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Syria: Glossary
Country Study > Glossary

GLOSSARY


Alawi(s) - Member of a Shia (qv) sect that is the largest religious minority in Syria. President Hafiz al Assad and many other leaders of the ruling political party are adherents. Alawis believe in divine incarnation and the divinity of Ali, and hence they are viewed as heretical by most other Muslims.

Alawite - see Alawi.

amir - Literally, commander. Frequently used as title by tribal chief. Also used by rulers of principalities or small states and governors of provinces. In Saudi Arabia and elsewhere used by princes of the royal family.

barrels - See barrels per day.

barrels per day - Production of crude oil and petroleum products is frequently measured in barrels per day, often abbreviated bpd. A barrel is a volume measure of forty-two United States gallons. Conversion of barrels to metric tons depends on the density of the special product. About 7.3 barrels of average crude oil weigh one metric ton. Heavy would be about seven per metric ton. Light products, such as gasoline and kerosine, would average close to eight barrels per metric ton.

currency - See Syrian pound.

Druze(s) - Member of a religious community located in the southern part of Syria that is the third largest religious group of the country. Druze beliefs contain elements of Shia (qv) Islam, Christianity, and paganism.

fiscal year (FY) - Same as calendar year since 1963.

GDP (gross domestic product) - A value measure of the flow of domestic goods and services produced by an economy over a period of time, such as a year. Only output values of goods for final consumption and intermediate production are assumed to be included in final prices. GDP is sometimes aggregated and shown at market prices, meaning that indirect taxes and subsidies are included; when these have been eliminated, the result is GDP at factor cost. The word gross indicates that deductions for depreciation of physical assets have not been made. See also GNP.

GNP (gross national product) - GDP (qv) plus the net income or loss stemming from transactions with foreign countries. GNP is the broadest measurement of the output of goods and services by an economy. It can be calculated at market prices, which include indirect taxes and subsidies. Because indirect taxes and subsidies are only transfer payments, GNP is often calculated at factor cost removing indirect taxes and subsidies.

Greater Syria - Term used by historians and others to designate the region that includes approximately the present-day states of Jordan, Israel, Lebanon, and Syria before those states were formed.

hadith - Tradition based on the precedent of Muhammad's nondivinely revealed deeds and words that serves as one of the sources of Islamic law (sharia).

hijra - Literally to migrate, to sever relations, to leave one's tribe. Throughout the Muslim world hijra refers to the migration of Muhammad and his followers to Medina. In this sense the word has come into European languages as hegira and is usually and somewhat misleadingly translated as flight.

Imam - A word used in several senses. In general use and lowercased, it means the leader of congregational prayers; as such it implies no ordination or special spiritual powers beyond sufficient education to carry out this function. It is also used figuratively by many Sunni (qv) Muslims to mean the leader of the Islamic community. Among Shias (qv) the word takes on many complex and controversial meanings; in general, however, it indicates that particular descendant of the House of Ali who is believed to have been God's designated repository of the spiritual authority inherent in that line. The identity of this individual and the means of ascertaining his identity have been the major issues causing divisions among Shias.

International Monetary Fund (IMF) - Established along with the World Bank (qv) in 1945, the IMF is a specialized agency affiliated with the United Nations and is responsible for stabilizing international exchange rates and payments. The main business of the IMF is the provision of loans to its members (including industrialized and developing countries when they experience balance of payments difficulties. These loans frequently carry conditions that require substantial internal economic adjustments by the recipients, most of which are developing countries.

Ismaili(s) - Member(s) of a branch of Shia (qv) Islam. Ismailis recognize seven Imams (qv) and venerate Ismail as the Seventh; other Shias recognize Musa al Kazim as Seventh Imam. Ismailis are often called Seveners, and other Shias are known as Twelvers.

jihad - The struggle to establish the law of God on earth, often interpreted to mean holy war.

LS - See Syrian pound.

shaykh - Leader or chief. Word of Arabic origin used to mean a tribal, political, or learned religious leader. Also used as an honorific.

Shia (from Shiat Ali, the Party of Ali) - A member of the smaller of the two great divisions of Islam. The Shias supported the claims of Ali and his line to presumptive right to the caliphate and leadership of the Muslim community, and on this issue they divided from the Sunnis (qv). Shias revere Twelve Imams, the last of whom is believed to be in occultation.

Shiite - See Shia.

Sunni (from sunna, orthodox) - A member of the larger of the two great divisions of Islam. The Sunnis supported the traditional method of election to the caliphate and accepted the Umayyad line. On this issue they divided from the Shias (qv) in the first great schism within Islam.

Syrian pound (LS) - Has consisted of 100 piasters since first issued by the French in 1920. Par value of LS2.19 to US$1 was established with the International Monetary Fund in 1947. Par value was the official exchange rate until 1954 when it became LS3.58 to US$1. In the 1960s and 1970s the official exchange rate ranged between LS3.82 to US$1 in 1962 to LS3.95 to US$1 in 1978. In 1981 Syria returned to a multitier exchange rate, establishing a parallel rate for the pound to float freely against major world currencies. In 1987 there were four government-established exchange rates for the Syrian pound: the official rate (used for imports) LS3.9=$US1; the parallel rate (used for commercial ventures) LS5.4=$US1; the tourist rate (used by tourists but also diplomats and for commercial transactions) LS9.75 to $US1; and the "neighboring country" rate (private sector imports and the trading rate of the pound in other countries and illegally inside Syria) LS21.50 to $US1.

World Bank - Informal name used to designate a group of three affiliated international institutions: the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), the International Development Association (IDA), and the International Finance Corporation (IFC). The IBRD, established in 1945, has the primary purpose of providing loans to developing countries for productive projects. The IDA, a legally separate loan fund but administered by the staff of the IBRD, was set up in 1960 to furnish credits to the poorest developing countries on much easier terms than those of conventional IBRD loans. The IFC, founded in 1956, supplements the activities of the IBRD through loans and assistance specifically designed to encourage the growth of productive private enterprises in the less developed countries. The president and certain senior officers of the IBRD hold the same positions in the IFC. The three institutions are owned by the governments of the countries that subscribe their capital. To participate in the World Bank group, member states must first belong to the International Monetary Fund (IMF -- qv).

Yazidi(s) - Member(s) of a small religious group. The religion is little known to outsiders but contains elements of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, and also includes the veneration of the Peacock Angel.




Last Updated: April 1987


Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Syria was first published in 1991. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on Factba.se.

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