The Economic Situation and Living Standards in Syria
- updated: March 17, 2023
The conflict in Syria has entered its twelfth year with devastating effects on people and the economy. Many factors related to the conflict, such as the collapse of economic activities, damage to the strategic and state-owned infrastructure, displacement, and other factors, all led to a drastic collapse of the standards of living for families, and an exponential increase in levels of poverty, especially recently.
Economic conditions continue to deteriorate. A constant collapse of the Syrian Pound that started since the beginning of the Revolution has recently reached a stage of free fall. A worsening energy crisis in regime-controlled areas coincided with Western sanctions on the Russian Federation, the regime’s primary source of fuel, making Syria no longer a priority for the Russians. The tightening of the US sanctions on the regime and the oil exports of its Iranian ally has paralyzed state institutions and public life and led to intermittent closures of schools and universities. News reports mention that a number of businessmen from the industrial and manufacturing sectors have emigrated to Egypt, the UAE and other countries. These are the main employers in middle- and working-class circles in regime-controlled areas.
The failed management of basic infrastructure, such as the health and service sectors, led to a disruption of the economic process and a deterioration of production, accompanied by a weakness in the purchasing power of a large segment of society.
The Syrian government talked about a general deficit in the previous year’s budget, and the Central Bank started to print more money to cover the deficit. In turn, this led to massive inflation accompanied by huge price hikes, amid reports of lifting government subsidies on several sectors and basic goods, including fuel and bread. What makes matters worse are the mafias who have been closely linked to the head of the regime since the days of Hafez al-Assad. These thugs run a parallel economy linked to a complex network of relations inside and outside the country. They contribute in one way or another to the management of the black market, exchange rates and the monopoly of basic materials, the most important of which is fuel. The company called Al-Qaterji Oil Services is an example of the regime’s strategy in re-gaining control over economic life, getting rid of the middlemen, and continuing the policy of robbing the Syrian people’s resources to support the regime, not the state treasury or its institutions.
As usual, the regime has used the sanctions imposed on it as a justification for the bad economic situation in Syria, poor living conditions and rampant corruption in all state institutions. This time it has also been affected by the suspension of several loans and forms of aid from its allies Russia and Iran, due to the complexities of the current situation. On the one hand, there is the war in Ukraine and its repercussions on Russia and the global economy. On the other hand, Iran disrupted its three credit lines, through which it used to lend to the regime, after the regime defaulted on its commitments. Iran took advantage of the complex international circumstances and of the regime’s need for fuel and money from Iranian projects and used this to fortify its presence in the recent rapprochements between Turkey and the regime.
The useless solutions offered by the regime’s successive governments have nothing to do with reality, especially in light of the spread of corruption, which has been an inherent element of government for decades. The economic collapse and the deterioration of living conditions, as well as the state of lawlessness enjoyed by groups under the auspices of the security services and state institutions, pushed people to the street with demands related to living conditions and politics. More than a month ago, there were demonstrations and sit-ins in the city of As-Suwayda accompanied by a call for civil disobedience. Groups of people in different towns of the Governorate took to the street on a weekly basis chanting political and economic demands. They even asked to hold the head of the regime responsible for all the crises that have swept the country.
Despite the tight security grip, some sporadic demonstrations were also recorded in Aleppo, Deir Ezzor countryside and Daraa, raising slogans demanding the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2254 regarding a political solution, and improving living conditions. The demonstrations were accompanied by large campaigns on Syrian social media pages in regime-controlled areas, expressing the public discontent.
The situation in other Syrian regions is not better, either. The deterioration of living conditions as a result of the economic collapse can also be seen in the northwestern and eastern regions of Syria. The situation is less terrible there though, because many displaced people can get assistance from aid organizations, in addition to the presence of small projects, which have become known among Syrians as ‘early recovery’ projects, as well as small-scale internal trade. However, this all remains below the required level and is unable to create an independent alternative economy. Nor can it support service projects or develop infrastructure, especially considering the absence of a political solution that may lead to a tangible change in the ailing Syrian economy.
Due to the conflicting political agendas in Syria, the humanitarian crossings are being used as political leverage by the Russians and their bankrupt ally. In the most recent development in this regard, Russia did not veto the draft resolution to renew the mechanism for providing aid, but they confirmed that it will be the last concession from them to the Turks, in an effort to open Turkish channels of communication with the Syrian regime. In turn, Turkey cannot bear more burdens from the Syrian side in the event of a disaster in northwest Syria. On the other hand, the Russians are keen to put as many resources in the hands of the regime as possible, especially the money coming in as aid to Syria, which the regime considers one of its sources of funding at the moment.
It is clear then that the economic situation depends on the political situation. There will be no lifting of sanctions, reconstruction or Western aid without a political solution, while the allies are mired in their respective crises.
As for the Arab countries that want to whitewash the regime, the main reason may seem purely economic, especially with neighboring countries. Lebanon has highly intertwined economic relations with Syria, as well as overlapping political and financial interests between the ruling mafias. Jordan is Syria’s gateway to the Gulf, and Syria is Jordan’s gateway to Turkey and Europe. However, this desire to start afresh conflicts with the US sanctions known as Caesar Act and the Captagon Act.
Therefore, the continued intractability of a political solution means continued suffering for the Syrian people, regardless of their position on the Syrian map, which itself is likely to become a different map in the future in several ways, the most optimistic of which does not expect an imminent breakthrough on the economic level and the living standards of Syrians.
The Syrian war has brought about a change in gender roles as a result of the absence of men who had traditionally been financial providers for a large percentage of Syrian families. The burdens carried by Syrian women have doubled, especially for those women who were not ready to engage in the already disrupted and dilapidated labor market throughout Syria. Women had to work in some simple professions, and they broke into professions that were the preserve of men in Syrian society, such as taxi drivers and manual jobs like decorating and carpentry, for low wages. This is all happening amid a complete absence of state agencies, and civil society organizations that could stop the exploitation of women and protect them from the harassment they may be subjected to.
In the areas of the regime, there have been several cases of women selling their organs or their frozen eggs. Others sold their home furniture or their hair. A recent phenomenon is the practice of cyber-begging, in addition to traditional begging practiced by young boys and girls, as well as women who have to provide for their families. Employed and unemployed people are equally poor, due to the high prices and the lack of goods. While most Syrian women do not have access to safe employment opportunities or sustainable support, others experience economic violence within their family or work. With no recourse to support to achieve financial independence.
We at the Syrian Women’s Political Movement believe that a comprehensive political solution in accordance with Security Council resolution 2254, peaceful change and the uprooting of institutionalized corruption is the only solution to save the Syrian people from the unknown fate to which the Assad regime is leading them. The squandering its resources and wealth has made Syria hostage to several countries, and a hotbed for drug manufacturing and trafficking.
The SWPM emphasizes the need to increase early recovery projects that enable women to enter the labor market and create sustainable development projects to employ women and provide for them.
The Political Committee of the Syrian Women’s Political Movement