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Syria Index


A University of Damascus building on the old campus
Courtesy Susan Carter


A technical training school laboratory
Courtesy Embassy of Syria

Since 1967 all Syrian schools, colleges, and universities have been under close government supervision. The Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Higher Education are primarily responsible for all aspects of administration, including curricula development.

Schooling is divided into 6 years of compulsory primary education, 3 years of lower secondary education, and 3 years of upper secondary education. General secondary education offers academic courses and prepares students for university entrance; the last 2 years of this stage are divided into literary and scientific streams. Vocational secondary training offers courses in industry, agriculture, commerce, and primary school-teacher training. The usual entrance age for secondary schooling is 15 but is 14 for teacher training institutions. This system was established in 1967, when the country signed the Arab Cultural Unity Agreement with Jordan and Egypt, introducing a uniform school ladder in the three countries and determining curricula examination procedures and teacher training requirements for each level.

In the mid-1980s, Syrian education policies reflected the official intention of the Baath Party to use the schools to indoctrinate the masses with its ideology and to make school training responsive to the nation's manpower needs (see Political Dynamics , ch. 4 ). The Fourth Five-Year Development Plan (1976- 80) established a target of full enrollment of boys of primary school age by 1980 and of girls by 1990. By the early 1980s, Syria had achieved full primary school enrollment of males of the relevant age; the comparable figure for females was about 85 percent. Enrollment in secondary school dropped to 67 percent for boys, and 35 percent for girls, reflecting a high drop-out rate. Enrollments in remote rural areas were frequently far below the national average. In some villages of Dayr az Zawr Province, for example, only about 8 percent of the girls attended primary school, whereas in Damascus about 49 percent of the girls completed the 6-year primary system.

The demand for education has increased sharply. Between 1970 and 1976, enrollment in the primary, lower secondary, and upper secondary levels increased by 43 percent, 52 percent and 65 percent, respectively. During the same period, enrollments in the various institutes of higher learning increased by over 66 percent. In 1984, 1 million boys and 818,000 girls attended primary schools, which numbered 8,489. Nearly 1,600 secondary schools enrolled over 700,000 pupils.

The Ministry of Higher Education in 1984 supervised four universities, one each in Damascus, Aleppo, Latakia, and Homs. The University of Damascus, founded in 1923, had faculties of law, medicine, pharmacology, letters, dentistry, Islamic jurisprudence, agriculture architecture, engineering, science, fine arts, commerce, and education. The Higher Institute for Social Work, established in 1962 to conduct research into social and economic problems, also was affiliated with the university. Syria's ruling Baath Party operated an institute of political science at the university which conducted mandatory classes in political orientation and current Syrian history. The University of Aleppo, opened in 1958, had faculties of engineering and sciences, agriculture, and literature. Tishrin University in Latakia had a similar curriculum. Al Baath University in Homs, opened in 1979, was Syria's only university with departments of petroleum engineering and veterinary medicine.

In the 1980s, the Syrian government was attempting to expand enrollment in its university faculties of science. In 1984, Syrian universities graduated 948 medical doctors and 1,693 engineers. However, over 3,100 students graduated from the faculties of arts and literature.

A second major thrust of Syrian educational planning was eliminating illiteracy. In 1981, an estimated 2 million Syrians-- 42 percent of the population over 12 years of age--were illiterate. In accordance with the government's drive to eliminate illiteracy by 1991, in 1984 approximately 57,000 Syrians attended literacy classes sponsored by the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor.

Public demand for education has remained strong, reflecting the importance of education as a channel of upward mobility. The government has continued to expect the system to provide trained citizens to meet the economic and political needs of the society. In the mid-1980s, however, the educational system was still inadequately funded, and, even within its funding restrictions, was viewed by impartial observers as failing to achieve its limited objectives and goals.

In the Syrian education system of the mid-1980s, the concept of examining a "truth" in an effort to confirm or refute it was largely unknown, and, in any event, was often viewed as an unacceptable challenge to authority. If the teacher's instructions and assertions are questioned and refuted, other centers of authority--the family and the government--might then be asked to submit their truths to objective examination and testing. Because research possesses limited intrinsic value, the inadequate research and laboratory facilities were infrequently used.

In 1977 one observer stated that although the Syrian government has been seeking to improve the situation, the task was formidable because of the "many shortcomings and defects" in the educational system and because the society and government have been unable to agree on a modernizing, energizing social role for the system. This assessment was largely valid in the mid-1980s.

