Operations and Policy Center, with Samy Akil (Policy Paper)
As China’s engagement in the Middle East continues to rise, its role in the Syrian conflict remains largely unaddressed. This study provides an overview of China’s interests and objectives in the conflict while simultaneously assessing its potential involvement in any reconstruction process.
Middle East Institute, with Ayman Dasouki (Research Tool)
This study investigates the composition of Syria's Constitutional Committee by examining the background information of each of its 150 members. For each member, we examine the political affiliation, perceived closeness to the Syrian regime, gender, education, ethnicity, and religion, among other relevant variables. The findings are presented using an intuitive interactive visualization. We use our views on the composition of the Committee to predict the dynamics of its activities and to provide policy recommendations to boost its chances for success. The study is published in the Middle East Institute.
Middle East Institute, with William Chritou (Op-ed)
On June 17, 2020, the U.S. State Department’s special envoy to Syria, Joel Rayburn, announced the beginning of the “summer of Caesar,” promising a wave of sanctions designations under the newly activated Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act. Summer has come and gone, but there’s little to show for it.
To deal with the intensifying economic crisis, the Syrian regime has pursued various survival-mode mechanisms, like relying on financial support from Iran, spurring inflation-induced growth by printing money, and offering tempting corporate concessions to attract investment. Much to the country’s detriment, Syria’s economic situation has prompted the creation of a unique type of investment — one where the announcement is the only part of the venture ever intended to take place. Such “photo-op investments” happen when both parties know, before signing the contract, that the project will never break ground.
Atlantic Council, with Ali Fathollah-Nejad (Op-ed)
The credit line does not help to assess Iran’s involvement in Syria—it is instead a cover for the total cost of Iran’s engagement there. Putting the value of Tehran’s intervention in Syria in perspective reveals the high cost of its adventure in the country and highlights the increasing difficulty of continuing it as Iran continues to hemorrhage due to punitive US sanctions, specifically on oil. As what Tehran has spent in Syria far exceeds what is announced, another question is how much Syria owes Iran. Should Syrians pay back what is in the books or what is actually spent? Only time will tell.
International trade data are filled with discrepancies–where two countries report different values of trade with each other. I develop a novel trade data quality index for reconciling the discrepancies in bilateral trade data. I calculate the quality for each country’s imports and exports separately for every year from 1962 to 2016 and reconcile international trade data by picking the value reported by the country with higher data quality in every bilateral flow. The reconciled data reshape our views on international trade: (a) countries with low data quality under-report their imports and exports: low-quality reporters are 14% more open to trade using reconciled data; (b) corruption, the level of development, and erroneous reporting can explain data quality; (c) importers’ data are more accurate; (d) China tends to under-report its exports and over-report its imports, while there is only a small difference between US self-reported and reconciled data.
Applied Economics Letters, with Mohammed Khaled
(peer-reviewed academic paper)
This study suggests that testing the impact of exchange rate on trade should be done using high-frequency data. Using different data frequencies for identical periods and specifications between the US and Canada, we show that low-frequency data might suppress and distort the evidence of the impact of exchange rate on trade in the short run and the long run.
Middle East Institute and Operations and Policy Center (joint publication), with Haian Dukhan and Ammar al-Hamad (Research Tool)
Previous analyses have often misunderstood the intricate tribal structures in Syria, drawing false links between tribalism and terrorism. This interactive research tool, co-published by the Middles East Institute and the Operations and Policy Center, aims to shed light on the tribal structure in ar-Raqqah governorate, making it accessible to anyone interested in understanding the current state of affairs there.
On September 28, the Syrian government proposed the 2021 budget, planned at 8.5 trillion Syrian pounds ($2.7 billion). The breakdown of the budget is still being debated in parliament. Due to the sharp depreciation of the Syrian pound and the accelerated slowdown in economic activity over the course of the current year, the 2021 budget is not only a 27 percent decrease compared to last year in inflation-adjusted (real) US dollar terms, but is also the smallest budget since the uprising in 2011. In this study with Will Christou, we provide a breakdown of Syria's 2021 budget, revealing the depth of the country's economic depletion.
Middle East Institute, with Samy Akil (Research Tool)
The composition of Syria's parliament matters not because it influences the policies of the autocratic country, but because it provides an excellent lens through which we can understand the patronage and clientele networks of the al-Assad regime. Samy Akil and I wrote this study on Syria's 2020 parliamentary elections, published in theMiddle East Institute. Using various sources, the study provides a very comprehensive summary of the backgrounds of all 250 MPs on 14 different variables (3,500 pieces of information). You can use the bespoke interactive visualization to interrogate the data and read the subsequent write up for a thorough discussion of the findings.
Middle East Institute, with Samy Akil (Research Tool)
This study presents an interactive timeline to aid those interested in the background of Syria’s heads of state and how power has changed hands since 1922. We also use the timeline to draw insights into the ongoing 2011 conflict. We open by highlighting the longstanding asymmetries in the distribution of power, and later zoom in on the past half century of al-Assad family rule. We conclude with a look into the future. The study is re-published on my website as well.
