Syria: Let there be mayhem

“I would not have cared if it was just about me, but be confident that I am ready to kill…yes to kill, if my children starve. Nothing is crueler than a father finding himself unable to feed his children and keep them warm.” These words of a taxi driver in Damascus left me shocked and out of words. I muttered, “May God dispel this misery,” which is what we say here when we run out of words. In fact, no words that I know could portray and express the state of this man and other Syrians nowadays, as they face unprecedented economic, social and psychological pressures.

Syrians thought that last winter was their most difficult time since the uprising and the subsequent war that followed, as they faced severe fuel and electricity shortages. But their hope for a better time vanished with the beginning of this winter season. Nearly everyone here agrees that the country is currently experiencing is its worst times ever.

The restlessness that was locked away inside the chest by fear started to come out as murmurs in conversations behind closed doors. Fear does not seem to be able to restrain the expression of frustration any longer, as the murmurs are gradually echoed throughout the country and became the talks of the street, taxis, shops, cafes and households.

Consecutive crises

The peak points of difficult times in 2019 include the gas crisis, the heating fuel crisis and the auto fuel crisis, which started in April 2019 and completely crippled movement in the streets in most of the country. During the last two months of 2019, a new sharp peak of hardship came with the outbreak of the uprising in neighbouring Lebanon. This continuous peak has affected every aspect of daily life.

In recent years, Lebanon has been an important economic haven for Syrians, as it is the only neighbouring country that is easy and safe to reach and was not influenced by the turmoil that has swept the region since 2011. Thus, Syrians have relied heavily on Lebanon in many aspects of their lives.

In addition, around one million Syrians have been displaced to various Lebanese regions to escape the scourge of war and oppression. Thousands of Syrians have deposited their money in Lebanese banks, which they considered more stable than their Syrian counterparts. Lebanon has also constituted a gateway for Syrians to transfer funds and deal with the US dollar, which is difficult in Syria due to sanctions and regulations. Syrian regulations constrict them to only receive their payments and remittances sent in hard currency from abroad in Syrian pounds which lead to significant losses as the official exchange rate is half of that on the black market.

Moreover, the openness of the Lebanese market has allowed Syrians to obtain various types of goods, foods and medicines that are scarce in the Syrian markets, which provide mainly local and low-quality goods. In fact, the fuel coming from Lebanon, a non-oil producing country, has become one of the solutions for many Syrians facing the fuel crisis.

The last crisis is the worst

The situation has deteriorated rapidly over the past few months, as most Syrians have started to feel the effects of the economic crisis in Lebanon that affected bank deposits and money transfers, as well as making it difficult or even impossible to source goods. All the actions of the government failed to stop the value of the Syrian currency from dropping from 600 Syrian pounds against one US dollar in September to over 1000 pounds during the second week of 2020, a limit which the Syrian pound never crossed before, even during the worst periods of the war. With this came the unbearable rising prices of most basic commodities and an economic deterioration that the government can no longer gloss over as it used to do in the last years.

For the first time since 2011, vendors in most markets close their day without one single item being sold.

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