Data as of April 1987

BackgroundFollowing World War I, France acquired a mandate over the northern portion of the former Ottoman Empire province of Syria. The French administered the area as Syria until granting it independence in 1946. The new country lacked political stability, however, and experienced a series of military coups during its first decades. Syria united with Egypt in February 1958 to form the United Arab Republic. In September 1961, the two entities separated, and the Syrian Arab Republic was reestablished. In November 1970, Hafiz al-ASAD, a member of the Socialist Ba'th Party and the minority Alawite sect, seized power in a bloodless coup and brought political stability to the country. In the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, Syria lost the Golan Heights to Israel. During the 1990s, Syria and Israel held occasional peace talks over its return. Following the death of President al-ASAD, his son, Bashar al-ASAD, was approved as president by popular referendum in July 2000. Syrian troops - stationed in Lebanon since 1976 in an ostensible peacekeeping role - were withdrawn in April 2005. During the July-August 2006 conflict between Israel and Hizballah, Syria placed its military forces on alert but did not intervene directly on behalf of its ally Hizballah. In May 2007 Bashar al-ASAD was elected to his second term as President.
LocationMiddle East, bordering the Mediterranean Sea, between Lebanon and Turkey
Area(sq km)total: 185,180 sq km
land: 183,630 sq km
water: 1,550 sq km
note: includes 1,295 sq km of Israeli-occupied territory
Geographic coordinates35 00 N, 38 00 E
Land boundaries(km)total: 2,253 km
border countries: Iraq 605 km, Israel 76 km, Jordan 375 km, Lebanon 375 km, Turkey 822 km

Coastline(km)193 km

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

Elevation extremes(m)lowest point: unnamed location near Lake Tiberias -200 m
highest point: Mount Hermon 2,814 m
Natural resourcespetroleum, phosphates, chrome and manganese ores, asphalt, iron ore, rock salt, marble, gypsum, hydropower
Land use(%)arable land: 24.8%
permanent crops: 4.47%
other: 70.73% (2005)

Irrigated land(sq km)13,330 sq km (2003)
Total renewable water resources(cu km)46.1 cu km (1997)
Freshwater withdrawal (domestic/industrial/agricultural)total: 19.95 cu km/yr (3%/2%/95%)
per capita: 1,048 cu m/yr (2000)
Natural hazardsdust storms, sandstorms
Environment - current issuesdeforestation; overgrazing; soil erosion; desertification; water pollution from raw sewage and petroleum refining wastes; inadequate potable water
Environment - international agreementsparty to: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Wetlands
signed, but not ratified: Environmental Modification
Geography - notethere are 42 Israeli settlements and civilian land use sites in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights (August 2005 est.)
note: in addition, about 40,000 people live in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights - 20,000 Arabs (18,000 Druze and 2,000 Alawites) and about 20,000 Israeli settlers (July 2009 est.)
Age structure(%)0-14 years: 35.9% (male 3,724,770/female 3,510,182)
15-64 years: 60.8% (male 6,285,866/female 5,980,029)
65 years and over: 3.4% (male 318,646/female 358,992) (2009 est.)
Median age(years)total: 21.7 years
male: 21.6 years
female: 21.9 years (2009 est.)
Population growth rate(%)2.129% (2009 est.)
Birth rate(births/1,000 population)25.9 births/1,000 population (2009 est.)
Death rate(deaths/1,000 population)4.61 deaths/1,000 population (July 2009 est.)

Net migration rate(migrant(s)/1,000 population)NA (2009 est.)
Urbanization(%)urban population: 54% of total population (2008)
rate of urbanization: 3.1% annual rate of change (2005-10 est.)
Sex ratio(male(s)/female)at birth: 1.06 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.06 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 1.05 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.89 male(s)/female
total population: 1.05 male(s)/female (2009 est.)
Infant mortality rate(deaths/1,000 live births)total: 25.87 deaths/1,000 live births
male: 26.13 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 25.59 deaths/1,000 live births (2009 est.)

Life expectancy at birth(years)total population: 71.19 years
male: 69.8 years
female: 72.68 years (2009 est.)

