Friday, June 12, 2020

Syria's Economy and Assad Loyalists

A town in  Syria is set for fresh protests this weekend. Food is now more expensive than at any other time during the nine-year conflict, triggering scenes reminiscent of the Arab spring protests of 2011 on the streets of the previously government-loyal town of Sweida this week.

“We don’t want to live, we want to die in dignity,” and “He who starves his people is a traitor,” protesters chanted as they marched for consecutive days in the southern city. Another march is scheduled for Saturday.

“When your kids are hungry, you don’t think of strongmen, you don’t think of what Russia wants, you don’t worry about geopolitics. You blame the person who is in charge. And I see it happening on a daily basis, from people way up in the regime all the way down to the average loyalist,” said the activist Shueb Rifai. “Assad’s biggest risk is no longer what Putin wants, or what Iran wants, or what regional powers are scheming. It is his own people, sitting in a pressure cooker.”

Syria’s currency has already nosedived in recent months, falling this week to a record 3,500 pounds to the dollar on the black market, compared with 700 at the beginning of the year. As a result, the cost of living has soared and basics such as flour, sugar, rice and medicine are increasingly hard to find.

More than 80% of the country now lives below the poverty line, while the children of regime officials show off sports cars, jewellery and technological gadgets on their Instagram accounts.
Assad sacked his prime minister, Imad Khamis, in an attempt to mollify growing public anger, but even in Assadist strongholds such as the coastal city of Latakia people are becoming bolder in their criticism of regime corruption. Public figures including MPs, business leaders and members of the army have all openly criticised government policy in recent weeks.

Lebanon's economic crisis has helped send the Syrian economy into meltdown. New US sanctions against his regime that come into force next week could be potentially devastating.

In north-western Idlib province, the last part of the country controlled by Sunni opposition groups, the currency collapse has caused the price of bread to spike by 60%, triggering demonstrations against Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the dominant jihadist group in the area. While the Turkish lira has been in circulation in rebel areas for years, HTS’s civilian wing announced on Thursday that it will begin paying salaries in the Turkish currency to insulate the local population from the Syrian pound’s continued fall.

No comments: