The Syrian Computer Society at the heart of Syria's IT sector

Can you introduce us to the Syrian Computer Society?
The SCS was established in 1989 in great part thanks to the efforts of Bassel al-Assad. Its objective is to help develop the IT culture in the Syrian society, among students, businessmen, government officials and others.
For that purpose, it organises conferences and seminars on all sorts of issues related to the IT sector, an annual exhibition, SHAAM, as well as a conference on a very specialised field every 4 years. The society also provides training on computers, operating systems, networks, and many other software and it issues a quarterly magazine.

Is membership open to anyone?
Theoretically anybody can be part of it. People come from various backgrounds: researchers, academics, specialists in the IT business, etc.

The society is divided in a series of committees, such as the business committee, which is formed of members of the business community, the PR committee, the training committee and so on. As an example, the business committee includes all the major players of the sector. As at today 95 companies are member of this committee from all the fields, software, hardware, solutions, etc.
In addition, the SCS benefits from the patronage of Bashar al-Assad, the President of the Republic, who was its former president.

How important is the SHAAM exhibition?
SHAAM is the largest exhibition of the sector in Syria and one of the most important in the Middle East. It draws companies from around the world. Apart from the exhibition of products and services it will feature conferences and seminars on a host of issues. The event is really at the heart of the policy to make of Syria a regional centre for IT. This year the exhibition will be taking place from April 22 to April 27.

Is there any significant feedback from people on your activities?
The feedback is very good. Actually, the SCS has helped organise and promote the work of the sector. Among our major achievements is our partnership with the ministry of education to help teach the use of computers to over 85,000 people, free of charge.

Is the work of the society well perceived abroad?
A major problem for Syria is the fact that most people don't know anything about it. Still, with the help of the French trade mission in Damascus, I made a recent visit to the SETI exhibition organised in Paris, and I sensed there a great interest in dealing with us.
A lot of companies have expressed their will to come to Syria. Following this same visit, officials from the International Trade Centre have offered to provide training courses in Syria. In addition, next year, Syria will get a free stand at this same exhibition.

How about the state of the IT industry?
The industry is in a relatively good shape. Syria is a producer and exporter of software. We have been exporting our software to the Gulf region and to other Arab countries. Few people know, for instance, that the documentation for Microsoft products has been translated into Arabic by a Syrian company.
In addition, opportunities are great: the modernisation of the banking sector, the introduction of computers into government and all state administration, the modernisation of the industrial sector, all this requires investment in IT.

Are there particular incentives for a foreign company to invest in the IT sector in Syria?
There are many. As I have just said, there is an important local demand.
Then, the supply of labour is large. Actually, it is one of the best educated, yet cheapest in the Middle East. Salaries start as low as USD350 for programmers and rise to about USD1,000.00. As at today, we have three new IT engineering faculties in the universities of Damascus, Aleppo and Lattakia.
Then you have the big support we receive from authorities. The fact that the President and four current members of the government are members of the society is a strong proof of the authorities' will to promote the sector.
Investment laws are attractive and there is the possibility to invest in the free zone areas for exporting your products to the whole Middle East region.

One of the big problems remains the state of Internet in the country. Connectivity rate is extremely low, so is the number of subscribers.
This is true, but before the end of the year we will have 200,000 additional lines. With these lines we are planning to offer 200,000 PCs at a low cost with long term payment solutions. They will be proposed as one package with the lines.

The Curriculum Vitae of Ihsan Moussa
Born in Damascus in 1954
Graduated in Computer Sciences and Business Administration
Since 1982 in the computer business
Since 1992 manages his own company, MIT
A member of SCS since its earliest days (1990)

Ihsan Moussa was interviewed by Jihad Yazigi in April 2002

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