Total fertility rate(children born/woman)3.12 children born/woman (2009 est.)
Nationalitynoun: Syrian(s)
adjective: Syrian
Ethnic groups(%)Arab 90.3%, Kurds, Armenians, and other 9.7%

Religions(%)Sunni Muslim 74%, other Muslim (includes Alawite, Druze) 16%, Christian (various denominations) 10%, Jewish (tiny communities in Damascus, Al Qamishli, and Aleppo)
Languages(%)Arabic (official); Kurdish, Armenian, Aramaic, Circassian widely understood; French, English somewhat understood

Country nameconventional 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)
Government typerepublic under an authoritarian military-dominated regime
Capitalname: Damascus
geographic coordinates: 33 30 N, 36 18 E
time difference: UTC+2 (7 hours ahead of Washington, DC during Standard Time)
daylight saving time: +1hr, begins 1 April; ends 30 September
Administrative divisions14 provinces (muhafazat, singular - muhafazah); Al Hasakah, Al Ladhiqiyah (Latakia), Al Qunaytirah, Ar Raqqah, As Suwayda', Dar'a, Dayr az Zawr, Dimashq, Halab, Hamah, Hims, Idlib, Rif Dimashq (Damascus), Tartus

Legal systembased on a combination of French and Ottoman civil law; Islamic law is used in the family court system; has not accepted compulsory ICJ jurisdiction

Suffrage18 years of age; universal
Executive branchchief of state: President Bashar al-ASAD (since 17 July 2000); Vice President Farouk al-SHARA (since 11 February 2006) oversees foreign policy; Vice President Najah al-ATTAR (since 23 March 2006) oversees cultural policy
head of government: Prime Minister Muhammad Naji al-UTRI (since 10 September 2003); Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs Abdallah al-DARDARI (since 14 June 2005)
cabinet: Council of Ministers appointed by the president
elections: president approved by popular referendum for a second seven-year term (no term limits); referendum last held on 27 May 2007 (next to be held in May 2014); the president appoints the vice presidents, prime minister, and deputy prime ministers
election results: Bashar al-ASAD approved as president; percent of vote - Bashar al-ASAD 97.6%

Legislative branchunicameral People's Council or Majlis al-Shaab (250 seats; members elected by popular vote to serve four-year terms)
elections: last held on 22-23 April 2007 (next to be held in 2011)
election results: percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - NPF 172, independents 78

Judicial branchSupreme Judicial Council (appoints and dismisses judges; headed by the president); national level - Supreme Constitutional Court (adjudicates electoral disputes and rules on constitutionality of laws and decrees; justices appointed for four-year terms by the president); Court of Cassation; Appeals Courts (Appeals Courts represent an intermediate level between the Court of Cassation and local level courts); local level - Magistrate Courts; Courts of First Instance; Juvenile Courts; Customs Courts; specialized courts - Economic Security Courts (hear cases related to economic crimes); Supreme State Security Court (hear cases related to national security); Personal Status Courts (religious; hear cases related to marriage and divorce)

Political pressure groups and leadersDamascus Declaration National Council [Riyad SEIF, secretary general] (a broad alliance of opposition groups and individuals including: Committee for Revival of Civil Society [Michel KILO, Riyad SEIF]; Communist Action Party [Fateh JAMOUS]; Kurdish Democratic Alliance; Kurdish Democratic Front; Liberal Nationalists' Movement; National Democratic Rally; and Syrian Human Rights Society or HRAS [Fawed FAWUZ]); National Salvation Front (alliance between former Vice President Abd al-Halim KHADDAM, the SMB, and other small opposition groups); Syrian Muslim Brotherhood or SMB [Sadr al-Din al-BAYANUNI] (operates in exile in London; endorsed the Damascus Declaration, but is not an official member)
Flag descriptionthree equal horizontal bands of red (top), white, and black, colors associated with the Arab Liberation flag; two small, green, five-pointed stars in a horizontal line centered in the white band; former flag of the United Arab Republic where the two stars represented the constituent states of Syria and Egypt; similar to the flag of Yemen, which has a plain white band, Iraq, which has an Arabic inscription centered in the white band, and that of Egypt, which has a gold Eagle of Saladin centered in the white band; the current design dates to 1980

Economy - overviewSyrian economic growth slowed in 2009 to 2.2% in real terms as the global economic crisis affected oil prices and the economies of Syria's key export partners and sources of investment. Damascus has implemented modest economic reforms in the past few years, including cutting lending interest rates, opening private banks, consolidating all of the multiple exchange rates, raising prices on some subsidized items, most notably gasoline and cement, and establishing the Damascus Stock Exchange - which is set to begin operations in 2009. In addition, President ASAD signed legislative decrees to encourage corporate ownership reform, and to allow the Central Bank to issue Treasury bills and bonds for government debt. Nevertheless, the economy remains highly controlled by the government. Long-run economic constraints include declining oil production, high unemployment and inflation, rising budget deficits, and increasing pressure on water supplies caused by heavy use in agriculture, rapid population growth, industrial expansion, and water pollution.
GDP (purchasing power parity)$99.06 billion (2008 est.)
$94.26 billion (2007 est.)
$88.65 billion (2006 est.)
note: data are in 2008 US dollars
GDP (official exchange rate)$55.02 billion (2008 est.)
GDP - real growth rate(%)5.1% (2008 est.)
6.3% (2007 est.)
5.2% (2006 est.)
GDP - per capita (PPP)$4,600 (2008 est.)
$4,600 (2007 est.)
$4,600 (2006 est.)
note: data are in 2008 US dollars
GDP - composition by sector(%)agriculture: 18.5%
industry: 26.9%
services: 54.6% (2008 est.)
Labor force5.593 million (2008 est.)

Labor force - by occupation(%)agriculture: 19.2%
industry: 14.5%
services: 66.3% (2006 est.)
Unemployment rate(%)8.6% (2008 est.)
9% (2007 est.)
Population below poverty line(%)11.9% (2006 est.)
Household income or consumption by percentage share(%)lowest 10%: NA%
highest 10%: NA%
Investment (gross fixed)(% of GDP)21.7% of GDP (2008 est.)
Budgetrevenues: $11.23 billion
expenditures: $12.85 billion (2008 est.)
Inflation rate (consumer prices)(%)15.7% (2008 est.)
12.2% (2007 est.)

Stock of money$73.54 billion (31 December 2008)
$15.21 billion (31 December 2007)
Stock of quasi money$73.93 billion (31 December 2008)
$12.29 billion (31 December 2007)
Stock of domestic credit$84.31 billion (31 December 2008)
$15.19 billion (31 December 2007)
Market value of publicly traded shares$NA
Economic aid - recipient$213 million (2008 est.)

Public debt(% of GDP)25.4% of GDP (2008 est.)
32% of GDP (2004 est.)
Agriculture - productswheat, barley, cotton, lentils, chickpeas, olives, sugar beets; beef, mutton, eggs, poultry, milk
Industriespetroleum, textiles, food processing, beverages, tobacco, phosphate rock mining, cement, oil seeds crushing, car assembly

Industrial production growth rate(%)2.3% (2008 est.)

Current account balance-$791 million (2008 est.)
$402 million (2007 est.)
Exports$13.97 billion (2008 est.)
$11.75 billion (2007 est.)

Exports - commodities(%)crude oil, minerals, petroleum products, fruits and vegetables, cotton fiber, textiles, clothing, meat and live animals, wheat
Exports - partners(%)Iraq 30.9%, Germany 9.8%, Lebanon 9.7%, Italy 6.4%, France 5.5%, Egypt 5.4%, Saudi Arabia 5.1% (2008)
Imports$15.97 billion (2008 est.)
$12.27 billion (2007 est.)

Imports - commodities(%)machinery and transport equipment, electric power machinery, food and livestock, metal and metal products, chemicals and chemical products, plastics, yarn, paper
Imports - partners(%)Saudi Arabia 11.7%, China 8.7%, Russia 6.4%, Italy 5.9%, Egypt 5.8%, UAE 5.8%, Turkey 4.3%, Iran 4.2% (2008)

Reserves of foreign exchange and gold$6.765 billion (31 December 2008 est.)
$6.507 billion (31 December 2007 est.)
Debt - external$7.167 billion (31 December 2008 est.)
$6.633 billion (31 December 2007 est.)

Exchange ratesSyrian pounds (SYP) per US dollar - 46.5281 (2008 est.), 50.0085 (2007), 51.689 (2006), 50 (2005), 48.5 (2004)
note: data for 2004-06 are the public sector rate; data for 2002-03 are the parallel market rate in 'Amman and Beirut; the official rate for repaying loans was 11.25 Syrian pounds per US dollars during 2004-06,

Currency (code)Syrian pound (SYP)

