As Syria’s regime and its myriad opponents wage war, the United States is weighing a push to enter the fray. Of particular concern is the fortunes of Aleppo, where the city’s renowned industrial centers lie in tatters.
The decimation of a company is hardly as stark as the human brutality depicted on news sites and YouTube. Yet the closure of many of Syria’s small and medium-size businesses — collectively worth billions of dollars — has left its economy shattered.
It’s not just young entrepreneurs being forced out of Aleppo. Syria’s lifeblood, the textile industry, is also in retreat. Revered throughout the Arab world since the days of the Silk Road, Aleppo’s fabrics fueled one-fifth of Syria’s industrial output in 2011, when the textile sector employed 30 percent of the country’s workforce. In recent years, its colorful, bawdy lingerie became an iconic secret of Damascus’s old souks.
Now, the sector is producing at an estimated 10 percent of its former capacity. Textile factories have been dismantled, with machine parts sold to Turkey for a fraction of their worth. The city’s industrial leaders have fled. Most headed for Egypt, which welcomed them under Mohamed Morsi. Whether Egypt continues to be the best option is an open question.
Those looking to get beyond Egypt face a quandary. Many who have ties in Lebanon have already crossed the border, while entry to the Persian Gulf countries remains difficult for most, and economic sanctions complicate travel to other countries around the globe.
Jordan, Syria’s resource-poor neighbor to the south, however, has opened one of the few avenues available to Syrians for starting over. Jordan’s Oasis500, a tech start-up accelerator at the heart of Jordan’s booming information and communications technology sector, offers Syrians with viable business ideas passage into Jordan.
Those who pass the first pitching round are welcomed for three months into its white stone building in the King Abdullah Business Park, a military-gated enclave overlooking Amman that houses Jordan’s tech jewels: HP, Ericsson, Cisco, Microsoft, Dell, Samsung and LG.
(Disclosure: The writer’s employer, Wamda, has an investment arm that partners with Oasis500, but its news division covers technology in the region independently of the investment side.)
For Judy Samakie, whose father’s factory produced furniture textiles and curtains, the idea sounded too good to be true. After looters had threatened to bomb and burn the factory to the ground, the Samakies paid to have it protected. Safety was a new cottage industry; mercenaries had kidnapped her brother and threatened to cut off the hands of her family’s factory manager unless ransom was delivered.