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey

Radio: 3.392 million (1992 est.)

Radio broadcast stations: AM 9, FM 1, shortwave 0

Television: 700,000 (1993 est.)

Television broadcast stations: 17
televisions: NA

Defense Forces

Branches: Syrian Arab Army, Syrian Arab Navy, Syrian Arab Air Force, Syrian Arab Air Defense Forces, Police and Security Force

Manpower availability: males age 15-49 3,440,030; males fit for military service 1,927,930; males reach military age (19) annually 159,942 (1995 est.)

Defense expenditures: exchange rate conversion - $2.2 billion, 6% of GDP (1992)

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