Syria’s economic hardship hits regime-held areas very hard: High prices, angry protests, and ‘cosmetic’ decisions

At a time when the map of alliances, influence and areas of control over the Syrian crisis are changing, Syrian people in regime-held areas suffer a new crisis caused by the rise of the exchange rate of the US dollar against Syrian lira, which reached 1,200 Syrian lira to the dollar. This increase led to an accompanying rise in the prices of various goods, not to mention the people taking advantage of the sufferings of people and exploiting the situation and the shortage of some commodities to raise their prices multiple times. According to informed sources, this crisis came about because of the deteriorating economic conditions in Lebanon, the collapse of the Lebanese currency, and the exhaustion of money from Lebanese banks, in addition to the US sanctions imposed on the Syrian regime and its dealers in accordance with the “Caesar” law, approved by US President Donald Trump several weeks ago.

The repercussions of this crisis on the Syrian street were clearly evident during the past few days in regime-held areas, where the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitored angry demonstrations against the high prices and the decline in living and economic conditions. According to SOHR sources, dozens of citizens went out in front of the governorate building, and blocked the roads leading to the main square in the city of Shahba, as well as in front of “Syriatel” company, owned by businessman Rami Makhlouf, a member of al-Assad’s family.

The Syrian lira recorded an historic low against the US dollar, and the exchange rate for purchase on January 18, reached 1170 pounds per US dollar, while the selling price reached 1210. The decline in the value of the Syrian lira caused a sharp hike in food prices, in addition to shortage and loss of some of the goods, as SOHR activists reported shortages of commodities such as sugar after the price of one kilogram of sugar reached 600 Syrian lira, while the price of tomatoes reached about 600 Syrian pounds per kilogram.

According to SOHR sources, the demonstrations were repeated almost daily in Suwayda, as demonstrators raised the slogan “We want to live”, which the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitored spreading all over social media pages between the Syrians. Also, demonstrators carried multiple slogans saying: “hunger brings suffers together, We want to live in peace,” “We left you politics, Leave us our bread,” and “We do not have weapons and gunpowder, We have the right that will not die,” amid demands to confront corruption and improve living conditions.

In conjunction with the wave of high food prices, activists launched a campaign, “only bread”, to counter the rise in the exchange rate of the dollar on the black market, by creating a barter-like buying and selling process without a mediator to avoid price increases.

In what appears to be an attempt to evade responsibilities and claim to face corruption, the so-called “Governor of Aleppo” ordered the owners of all bakeries and petrol stations to install CCTV systems to control the processes of manufacturing and selling both bread and fuel in order to reduce “fraud” and “manipulating” the two basic materials, in light of the long queues of people trying to those commodities and services, and the deteriorating quality of bread, and the ‘fraud’ committed by operators and owners of petrol stations.

Among the unsuccessful attempts to contain the crisis, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights learned that there were deliberations within the regime to abolish the two-thousand Syrian liras banknote, but that the decision was not taken following the anger in the Syrian street as a result of the deteriorating economic conditions. The Syrian regime president also issued a decree imposing a draconian 7-year prison sentence for anyone caught dealing in foreign currencies in addition to a large financial fine. This law caused a slight decline in the price of the dollar; the dollar fetches 1170 and 1140 Syrian pounds now.

Likewise, the price of gold increased in various regime-held areas, as the price for the 21-carat gold reached 46 thousand Syrian liras per gram, while the price of the 18-carat gold reached 39,500 Syrian liras per gram. The regime, however, is keeping the price of the USD at the central bank at just 434 Syrian liras, without any consideration for the burdens put on the Syrian people caused by the deteriorating economic situation. All of this comes at a time when the regime, its beneficiaries and allies are plundering Syria and the resources of the Syrian people, and leaving them vulnerable to, and at the mercy of the merchants and war lords who exploit the suffering of the Syrians and profit from their pain.

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