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Syria into the abyss - Part one

The ceasefire does not stop the economic crisis

Ten years after the beggining of the Syrian conflict, the main threats against the power of the President Bashar al-Assad are not military in nature, but economic. The dramatic economic and financial crisis in fact hinders the slim prospects of the country reconstruction and impoverishes an already stretched population.

According to the World Bank estimates, the Syrian GDP fell by 60% compared to 2011, mainly because of the destruction of the physical and human capital as a result of hostilities [1]. This situation erased the capacity of the central government to fornish essential goods and to have control on the territory; that is why Assad has to lean on even more to his Russian and Iranian allies which, however, live in reduced circumstances because of the Covid-19 pandemic, they principally offer military aids, not humanitarian. 

Moreover, the national budget reduced by 70% compared to 2010 [2]: the main agricultural and oil resources in Syria are under the control of North-East Kurdish forces. The number of unemployed increased, with a workforce of only 3 million individuals over a total population of about 17 million [3].

The Syrian regime, although pleaded guilty of these data, did not implement any recovery strategies for the economic fabric of the country, perpetuating the current non-productive war economy: subsidies to buy bread at low price,  rationing the energy and increasing salaries of the security forces and militaries faithful to Bashar.

Rather, the financial disaster is out of control, with the risk of galloping hyper-inflation and skyrocketed prices. The value of the Syrian pound dramatically fell: before the war the exchange rate dollar/Syrian pound was 1$= 50 SYP, now it is arrived to 1$=1250 SYP [4]. This generated not only negative consequences in terms of international trade, making so much more expensive imports necessaries, but also the erosion of the purchasing power of Syrian families, forced to do more than one job to buy essential goods or even to sell their hairs or their bodies only for a roast chicken.

The food insecurity records levels never achieved: the 60% of Syrians, as reported by the World Food Program, risk to die of hunger. The estimates of the poverty rate instead swing from 83% to 90%, as found by the Center for Operational Analysis and Ressearch (COAR), mainly determined by the impossibility to do activities in the  informal sector  and by the collapse of wages.

The collapse of wages affected not only the Syrian mid-class and the poorest segments, but also public servants at the service of the State, whose average wages are under the poverty  thresold. These factors are generating a strong discontent also among regime supportes and to the Alawite base. Advantages in terms of remunaration obtained by the military establishment does not compesate the rampant corruption of the élite, who continues to have a luxury lifestyle, in spite of beggars and Syrian refugees who swarm in the main districts of the country.

The origins of the crisis

The origins of the economic and financial crisis are firstly detected in the misgovernment of the property regime of Assad's family. The current war from ten years clearly reduced the State budget, whose limited resources are used to conquest territories in the hands of rebels and to renforce the security and enforcement apparatus of the regime.

Although such endogenous factors, there are external others which lead to a worsening of the situation. Sanctions role, in vigor from 2011 by European Union and United States against Syrian regime and its associates [5], is a strong disincentive to invest in the country, so it does not only limite the  circulation of foreign currency, but it also prevents fundings for facilities reconstruction, public works, schools and damaged hospital.

Also the Lebanon financial collapse strongly linked to Syria, was a destabilising factor since 2019 [6]; Syrian described Lebanese banks as paradises in which keep their savings, because they rapresented one of the few ways to run away from sanctions. Following the Lebanon default happened in March 2020, bank assests are frozen and it was imposed an upper limit on monetary levies: it estimates the link between Lebanese financial institutes and the Syrian ones is so strong to generate an increase in the inflation rate of 200% only in 2020, with huge damage for the Syrian private sector.

The Syrian President, in a recent conference held in Lebanon, indicated three main reasons for the current economic disaster: the brutality of the global capitalism, social media brainwashing which publish fake-news to delegitimate the central government on which is base the Syrian Abar Republic [7].

In front of people miscontent, Bashar and his repressive apparaturs answered with arbitrary detentions and by force. The emblematic case is the arrest of Hala Jerf, television presenter of the main government channel, who published a post on Facebook in which described the critical living conditions of the population and denounced the corruption of some regime officers.

Apart from some sporadic manifestation against high prices and the lack of food and energy, real insurrections did not occur, because the memory of the Arab Springs consequences are still alive in Syria.  Furthermore, Assad is trying to hold dissent off because of the presidential elections scheduled this year. So, he decided to canc every cooking shows previously broadcast on television channels to not tempt Syrian with unapproachable food.

Translated by Giorgia Melis

[1] World Bank, The Fallout of War: The Regional Consequences of the Conflict in Syria, 18/06/2020, https://documents.worldbank.org/en/publication/documentsreports/documentdetail/363101592427572069/the-fallout-of-war-the-regional-consequences-of-the-conflict-in-syria

[2] Atlantic Council, 2021 budget reveals the depth of Syria’s economic woes, 1/12/2020, https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/menasource/2021-budget-reveals-the-depth-of-syrias-economic-woes/

[3] S. Carenzi, M. Colombo, Focus Mediterraneo Allargato n.15. Più povera e più fragile: la Siria tra crisi economica e pandemia, ISPI, 10/02/2021, https://www.ispionline.it/it/pubblicazione/piu-povera-e-piu-fragile-la-siria-tra-crisi-economica-e-pandemia-29210#n1

[4] CSIS, Syria’s Economic Collapse and Its Impact on the Most Vulnerable, 18/02/2021, https://www.csis.org/analysis/syrias-economic-collapse-and-its-impact-most-vulnerable

[5] COFACE, Syrian Arab Republic: Risk Assessment, February 2021, https://www.coface.com/Economic-Studies-and-Country-Risks/Syrian-Arab-Republic

[6] CSIS, Syria’s Economic Collapse and Its Impact on the Most Vulnerable, 18/02/2021, https://www.csis.org/analysis/syrias-economic-collapse-and-its-impact-most-vulnerable

[7] The New York Times, Having Won Syria’s War, al-Assad Is Mired in Economic Woes, 26/02/2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/23/world/middleeast/syria-assad-economy-food.html

[8] S. Al-Khalidi, REUTERS, Anger simmers over Syria's economic collapse, but Assad appears secure, 16/03/2021, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-syria-security-anniversary-economy-in-idUSKBN2B80NU


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  • L'Autore

    Sara Oldani

    Sara Oldani si è recentemente laureata all’Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Scienze politiche e relazioni internazionali.

    I suoi interessi principali sono la geopolitica e la politica internazionale, in particolare dell’area MENA dove ha potuto svolgere uno stage in Israele e Palestina durante il periodo di studi. La passione per questa zona geografica l’ha spinta a cimentarsi nello studio della lingua araba.

    Per quanto riguarda il futuro, vorrebbe proseguire con la laurea specialistica con un focus sulla giustizia e la sicurezza internazionale.

    Attualmente, oltre a svolgere un tirocinio presso una ONG a tutela dei diritti umani, collabora con Mondo Internazionale nel progetto Framing the World, sezione MENA.

    Sara Oldani graduated in Political Sciences and International Relations at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart.

    Her main interests are geopolitics and international politics, especially of the MENA area where she completed an internship in Israel and Palestine. The passion for the Middle East has pushed her to start learning Arabic.

    Regarding the future, she would pursue her studies with a Master’s Degree in international justice and security.

    Other than being involved in an internship at an NGO that promotes human rights, she is collaborating with Mondo Internazionale. Specifically she is part of the Framing the World project in the MENA section.

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From the World Middle East & North Africa Sections Society Economy Politics Eradicate poverty Framing the World


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Syria Middle East Economic crisis Financial crisis poverty

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