Mahmoud Zuabi (Also, Zubi or al-Zoubi) (1935 – 21 May 2000) was Prime Minister of Syria from 1 November 1987 to 7 March 2000.
Zuabi was born into a Sunni family in 1935 in Khirbet Ghazaleh, a village 75 miles south of Damascus in the Hauran region. Zuabi was a member of the Baath Party. Under the rule of then President Hafez Assad, Zuabi was appointed Prime Minister in 1987. He presided over a ramshackle purportedly socialist governmental and economic system. Military and government officials exercised immense power and continue to do so. Only oil revenues kept the economy going. Even foreign aid programmes struggled to implement under the weight of bureaucratic obduracy.
Ubiquitous regulations including price-control had the effect most observers say of stifling legitimate enterprise. Many officials are forced into corruption to supplement meager salaries. It is said that corruption extended all the way to the top Syria's government. When President Hafez Assad was showing signs of poor health in the late 1990s, supporters of his son Bashar Assad started positioning him to succeed him as President. Hafez was also a major player in these maneuverings. Syria is a republic where there was no direct transfer of power envisaged in the constitution from father to son.
As Hafez Assad grew sick, it became clear both father and son had decided that Zuabi's days were numbered. Tackling corruption is a popular cause among most Syrians, who see the immense wealth created at their expense as a reason why the Syrian economy has struggled to grow. The dragging down of once swaggering officials, with punishments including jail and the confiscation and auction of their illegally obtained assets earned Bashar much kudos in the community. On 7 March 2000, Zuabi was replaced as prime minister by Mohammed Mustafa Mero. During 1985-2000, Zuabi's administration failed to arrest the 90 per cent fall in the worth of the Syrian Pound from 3 to 47 to the US Dollar.
On 10 May 2000, Hafez Assad expelled Zuabi from the Baathist party and decided that Zuabi should be prosecuted over a scandal involving the French aircraft manufacturer Airbus. Zuabi's assets were frozen by the Syrian government. Zuabi and several senior ministers were officially accused of receiving illegal commissions of the order of US$124 million in relation to the purchase of six Airbus 320-200 passenger jets for Syrian Arab Airlines in 1996. The indictment alleged that the normal cost of the planes was US$250 million, but the Government paid $374 million and Airbus sent on US$124 million to the senior ministers. Three others involved in the transaction, including the former minister for economic affairs and the former minister for transport were sentenced to prison for ten years.
The French company Airbus denied paying off the Syrian officials. It is interesting to note the Syrian Government in September 2003 announced its intention of purchasing six more Airbus planes for the government airline. The official finding within Syrian courts that Airbus paid over a hundred million dollars in bribes to their officials is apparently not a factor in deciding whether to continue to do business with them, especially with Boeing aircraft and spare parts being difficult to attain due to unilateral US sanctions. Zuabi was married and had two sons and a daughter. His sons were Miflih and Hammam Zuabi.
In May 2000, while under house arrest, Zuabi committed suicide by gunshot rather than face trial. The Syrian Arab News Agency's official explanation was that he committed suicide after learning that a Syrian police chief had arrived at his house in Dumer to serve a judicial notice requiring him to appear before an investigating judge to answer allegations of corruption in relation to the Airbus transaction. Zuabi died while he was taking to a hospital. Three weeks after Zuabi's death, Hafez Al Assad also died. Zuabi's body was buried in his village, Khirbat Ghazalah, after a simple funeral ceremony.