Telephones - main lines in use3.633 million (2008)
Telephones - mobile cellular7.056 million (2008)
Telephone systemgeneral assessment: fair system currently undergoing significant improvement and digital upgrades, including fiber-optic technology
domestic: the number of fixed-line connections has increased markedly since 2000; mobile-cellular service growing with telephone subscribership reaching 40 per 100 persons in 2008;
international: country code - 963; submarine cable connection to Egypt, Lebanon, and Cyprus; satellite earth stations - 1 Intelsat (Indian Ocean) and 1 Intersputnik (Atlantic Ocean region); coaxial cable and microwave radio relay to Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey; participant in Medarabtel
Internet country code.sy
Internet users3.565 million (2008)
Airports104 (2009)
Pipelines(km)gas 2,900 km; oil 2,000 km (2008)
Roadways(km)total: 97,401 km
paved: 19,490 km (includes 1,103 km of expressways)
unpaved: 77,911 km (2006)

Ports and terminalsLatakia, Tartus
Military branchesSyrian Armed Forces: Syrian Arab Army, Syrian Arab Navy, Syrian Arab Air and Air Defense Forces (includes Air Defense Command) (2008)
Military service age and obligation(years of age)18 years of age for compulsory military service; conscript service obligation - 30 months (18 months in the Syrian Arab Navy); women are not conscripted but may volunteer to serve (2004)
Manpower available for military servicemales age 16-49: 5,251,875
females age 16-49: 4,966,367 (2008 est.)
Manpower fit for military servicemales age 16-49: 4,360,934
females age 16-49: 4,344,895 (2009 est.)
Manpower reaching militarily significant age annuallymale: 213,513
female: 201,055 (2009 est.)
Military expenditures(% of GDP)5.9% of GDP (2005 est.)
Disputes - internationalGolan Heights is Israeli-occupied with the almost 1,000-strong UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) patrolling a buffer zone since 1964; lacking a treaty or other documentation describing the boundary, portions of the Lebanon-Syria boundary are unclear with several sections in dispute; since 2000, Lebanon has claimed Shabaa farms in the Golan Heights; 2004 Agreement and pending demarcation settles border dispute with Jordan; approximately two million Iraqis have fled the conflict in Iraq with the majority taking refuge in Syria and Jordan

Refugees and internally displaced personsrefugees (country of origin): 1-1.4 million (Iraq); 522,100 (Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA))
IDPs: 305,000 (most displaced from Golan Heights during 1967 Arab-Israeli War) (2007)
Trafficking in personscurrent situation: Syria is a destination and transit country for women and children trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation and forced labor; a significant number of women and children in the large and expanding Iraqi refugee community in Syria are reportedly forced into commercial sexual exploitation by Iraqi gangs or, in some cases, their families; women from Indonesia, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Ethiopia, and Sierra Leone are recruited for work in Syria as domestic servants, but some face conditions of involuntary servitude, including long hours, non-payment of wages, withholding of passports, restrictions on movement, threats, and physical or sexual abuse
tier rating: Tier 3 - Syria again failed to report any law enforcement efforts to punish trafficking offenses in 2007; in addition, the government did not offer protection services to victims of trafficking and may have arrested, prosecuted, or deported some victims for prostitution or immigration violations; Syria has not ratified the 2000 UN TIP Protocol (2008)
Electricity - production(kWh)36.5 billion kWh (2007 est.)
Electricity - production by source(%)fossil fuel: 57.6%
hydro: 42.4%
nuclear: 0%
other: 0% (2001)
Electricity - consumption(kWh)27.35 billion kWh (2007 est.)
Electricity - exports(kWh)0 kWh (2008 est.)
Electricity - imports(kWh)1.4 billion kWh (2007)
Oil - production(bbl/day)426,100 bbl/day (2008 est.)
Oil - consumption(bbl/day)256,000 bbl/day (2008 est.)
Oil - exports(bbl/day)155,000 bbl/day (2008 est.)
Oil - imports(bbl/day)58,710 bbl/day (2007 est.)
Oil - proved reserves(bbl)2.5 billion bbl (1 January 2009 est.)
Natural gas - production(cu m)6.04 billion cu m (2008 est.)
Natural gas - consumption(cu m)6.18 billion cu m (2008 est.)
Natural gas - exports(cu m)0 cu m
Natural gas - proved reserves(cu m)240.7 billion cu m (1 January 2009 est.)
HIV/AIDS - adult prevalence rate(%)less than 0.1% (2001 est.)
HIV/AIDS - people living with HIV/AIDSfewer than 500 (2003 est.)
HIV/AIDS - deathsfewer than 200 (2003 est.)
Literacy(%)definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 79.6%
male: 86%
female: 73.6% (2004 census)

Education expenditures(% of GDP)3.9% of GDP (1999)

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