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Syria’s only status quo

Syria, once a pearl of the ancient and classical antiquity, has been plunged in a civil war for nearly four years and as the dreadful anniversary approaches the complexity of the situation only seems to increase, lessening all hopes of a resolution.

But as Europe continues to wonder how to deal with the waves of migrants and potential risk of terrorism as well as whether to intervene in Syria, and as the rest of the world wonders if the ripple effects will reach their shores, how are the local businesses dealing with the day to day?

Hisham El-Moukammal, chief executive officer of CHPA, a firm with offices in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, says that despite the difficult times there is still some work for professional services firms. Especially working for retail businesses, local banks, NGOs and industries as well as universities.

His firm offers the full range of audit, tax and advisory services, however he says audit remains the main activity representing 70% of its activity. Asked whether the firm's staff have left the country he says that so far they have all remained in Damascus.

"While our office is in Damascus we can still pick up some work in other cities around Syria, even though there are some provinces we simply cannot go," he explains. "But for the provinces that we can access we have no problem going there and doing the work."

If there is some work for professional services firms, the economy is too impacted by the political situation and the civil war for accountants to hope for growth. "At the moment for the firms working in Syria it is only about maintaining their positions and keeping their existing clients," El-Moukammal. "We hope that peace will come back and we can make the most of the potential opportunities to grow, but for now it is only about maintaining our position in the market."

As opposed to Syria, El-Moukammal says that it has been a good year for his firm in Iraq and Lebanon. The latter being the country out of the three with most opportunities at the moment. He anticipates that 2016 will be a difficult year in Iraq as there is a cash flow issue at government level and an economic crisis is looming. As for Lebanon, El-Moukammal believes that despite the difficulties there is scope for optimism.

International Accounting Bulletin issued a call for comment to Syrian professionals through international networks and associations. The majority of the global organisations said they didn't have a member firm in Syria, while a few agreed to talk off the record.

As a result of the international sanctions against Syria issued in the last 4 years, it is tricky for international brands to operate in the country. Nevertheless this magazine understands that most international accounting networks have retained member firms in Syria. Those firms are operating under their local names without reference to their international affiliation brand.

International Accounting Bulletin has been told that the Big Four in particular have been impacted by the conflict due to the original size of their operation in the country. With high salaries, currency devaluation and profitability issue this magazine understands that the Big Four in Syria have reduced their staff by 70%. This information couldn't be verified.

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