EDITORIAL: Does Syria care?

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Cyprus still concerned about ferry line

Cyprus’ continued absence in regional politics has now started to affect the economy, with the first blow to the tourism industry being felt from the trickling flow of tourists from neighbouring Syria to the north.
Despite all the good intentions of Bashar Assad, the Syrian President has his hands full at the moment with Iran’s nuclear programme, secret peace talks with Israel and rebuilding relations with Turkey. Quite frankly, he cannot be bothered with the complaints from tiny Cyprus about the “illegal” ferry routes to the occupied north.
All the assurances given to Nicosia that Damascus would put an end to this travel arrangement have been futile as the ferries continue to operate.
The number of tourists from Syria, many of whom affluent holidaymakers who spend good money at the casinos in the north, has been growing steadily, not for any other reason but the ease with which a Syrian can travel – there are no visa requirements and the passport is stamped upon arrival. By contrast, short-stay holidaymakers cannot travel to the hotels and resorts of the southern shores due to the strict requirement of a minimum 15-day period to secure a visa.
The same is also true of any traveler from friendly nations in the area that have been sympathetic towards Cyprus, chief among them being Lebanon that owes a great deal from the assistance provided during the Hizbollah-Israeli war in 2006.
It would seem that unnecessary bureaucracy is getting in the way of Cyprus regaining its reputation as a friend toward our immediate neighbours, which is also why we are losing out on tourist arrivals from these countries, and any prospective investment by a Cypriot company is not regarded as highly as it deserves.
Syria has shown in recent years that it can reform its banking and financial sectors, with Arab and European institutions setting up shop there, either through joint ventures or on their own. Tax and legal reform has also made Damascus and its ports an attractive destination for multinationals, with the areas of energy, construction, telecoms and IT among the biggest beneficiaries. And where are the Cypriot companies? The government here has never encouraged firms to invest where Cyprus needs to build up econopolitical relations, just as France, Russia, Germany and the U.K. do.
It is nice to build new airports, cruise centres and 1000-berth marinas, but if our product is not competitive, who will come? What Cyprus needs is to start plans for a casino as soon as possible. The complaints by social or other groups opposing the casinos are far outweighed by the benefits to the economy, both to attract tourists from the Middle East and to largely clamp down on Greek Cypriots streaming across the checkpoints to gamble their euros away.
Surely, we’re not the only ones with bright ideas here. Or are we?