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A wave of Islamic insurers gears up to woo Syrians

As the secular government eases its firm control over society, Islamic firms are increasingly cropping up.

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No protection: A Syrian family squeezes onto a motorbike as they roll through Damascus.

Julien Barnes-Dacey

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Every morning, as Ibrahim al-Mohammed opens the shutters of his Damascus store, he invokes the name of God. For Mr. al-Mohammed, who sports a trim white beard and a portly belly, divine protection is key to safeguarding his array of soaps and cleaning products. The thought of insurance has never crossed his mind.

"I believe in God and to be a good Muslim you have to believe in his destiny for your life," he declares.

Mohammed's thinking reflects the logic of many Syrians in a country that has long shunned protection. Per capita spending on insurance stands at just $9.50, and most of that goes to compulsory car policies. It is a far cry from the regional average of $30 and the global figure of $550.

Now, however, Islam may be stepping in to fill the gap.

For the first time, a wave of Islamic insurers are entering Syria, and their Islamic brand could well capture a large slice of the market. According to analysts, the move reflects not only increasing religiosity but also, significantly, loosening government control over Syrian society.

"I need to find an Islamic style because our people are looking for an Islamic style," says Mohammed Habbash, a Syrian parliamentarian and Islamic cleric, pointing to a growing desire for Islam to be asserted in everyday life.

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