Rss

  • stumble
  • youtube
  • linkedin

Archives for : Bashar al-Assad

Syria: Accidental Diplomacy in the Devils’ Playground #mustread

Posted: 09/16/2013 5:46 pm

Iara Lee

Activist and filmmaker, huffingtonpost

It’s unfortunate that diplomacy has now become an accident of U.S. foreign policy. After John Kerry’s slip-of-the-tongue in London last week, warmongers in and outside the beltway are sulking at the idea that a peaceful solution might prevent them from going to war in another Middle Eastern country.

Washington politicians’ chagrin at the prospect of a peaceful resolution makes one thing very clear: they do not care about chemical weapons, they do not care about dead children, and they do not care about Syrians, period. If they did, they might have themselves put forth the fairly unimaginative proposal that Syria give up its stockpile of chemical weapons. They might have not helped to nurture the Islamist insurgency that has hijacked what was once a national struggle for democratic reforms. And they might have put their weight behind a peace plan before the death toll topped 100,000, with a third of the country now refugees from their own land.

Let’s also not forget that the U.S. has always had a love/hate relationship with chemical weapons, looking the other way when its former client, Saddam Hussein, gassed tens of thousands during the Iraq-Iran war (including 10,000 innocent Iraqi Kurds in Halabja); White House officials similarly ignored the use of white-phosphorous, an incendiary chemical weapon, by Israel in Gaza in 2008; and then of course there is their own use of depleted uranium during the Iraq invasion.

So what is motivating this policy of “If you don’t stop gassing civilians, we will bomb your civilians”? We keep hearing on cable news that if the U.S. doesn’t attack Syria, the Iranians may continue to work on their dramatically overhyped nuclear weapons program. But this is a rhetorical feint, meant to obscure a much more grim reality: that Syria is only an appetizer for a much more destructive campaign against Iran, initiated by Israel and destined to be executed by their praetorian American backers.

After all, most of the jihadist forces fighting the Syrian government are not better than the current, odious regime of Bashar Al-Assad, and the U.S. and Israel know it. And so what they strive for is not the downfall of Assad, but a state of perpetual chaos in Syria. This is perhaps why Alon Pinkas, former Israeli consul general in New York, was quoted by the New York Times as saying: “Let them both bleed, hemorrhage to death: that’s the strategic thinking here. As long as this lingers, there’s no real threat from Syria.”

Humanitarian motives indeed. But threat to whom? Prior to the uprising, the Golan Heights, occupied by Israel, were rather quiet for some time. So perhaps the better question is, threat to what? Some may argue that what is “threatened” by a stable Syria is the plan to attack and destabilize the Assad regime’s Shia patrons in Iran, a nation which lives in the crosshairs of the United States and Israel, and whose leaders use the threat of foreign attack as justification for a militarist fundamentalism of their own.

Much like Obama, Vladimir Putin is not concerned with the loss of Syrian lives. His interests lie in the billions in arms agreements that his government has with Assad. The Gulf monarchies — Saudi Arabia and Qatar — along with Israel and the United States, are interested in alienating Iran. Each of these players continues to make a terrible situation worse by throwing more bombs and guns into the mix, splashing fuel onto a fire with one hand while shaking their sanctimonious fists with the other.

And so the geo-political power games continue, with indisputably bad people on every side surrounding average, innocent Syrians who live under constant threat of death from all parties involved. Back in 2012 I made a film to highlight the plight of Syrian refugees caught in the middle of what one little girl I spoke to referred to as a “soccer match,” with Syria as the ball. The title of that film, The Suffering Grasses, was taken from the following proverb: “When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.” With over 100,000 dead and counting, and the entrance of the biggest elephant of all into the fray, this phrase couldn’t be more apt.

Given that ethical concerns are a low priority for the U.S., one would hope that rational self-interest might play some role in their decision-making when it comes to Syria. But the primary financial beneficiary of a U.S. strike on Syria (aside from the jihadists fighting Assad and the hemorrhage-happy Israelis next door) will be Russia. As oil prices invariably rise with a U.S. strike, Russia — the world’s largest exporter, along with Saudi Arabia — will be the first to profit from skyrocketing oil prices.

Then of course there are the direct costs of war. A single Tomahawk missile costs roughly $1.4 million. Experts have predicted that, putting together the costs of munitions, refueling, and keeping naval vessels within striking distance, even a “limited” cruise missile strike would end up costing U.S. taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. Given the slow recovery from the 2008 financial meltdown, and another one likely on the horizon, one would think that American leaders would think twice about spending taxpayer money to assist an opposition that includes al Qaeda in its ranks.

