Basima Jabry

Produced by: Sharq.Org
Part of the Curated Collection: Syrian Histories,
Original Interview Length:
Interview Location: Turkey
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"Central Bank branches in the provinces had no say in economic decision making. They were mere repositories of funds.”

Basima Jabri was born in 1975 to a Damascene father and a Lattakian mother. Her father died one year after her birth. She lived with her mother in her grandfather's house in the first project area in Lattakia, which was a mixed region that included various sects and religions, such as Sunni Muslims, Alawites and Christians.

Basima says, “I was educated in this atmosphere of coexistence. I had a brother and a sister through breastfeeding who were Alawite, and also had many Christian friends."

She was in first grade of primary school when she went with her mother to Saudi Arabia for six years where she continued her education. "Unfortunately, you cannot build a life for yourself or own a house in Syria without inheriting money or emigrating to a foreign country in order to secure your future," Basima says. “I have a lot of painful memories from the time after we returned to Syria in the late eighties. We had lived through difficult times under the economic embargo imposed on the country. We stood in queues at shop doors to buy a few groceries, suffering from the economic situation, a lack of basic commodities and traffic congestion.

Basima studied at the Engineering Institute in Lattakia and was hired in 1995 by a governmental institution for consultancy and engineering studies. However, she felt that the work did not satisfy her professional ambitions. She re-took her baccalaureate exam then joined the Faculty of Law at the University of Aleppo because there was no such faculty in Lattakia University.

She says, "I lived in the university student accommodation. It was not an easy experience working at the same time as studying but I enjoyed it because I had the will and desire to improve myself. There were very respectable university professors. However, after the third year, we discovered that some professors sold materials and took bribes to pass students. Because of the widespread phenomenon of selling course materials or even sex in return for passing courses, some female students sold their jewelry while others moved to do their third year into the Faculty of Law in Damascus. I was stubborn, however, and insisted on passing on my own without paying any bribe. I repeated the last two subjects for three consecutive exam sessions over a period of a year and a half until I finally succeeded and graduated from university.”

Basima says that her views about Syrians and their social structure changed during her days of studying at the university. Government media had strongly stereotyped people coming from some areas in an attempt to severe relations between people from various provinces. “As a result of these practices, the prevailing idea about Lattakians, for example, was that Raqqawi people were simple peasants and shepherds. Another idea that the Jazireh people had concerning Lattakians was that they were morally licentious. My views, however, changed due my relationships with cultured students from several areas such as rural Idlib, Hasaka etc.”

Basima moved to the Engineering Technical Studies Company headquarters where all the engineers were devoted to their work and were very interested in developing and training the company's cadres. Basima gained strong experience in computer skills and databases to name but a few areas. Later, her connections within the company made her eligible for the position of Director of Legal Affairs. After 14 years working at the company, she had gained considerable experience and got opportunity to work at the Lattakia branch of the Central Bank. However, at first, the general management refused her resignation because of her good reputation and perseverance during her years of work.

"During my work at the bank, I sought to develop myself and join workshops and training courses in banking and administrative sciences inside and outside of Syria. I also earned an MBA from the Syrian Virtual University."

During her time at the Central Bank, Basima discovered that it had no role whatsoever in the Syrian economy, an economy that was politically directed. She says, "Central Bank branches in the provinces had no say in economic decision making. They were mere repositories of funds. Some managers who held important positions did not have any previous financial or academic banking knowledge but had been recruited through favoritism. There were also many incompetent employees. As such, banks generally played a poor role in development as a result of their orientation towards non-developmental consumerist lending that did not invest in new projects and ideas".

Basima did not think of leaving her government job despite the fact that public employees’ salaries were considered low in comparison to those of the private sector. "The private sector in Syria was, and still is, immature and unreliable. One cannot rely on it in order to secure a future. It does not have the long-term occupational stability of a government job," she says.