Thousands of pictures, leaked by a Syrian defector nicknamed “Caesar,” revealed the extent of torture and extrajudicial killings in the prisons of the Bashar al-Assad regime. In response to those abuses, on June 17, 2020, the United States targeted that regime with sanctions under the Caesar Civilian Protection Act. The US set out a list of political and humanitarian demands to be met for the sanctions to be lifted.
Every couple of months, you hear a new story about someone from the al-Assad clan – good luck telling who’s who. Many of the influential Assads do not have even a photo online. The Assads’ secrecy and the public interest in them provide the perfect recipe for rumours and half-truths. This article presents numerous examples of incorrect information about the Assads in local and Western media, including from the EU, Le Monde, and Pro Justice.
The lack of knowledge about the family members and their roles in the regime is reflected in the names sanctioned by the US and the EU. Some influential players are not sanctioned, while marginal players are. In an attempt to shed more light on the better-known Assad kinships and their roles in the regime, I built an interactive family tree.
Carnegie Middle East Center, with Armenak Tokmajyan (Op-ed)
On October 6, President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria as he declared victory over the Islamic State. Yet under bipartisan pressure in the United States, Trump soon backpedalled on the U.S. pullout. This was the second time in less than a year that he had done so. This time, Trump’s justification was that U.S. forces would stay to "take Syria’s oil". This article argues that taking Syria's oil is simply an excuse for the president’s decision to backtrack on the withdrawal as it is hardly economically feasible.
More than half of the Syrian people fled their homes due to the ongoing war. This displacement of around 13 million people is the largest in the world today. Where did they go? Existing resources on the subject focus on one group of people at a single point in time—most often, the refugees. So, I designed this interactive research tool to help you find all the information you need on the whereabouts of Syrians over time. I tried to keep it intuitive, but if you need to do some analysis yourself, you can download the data I pulled together from various sources. The study is re-published on my website as well.
The share of seats held by women in national parliaments is one of my preferred proxies for gender equality. It's easy to quantify and speaks directly to the relative impact of women in our societies. Our world is still a very patriarchal place, but in the Middle East women are particularly under-represented. New Zealand—the first self-governing country to grant the vote to all adult women—is doing reasonably well, but still has a long way to go.
Unlike most other goods, the inflation-adjusted prices of oil and oil derivatives actually became cheaper in the years after the Syrian uprising and the loss of most of the country’s oil fields. Iran stepped in to fill the gap by shipping oil by sea through the Suez Canal. In recent months, however, these shipments seem to have ground to a halt, crippling regime-controlled areas. This paper examines several competing explanations for the slowdown in Iranian oil shipments, explores a range of possible responses for the Assad regime, and takes a closer look at the implications for the regime, its allies, and regular Syrians.
Mortgagors constitute a third of households in New Zealand, and the vulnerability of mortgagors to different risks impacts the financial system as a whole. This study uses Household Economic Survey (HES) microdata provided by Statistics New Zealand to assess changes in the vulnerability of new non-investor mortgagors from 2006 to 2016. The data also enables me to estimate ‘deposit affordability’ – the affordability of the equity required from households to purchase houses. My measure of affordability computes the number of years required to save a deposit given the Loan-to-Value rules that apply in the country as a whole or in a given locality.
Journal of International Trade & Economic Development, with Mohamed Ariff (peer-reviewed academic paper)
Findings reported in this paper provide an improved explanation as to what factors are correlated with price levels across a large sample of 152 countries. The results are obtained from using a new set of variables called economic freedom indices, covering 19 years. Prior studies used income, trade openness, and productivity, which led to results with much less explanatory power compared to findings reported in this paper. We apply advanced panel data econometrics to obtain robust estimates of parameters, which, in our view, led to results with a substantially high coefficient of variations close to 90%. The findings show that all the nine dimensions of economic freedom used in this study significantly account for the variations in national price levels.
Reserve Bank of New Zealand, with Fang Yao (academic paper)
This paper investigates how household debt affects the marginal propensity to consume out of housing wealth. We use New Zealand household-level data on spending, income, and debt over the period 2006-2016. The main empirical challenge is to identify exogenous variation in house prices to determine how consumption evolves with movements in household wealth. This identification problem is complicated by the presence of unobserved household characteristics that are correlated with housing wealth. We use a detailed house sale dataset to derive local average house prices and use it as an instrument. Our empirical results show that the estimated elasticity of consumption spending to housing wealth is about 0.22%. In dollar terms, the average marginal propensity to consume out of a one-dollar increase in housing wealth is around 2.2 cents. Furthermore, our empirical results also confirm that household indebtedness, especially via mortgage debt, acts as a drag on consumption spending, not only through the debt overhang channel, but also through influencing the collateral channel of the housing wealth effect.
Aleppo Project, School of Public Policy, Central European University (policy Paper)
Understanding changes in the composition of the job market will greatly enhance reconstruction efforts in post-war Aleppo as it allows a better understanding of the availability and quality of the labour force.
In late 2014 and early 2015, The Aleppo Project surveyed 1001 Aleppians about many issues.
This paper focuses on the two questionnaire items related to current professions of the respondents and their previous professions. I show that the composition of the job market has pointedly changed due to the conflict and that the differences in the rate of unemployment among Aleppians are largely explained by gender, age, education, and the neighbourhood from which the respondents come. The study provides policy recommendations.