The American people, scarred by lies and fatigued from wars that have profited them nothing, came out in massive opposition to Obama’s “punitive” bombing of Syria. It seems they are coming around to the idea that there is no such thing as a humanitarian bombing, and that such conditions for war bring only more war. They are beginning to recognize that, like the slaughtered innocents of Syria, they too are grass suffering under the weight of elephants.

In the end, accidental diplomacy is better than no diplomacy at all. So we must continue to put pressure on our elected officials to move in this direction and to use negotiations over chemical weapons as an opportunity to bring all the major stakeholders — the Assad regime, the opposition, the United States, Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Iran — into further diplomacy that could end the civil war in Syria. Such intervention does not involve more weapons or bombings, but rather brings a framework for ending the violence and moving towards the peaceful democracy that the Syrian people rightly deserve.

To watch the trailer for The Suffering Grasses: When Elephants Fight, It Is the Grass That Suffers, click here.

Related posts

The US Wants Syrian Oil, Not Democracy

Coat of arms of Syria -- the "Hawk of Qur...

Coat of arms of Syria — the “Hawk of Qureish” with shield of vertical tricolor of the national flag, holding a scroll with the words الجمهورية العربية السورية (Al-Jumhuriyah al-`Arabiyah as-Suriyah “The Syrian Arab Republic”). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

By Carl Gibson, Reader Supported News

 

18 June 13

 

 

 

“… the Persian Gulf, the critical oil and natural gas-producing region that we fought so many wars to try and protect our economy from the adverse impact of losing that supply or having it available only at very high prices.” –John Bolton, George W. Bush’s ambassador to the United Nations

 

 

 

ll the hubbub over Syria is all about oil. And if you don’t believe me, believe John Bolton.

 

When there’s something being talked about in the news on a regular basis, and if one angle of the story is being consistently reported by various reputable news organizations, you can be sure there’s something else to the story that isn’t being told. Matt Taibbi called this “chumpbait” when referring to the media’s unified dismissal concerning Bradley Manning’s court-martial. The same applies to the latest corporate media stories speculating on US military involvement in Syria.

 

If the US were really concerned about spreading Democracy in the Middle East, we’d be helping the Occupy Gezi movement oust Turkish Prime Minister Ergodan and condemning his violent suppression of human rights, rather than assisting the Free Syrian Army. And the only reason the powers controlling the US would be interested in intervening in Turkey would be if Turkish protesters or government forces shut down the highly-productiveKirkuk-Ceyhan oil pipeline, which goes from Iraq through Southern Turkey.

 

All of the media has been atwitter about whether or not the US should get involved in the civil war unfolding in Syria by supporting anti-government forces. The atrocities recently committed by the Free Syrian Army are reminiscent of the kind committed against the Soviets in the 1980s by theAfghan mujahideen, whom we actively funded and supplied with arms. (Remember the movie Charlie Wilson’s War?) It should be worth noting that the same mujahideen fighters we funded to fight our enemies for us in the 1980s became our enemies even before the 9/11 attacks.

 

In a roundabout way, the US media is making the argument that because the Assad regime is using chemical weapons on the Syrian people, the US military should intervene by arming and training the Free Syrian Army in the hopes of overthrowing President Assad. On the surface, most Americans would agree that Assad is a brutal dictator and should be removed from office. But if you asked most Americans whether or not the US military should intervene in Syria to make sure the profit margins of oil companies remain strong, it’s likely most rational folks would say no. Digging just beneath the surface, it’s easy to see that US interest in Syria isn’t to provide Democracy to Syria, but to ensure the Kirkuk-Banias oil pipeline will be restored to profitable status. Even President Obama’s press secretary said that foreign policy isn’t driven by what the people want, but by what is best for “American interests.”

 

The Kirkuk-Banias pipeline runs from Kirkuk in Northern Iraq, to the Syrian town of Banias, on the Mediterranean Sea between Turkey and Lebanon. Ever since US forces inadvertently destroyed it in 2003, most of the pipeline has been shut down. While there have been plans in the works to make the Iraqi portion of the pipeline functional again, those plans have yet to come to fruition. And Syria has at least 2.5 billion barrels of oil in its fields, making it the next largest Middle Eastern oil producer after Iraq. After ten unproductive years, the oil companies dependent on the Kirkuk-Banias pipeline’s output are eager to get the pipeline operational again. The tension over the Syrian oil situation is certainly being felt by wealthy investors in the markets, who are thus dictating US foreign policy.

