The aim of this article is to analyse in depth the interactions of growth and poverty in Syria, which undertook reforms to reduce the government's involvement in the economy. During the 1996–2004 period, growth was pro-poor in ‘weak absolute’ terms but not in either relative or ‘strong absolute’ terms, owing to the increase in inequality. This can be explained partly by tax policies, but also by an unequal distribution of investment at the regional level. There was also a widening of the gap between urban and rural areas, mainly owing to a pattern of growth in which oil played an increasing role and agriculture a decreasing one. Agricultural and land-policy reforms could have had a negative impact on poverty, despite their positive effect on productivity.