Asad looks to spruce up his government

23 November 2001

President Asad has ordered his first cabinet reshuffle since he assumed power in June 2000. The new team, to be assembled by Prime Minister Mohamed Mustafa Mero, will be called upon to coax a stronger performance out of an economy that has languished in the doldrums for many years.

Mero became prime minister in March 2000, just three months before the death of former president Hafez Asad. The first Mero team included several new ministers from the younger generation, and was seen at the time as bearing the stamp of president-in-waiting Bashar Asad. However, most of the key ministerial portfolios - including foreign affairs, defence, economy and finance - were retained by veterans. The Mero administration passed dozens of new laws and decrees on the economy - notably a new private banking law - but did not manage to produce significant changes in the way the economy is run. There has also been little sign of new private sector investment, either local or foreign.

Analysts say the crucial appointments will be those for the top economic policy posts. Mohamed Imady and Khaled al-Mahayni, the long-time economy and finance ministers respectively, are not expected to be retained. Issam Zaim, introduced into the first Mero team as planning minister, is tipped to take a more prominent position in the new team.

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