 

It’s easy to see why the oil-dominated US government wants to be involved in Syria’s outcome. The Free Syrian Army has since taken control of oil fields near Deir Ezzor, and Kurdish groups have taken control of other oil fields in the Rumeilan region. Many of the numerous atrocities that Assad’s government committed against unarmed women and children were in Homs, which is near one of the country’s only two oil refineries. Israel, the US’s only ally in the Middle East, is illegally occupying the Golan Heights on the Syrian border and extracting their resources. The US wants to get involved in Syria to monopolize its oil assets, while simultaneously beating our competition – Iran, Russia and China – in the race for Syrian black gold.

 

Big oil’s ideal outcome would be for US troops to back the FSA’s overthrow of the Assad regime, meaning that sharing in Syrian oil profits would be part of the quid-pro-quo the US demands in exchange for helping the Syrian rebels win. It would be very similar to when the US, under Teddy Roosevelt, backed Panama’s fight for independence in exchange for US ownership of the Panama Canal. But even after numerous interventions, including thekidnapping of Panama’s head of state, the Torrijos-Carter accords gave control of the Panama Canal back to Panama in 1999. The imperialistic approach to Panama turned out to be more costly than it would have been if we had just left Panama alone in the first place.

 

George Santayana said that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. If we don’t learn from our past mistakes, like basing foreign policy goals on greed-inspired imperialism, Syria will blow up in our faces.

 

 

 


 

Carl Gibson, 26, is co-founder of US Uncut, a nationwide creative direct-action movement that mobilized tens of thousands of activists against corporate tax avoidance and budget cuts in the months leading up to the Occupy Wall Street movement. Carl and other US Uncut activists are featured in the documentary “We’re Not Broke,” which premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. He currently lives in Madison, Wisconsin. You can contact him at [email protected], and follow him on twitter at @uncutCG.

 

Related posts

Madhuri from Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sanghathan Arrested #Stateoppression #Vaw #Tribalrights

– Anubha Rastogi

Madhuri from Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sanghatan has been arrested today afternoon in a case that was filed against her and others as a result of protests for forcing a pregnant woman i.e. Baniya Bai who was in a critical condition and was in labour to deliver in full public view just outside the Menimata PHC.
The case was filed against Madhuri, Baniya Bai’s Husband, Basant and others by the compounder and was registered as FIR No 93 of 2008. Madhuri and others had received a court notice to appear in the Court of Shri D.P. Singh Sewach, JMFC on 16th May. Madhuri appeared and was informed that the police had filed a closure report (khatma) but had not stated clear reasons for the closure and therefore the report was refused. Madhuri was arrested from the court complex. She has been remanded in JC till 30th May 2013 and will be placed in Khargone women’s Jail.
This case of baniya Bai is also part of the writ petition filed in the High Court Of MP, Indore Bench in which the status of maternal health services was raised in light of 29 maternal deaths recorded in a span of 9 months in barwani DH.
Details of the case are as follows:
 
A ST resident of of village Sukhpuri, Barwani. Baniya Bai was taken to the Menimata PHC for delivery by her father-in-law, Dalsingh, on the night of 11 November 2008.  They made the 15 km journey on a bullock cart because no other transport was available.  After admitting and taking a cursory look at her, the compounder, V.K. Chauhan, and nurse, Nirmala, left the PHC and went home.  
 
The next morning, Baniya was forced by the compounder and the nurse to leave the hospital.  Her family was asked for Rs. 100, which they did not have and so Dalsing immediately went to get money from their village.  Despite attempts to re-admit Baniya Bai to the PHC, the compounder flatly refused saying that they could not manage the delivery so she would have to go to Barwani DH or Silawad Hospital. 
 
Baniya’s relatives tried to get the Menimata hospital compounder, nurse and staff to call for the Janani Express, but were unsuccessful. The family was told to make its own arrangements to refer to a higher hospital.  When forced to leave the PHC Baniya Bai crawled out of the labour room, on to the road outside the PHC, where she lay down in severe pain.  
 
Eventually, Baniya’s mother-in-law, Suvali Bai, went looking for a Dai in the marketplace and found Jambai Nana, who had come to market collect her wages. After hearing about Baniya Bai’s situation, Jambai agreed to assist her, and at around 12PM, conducted a normal delivery on the road outside the hospital. The father-in-law gave his dhoti (loin cloth) to provide cover for Baniya Bai during delivery. Following this incident, a crowd gathered outside the health centre. 
 
