Syria is a fascinating country whose civilization began thousands of years ago. Its position at the crossroads of Asia, the Middle East, and northern Africa made Damascus a trade hub early in its existence.
A Muslim country (predominantly Sunni), Syria's population is also 10 percent Christian, and comparatively for an Arab nation, its socialist origins were rooted in progressive attitudes toward women's status.
It is a country that has also been both home to and victim of terrorist activity, and as such it occupies a unique place in the minds of other nations' government leaders.
Newcomers will find the people warm and hospitable, and the country and region have much to offer even as one treads with caution in a land that may be very different from your home country.
Initially an agrarian economy, Syria today is fairly self-sufficient with food resources. A socialist environment prevailed from the time of country's independence for about 40 years. Prior to independence in 1946, little infrastructure had been advanced during French rule; all those systems were government-owned and -run during the initial years of self-rule.
Not until the early 1990s was there a deliberate shift toward privatization; the first private banks opened in 2004. The Damascus Stock Exchange (DSE) began sessions in 2009. The government still has a heavy presence in several sectors, however.
Bureacracy can make it difficult to establish a new business, and yet certain industries are growing and are the target for further investment. Syria's largest trade partners are Germany and Italy.
Main exports are petroleum and agricultural products. Thanks largely to these two industries, economic growth in was 3.2 percent in 2010. Unemployment in 2010 was 8.3%, down slightly from previous years.
Syria's Ba'ath Party has controlled the country since its independence, and since it's first president, Hafez Al Asad, took office and ruled for nearly 30 years. The consitution calls for seven-year terms for the president, with whom most of the power rests. There are no term limits.
The cabinet is a Council of Ministers appointed by the president. Also appointed by the president are the Prime Minster, Vice Presidents, and Deputy Prime Ministers.
The next election is scheduled for May of 2014.