As life becomes even more unbearable in Syria, the government needs a new strategy

In recent weeks, there have been renewed protests in various sections of Syrian society. If it is to tackle the nation’s underlying crises, the Syrian government needs to implement a comprehensive and multifaceted strategy that focuses on three critical pillars: long-term development, an effective economic plan, and a practical political solution to the conflict.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the latest protests is that they began in Sweida, which is under the control of government forces. It is the heartland of the nation’s Druze minority, which has attempted to avoid being dragged into the civil war.

The protests have spread across the country, including the north (Aleppo and Idlib), the south (Sweida and Daraam, which was the cradle of the 2011 uprising that sparked the war), government strongholds along the Mediterranean coast, the capital Damascus, the northeast (Deir Azzor, Hassakeh and Raqqa), and the northwest.

The top issue fueling the public frustration with the government that has led to the protests is the state of the nation’s economy, in particular the ways in which it is affecting living standards. Chants have been heard criticizing the government and demanding improved living conditions.

The economic situation has been dire since the civil war began but the latest developments reveal things have taken even more of a turn for the worse. Financially speaking, life has simply become unbearable for ordinary people in Syria, the overwhelming majority of whom now struggle to provide food and shelter for their families.

Financially speaking, life has simply become unbearable for ordinary people in Syria

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

The government has slashed fuel subsidies and raised the prices of essentials such as bread. Unemployment and inflation are at or near record-high levels and the cost of living continues to soar.

Jafar, a grocery store worker, said: “My salary increased by 20 percent but it is not catching up with the rise in food and fuel prices. I am making 300,000 lira ($20) a month after the raise. This does not cover my food, let alone other expenses. A single person needs at least 1 million lira for food alone.

“There is no way that people can continue living like this. All the government has been doing is increasing prices and cutting subsidies. For many years we have tolerated the shortage of electricity and water cuts, but we cannot tolerate this situation anymore.

“Many people have fled the country and many families got separated from their loved ones because of the economic situation.”

Jafar lives in his father’s house with his children and wife. People who have to pay rent are in an even more dire situation.

The government did recently double pension payments when it cut fuel subsidies but the problem is that the Syrian currency, called the pound or the lira, has lost its value so rapidly of late that the increase was insignificant.

The currency was trading at about 47 pounds to the dollar before the civil war began in 2011. At the start of this year, the rate was 7,000 pounds to the dollar, and it recently hit an all-time low of about 15,000 pounds to the dollar, which means it has lost more than 85 percent of its value in less than a year.

Syria is experiencing hyperinflation, with an inflation rate about 40 times higher than the average in nearby Arab Gulf states

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

Another key issue is inflation, which is reportedly at its highest-ever level in the country. The average inflation rate between 1957 and 2020 was about 11 percent. Last year, it reached 139 percent, higher than the rate in other troubled countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Angola and Libya. Only Venezuela, Sudan, and Lebanon have higher inflation rates, according to the World Population Review.

In fact, Syria is experiencing hyperinflation, with an inflation rate about 40 times higher than the average in nearby Arab Gulf states. The likes of Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, and Oman are among the countries with the lowest inflation rates in the world. A healthy and standard rate is about 2 to 3 percent a year.

As noted at the start, to tackle the crisis the Syrian government needs to implement a comprehensive strategy focusing on three main pillars. The first is a political solution to the war in the country. As long as conflict, instability and insecurity persists in some areas, the situation will only get worse.

The Syrian government must also adequately address the economic mismanagement of the country, its own inefficient fiscal and monetary policies, the lack of a robust private market, corruption, and the predominantly state-controlled economy, which has led to socioeconomic disparity and pushed more people into poverty.

Importantly, if the government was to concentrate on the reconstruction of infrastructure, this could play a key role in creating jobs and improving the economy. This could be more effectively achieved if Damascus was able to attract investment from other countries. Therefore, the government needs to implement major structural changes and reintegrate itself into the global financial system, bringing the country out of isolation.

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