Madhuri was passing by, inquired about what was happening. She then called up the Silawad CHC, the Silawad Police Station as well as health officials from Barwani. Upon being informed, senior officials from the health department ordered for a vehicle to be sent immediately to the Menimata PHC. After being denied emergency obstetric care and being forced to deliver in public view, Baniya Bai’s and her child were taken to the Silawad Hospital for admission. The compounder was suspended after repeated demands for action from JADS, but was soon reinstated.

 

Related posts

Revolutionary newspapers, websites bloom underground #fiightcensorship

Fri, 28 September 2012, The observer

BEIRUT — In a country suffocated for decades by state censorship and media control, dozens of independent grassroots newspapers and websites have emerged since the outbreak of the revolt last year.

Most of these pro-revolution outlets operate in a shroud of secrecy, their contributors using pseudonyms for fear of persecution.
But their content is widely read by Syrians hungry for local censorship-free coverage, both inside and outside the country.
Suryitna (Our Syria), Oxygen, Hurriyat (Freedoms) and Enab Baladi (Local Grapes) are just a few newspapers set up by opponents of President Bashar al Assad’s government, which met the uprising that began in March 2011 with brutal repression.
“When we set up Suryitna in September last year, I felt that many peaceful, civil society initiatives were not getting proper coverage,” the independent publication’s chief editor Jawad Abul Muna said.
Most of the “papers” are online, but some activists also print and distribute hard copies in their areas.
“We were so surprised when we found out that hundreds of copies of our paper are being printed in the (central) city of Homs,” some 40 per cent of which is in opposition hands, he added.
“As young Syrians, we wanted to participate and support the revolution in any way we could,” said Abul Muna. “The newspaper is a result of our joint effort.”
Like most Syria-based dissidents, Abul Muna uses a pseudonym.
In a state with an Orwellian track record of censorship and persecuting journalists who dare break the rules, dissidents who have spoken out and been caught have paid a high price, said Abul Muna.
“Anyone suspected of contributing to publications like ours gets jailed,” he said. “Many people have sought refuge outside Syria to avoid that fate.”
Last week, international media freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) warned of the perils facing media workers in the “Bermuda Triangle” of the Syrian conflict.
“We also want to document the history of the past 40 years, which has been blacked out throughout its entirety under (Assad’s) Baath party,” said Abul Muna.
While most readers access Syria’s new publications online, some are printed and handed out. Distribution is carried out secretly and openly in what the opposition refers to as “liberated” zones.
The citizen journalists also face a more mundane obstacle, and that is the lack of funding, said Abul Muna.
“What really worries me is the extent to which our outlets will manage to keep participating in the process of change as time goes on, especially after the fall of the government,” he added.
The citizen journalists behind some of the most popular grassroots projects make no bones about their lack of experience, but take pride in their exercise of free expression.
According to Enab Baladi’s “About Us” section, the online paper is “a space to allow for totally free thought.”
It is published weekly from Daraya, a town southwest of Damascus where more than 500 people were massacred in August, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The government and the fighters of the Free Syrian Army exchanged blame for the killings, though Daraya has been a hotbed of sympathy for the revolt from early on in the uprising.
Four weeks after the horrific massacre became “old news” for much of the rest of the world, the paper’s editorial focused on the need to start rebuilding, and on helping the families of victims to overcome their loss.
“We are witnesses to our history, and we are part of the society that is going through this revolution,” said Enab Baladi’s volunteer chief editor, who identified himself as “Natur.”
“We feel we have a responsibility to speak out and document what is happening around us,” he said via the Internet.
Asked why he thought so many free media initiatives have sprouted in such a short space of time, Natur said: “Free expression is a form of self-defence, a way to resist violence. And after so much violence, we are not afraid any more.”
Natur is open to criticism of Enab Baladi and looks forward to the day that peace will return to Syria, so he and his team of 25 volunteers can move on to running a professional paper.
“Our goal is to run an objective paper that is open to every Syrian’s views,” he said. “Right now, while we’re being shelled, it’s a little hard not to take sides.” — AFP

Related posts

UN Human Rights Chief Alarmed By Escalating Violence In Syria

High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Navane...

