Tamam Baroudi

Produced by: Sharq.Org
Part of the Curated Collection: Syrian Histories,
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Interview Location: Turkey
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The State destroyed the agricultural sector with poorly maintained and outdated machinery, poorly built roads and division of land into small parcels.

Tamam Baroudi was born in Hama in 1955 to an affluent family. His father owned several foreign agencies that sold cars and agricultural land. His businesses were affected by nationalization and the agrarian reforms of 1963.

In 1964, the family traveled to Saudi Arabia when Tamam was in the fifth grade. He continued his education there until he had earned his high school diploma then returned to Syria in order to study civil engineering at the University of Aleppo. In 1979, Tamam went to Saudi Arabia again and started his first commercial project - a contracting and trading company - in partnership with his Saudi-born brother-in-law.

"Previously, Syria had been very advanced in comparison to Saudi Arabia but this changed rapidly and by the early 1970s, many areas had become relatively backward. Even the Syrian pound, which had been almost equivalent to the Saudi riyal, had decreased in value.

In 1985, he paid the necessary fee to avoid his military service. He returned to Hama and worked in agriculture on some of the land that remained in the family after the agrarian reform. He also worked in construction.

"After the loss of our land as a result of the agrarian reform, we no longer had the courage nor the enthusiasm to undertake large-scale agricultural projects in the countryside. The State destroyed the agricultural sector with poorly maintained and outdated machinery, poorly built roads and division of land into small parcels.

In 2003, Tamam opened a factory for the manufacture of industrial cutting and drilling tools in the city of Aleppo. There were only a few factories producing these in Syria. He was able to prove himself and succeeded in the industry. "Although there were many self-employed businessmen in Syria who worked in order to be successful in their businesses without having to deal with corrupt state people, there were also many social climbers who were backed by those who competed with other traders and tried to squeeze them out," he says.

"If any of those social climbers succeeded in a certain field, he would monopolize it for himself and prevent other businessmen from competing with him. There were many examples of corruption in business, especially when it came the state. If you entered bidding for a road-paving contract, for example, they would assign you a price below cost level – an impossibility unless there was cheating in procurement of the construction materials. This is why you see roads and other facilities in our country in such a bad condition. This is why I tried to avoid state projects and rejected partnerships and offers from influential people.”

Among the things that Tamam believed to be defective, was the Labor Law, which forced the employer to register the worker at the Ministry of Social Affairs and gave the worker permanent status, paid him compensation etc. without ever taking into account the employer’s need for a permanent worker. "The employment system in Syria was one of the worst things ever. A worker hired to prepare coffee at the office, who could prove that he had worked for at least three days, ad to be granted all rights and compensation. This was why we faced an absence of permanent staff in construction work, in facade painting and in other self-employed professions in construction companies. The reason was that although construction projects were either annual or intermittent and non-continuous in nature, it was not permitted to hire workers for just one year. Contractors, therefore, had to deal with self-employed or agency worker, which delayed construction and caused problems in the event that the worker left his job unfinished.”

As for the Syrian businessman's relationship with taxes, Tamam says that most most avoided paying taxes because they did not receive services from the State in exchange, and had long since lost any confidence in the government, However, annual tax revenues did account for a large proportion of the state budget.

"After 2000, we were fascinated by the liberalization happening in the education private and banking sectors but the fact was that these banks could not help Syrians who wanted to use credit to import goods from abroad. They were just banks to deposit money, and this damaged some tradesmen rather than profited them. "