Syria, eGovernance, Sanctions and an American Connection
As Turkey follows the Arab League, Europe and the United States in sanctions against the Syrian economy, the intention is to stifle the ability of companies and government bureaucracy to carry out routine business by limiting available resources. The expectation of the West and its allies is that if business and political elites, not to mention the masses, begin to suffer, their willingness to support the Assad regime will ebb, opening opportunities for regime change. However, scarcity depends largely on the inability to find what is still available domestically, from countries not participating in the embargo or on the black market. For this reason, it is increasingly possible that open government and the Internet provides the possibility for regimes and businesses to buttress some aspects of sanctions.
In the pursuit of the origin of Syria’s censorship structure, the site SyrianTenders.com came up as a potential source of foreign solicitations for hardware and software. While the story that unfolded describes a more secretive process, SyrianTenders is by all means a mature business that has been in operation for at least two years, servicing a range of clients from Al Assad University Hospital to the Syrian Military’s Housing Authority. As of this posting, the site lists 870 tenders, the vast majority of which appear to still be open for bidding. ST even has a browser toolbar available to alert when the news tenders are posted based off its RSS feed. In some respects, what is particularly striking is how banal and low-quantity the needs are for all their stated urgency.
Anathema to my general line of research, there are very few requests for technology, instead requesting packaging for produce, mass transit buses, pipes and agricultural support. However, SyrianTenders does contain the types of hydroelectric components, oil production equipment and building materials that are exactly what foreign governments want to restrict in order to stifle domestic growth.
Tenders by Sector
Furthermore, some of the solicitations seem to openly reflect the unstable political situation of the country.
(Declaration request bids for installation of lighting and anti-explosion in the hospital project openwork – for the third time – URGENT)
For the past month, it has been my deep desire to attempt to quantify the rate of posting of tenders as a test of the hypothesis that it correlates with sanctions-related scarcity. The problem is the site does not denote when a tender was posted or automatically delete old listings. Looking at cached copies shows times where the more tenders were available, but with higher rates of expiration. Regrettably then, no approach to this problem seems able without direct access to the database.
Following CitizenLab’s research, it is interesting to document the delivery of services for SyrianTenders. Sure enough, the associated address ‘188.8.131.52’ is owned by Nexcess, a Michigan-based hosting company specializing in e-Commerce. A recent addition, premium subscriptions for potential bidders (100 USD per 6 months), accepts payment by major credit card through Paypal. Taking it further with a whois on the syriantenders.com domain returns:
ghashim, moe firstname.lastname@example.org
Walnut Bend Ln
Houston, Texas 77042
713 706 4380
On its contact page, Syrian Tenders lists.
Aleppo – Syria – Cordoba Street
Phone : +963 95 6337522
Walnut Bend Ln
According to a lookup on the aggregator CorporationWiki, the specific Walnut Bend address is host to a number of business entities.
Companies at this address:
Mnc Group International, Inc.
Ghashim Capital Ventures Corporation
Ghashim Group, Inc.
The domains associated with the server’s IP address support this as well, hosting:
7arake.com, fr-wear.com, golfshirtspro.com, jacketspro.com, labcoatsusa.com, mohanadghashim.com, signfurniture.com, sorrymenak.com, syriantenders.com, workshirtsusa.com, workuniform.com, zizac.com.
Among the domains is the link, ‘7arake.com,’ an ecommerce vendor with listed addresses for Aleppo, Syria (Cordoba St.) and Houston, TX (Walnut Bend Ln.). There 7arake describes its involvements with SyrianTenders.com as such:
SyrianTenders is the first website of its kind in Syria which electronically aggregates and categorizes all tenders advertised in the Syrian Arab Republic according to your company’s needs. 7arake is managing this site in partnership with Close2Edge.
(Close2Edge announced its merger with 7arake on September 17th, 2011 in a blog post that noted their close collaboration on SyrianTenders.)
It’s difficult to know what to make of SyrianTenders at this point. Its relationships and shell companies clearly violate Department of Commerce and Department of Treasury sanctions on doing business with Syria. On the other hand, is proves that there are markets in everything, and gives a fascinating overview of the situation on the ground in the country. It is deeply unfortunate that the historical data appears lost to the outside.