High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Navanethem Pillay. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(RTTNews) – Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), on Friday expressed “deep alarm” over the increased threat to civilians in unrest-hit Syria, and warned the country’s government as well as the armed opposition of severe consequences if they do not abide by their obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law.

“The Government has the prime responsibility to protect civilians from all forms of violence. While Government forces have on some occasions, in accordance with international humanitarian law, given civilians a clear opportunity to leave areas it is attacking, on other occasions it has not. Effective warning is required by international humanitarian law, Pillay said in a news release issued Friday.

“Civilians and civilian objects – including homes and other property, businesses, schools and places of worship – must be protected at all times. All parties, including the Government and opposition forces, must ensure that they distinguish between civilian and military targets,” she added.

The UN rights chief also expressed particular concerns over the possibility of a major confrontation between Syrian troops and opposition fighters in the country’s second largest city of Aleppo. Syrian forces have surrounded the east part of the city, which was seized by rebels last week. The rebels in Aleppo are currently bracing themselves for the imminent government offensive.

Although the rebels had launched a similar offensive last week to seize the capital city Damascus, their efforts were thwarted by government forces. While several sections of the city witnessed heavy fighting, Damascus has since been secured by Syrian security forces.

“I have been receiving as yet unconfirmed reports of atrocities, including extra-judicial killings and shooting of civilians by snipers, that took place during the recent fighting in various suburbs of Damascus. It goes without saying that the increasing use of heavy weapons, tanks, attack helicopters and – reportedly – even jet fighters in urban areas has already caused many civilian casualties and is putting many more at grave risk,” Pillay noted in Friday’s press release.

Pointing out that the conflict has so far displaced between one and 1.5 million people in Syria, the UN High Commissioner said “a discernible pattern has emerged” as government forces try to clear areas it says are occupied by opposition forces.

“Typically, during the initial stages, after a village or urban district has been surrounded, water, electricity and food supplies are cut. This is followed by intense shelling and bombardment by a variety of weaponry, increasingly with air support from attack helicopters, and now reportedly even jet aircraft. Then tanks move in, followed by ground forces who proceed door-to-door and reportedly often summarily execute people they suspect of being opposition fighters, although sometimes they detain them,” she said.

About the increasing reports of opposition fighters torturing or executing prisoners, Pillay said murder, willful killings and torture, whether committed by government or opposition forces, constitute crimes against humanity or war crimes. She said evidence gathered from various sources indicate that such crimes are being committed in Syria.

“Those who are committing them should not believe that they will escape justice. The world does not forget or forgive crimes like these. This applies to opposition forces committing crimes as well as to Government forces and their allies,” she added.

The UN estimates that more than 10,000 people, mostly civilians, killed and tens of thousands displaced since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011. The opposition, however, claims the actual death toll closer to 17,000.

The ongoing conflict in Syria is now viewed as a civil war by most of the international community and has forced hundreds of thousands of Syrians to seek refuge in camps in neighboring Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan.

Related posts

Syrian forces use sexual violence against men, women, children – HRW

Fri, 15 Jun 2012 10:17 GMT

Source: reuters // Reuters

Demonstrators protest against Syria‘s President Bashar al-Assad after Friday prayers in Maraa, near Aleppo, June 8, 2012. The placard reads, “Your tanks never scared us, we are staying here, you are mortal”. REUTERS/Shaam News Network/Handout

(Story contains graphic details of abuse and torture)

* Women complain of rapes during military raids

* Many Syrians reluctant to report “shameful” crimes

* Electric shocks to genitalia of prisoners

BEIRUT, June 15 (Reuters) – Government forces have used rape and other sexual violence against men, women and children during the Syrian uprising, Human Rights Watch said on Friday.

The U.S.-based group said it had recorded 20 incidents from interviews inside and outside Syria with eight victims, including four women, and more than 25 other people with knowledge of sexual abuse – including medical workers, former detainees, army defectors, and women’s rights activists.

“Sexual violence in detention is one of many horrific weapons in the Syrian government‘s torture arsenal and Syrian security forces regularly use it to humiliate and degrade detainees with complete impunity,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at HRW.

“The assaults are not limited to detention facilities – government forces and pro-government shabiha militia members have also sexually assaulted women and girls during home raids and residential sweeps.”

Cases were reported all around Syria, but most of all in Homs province, an epicentre of the revolt.

HRW quoted a man who said he had been held in the Political Security branch in Latakia in a cell with over 70 other people. He said young boys were treated worse than adults, brought back to the cell raped and with their fingernails pulled out.

“One boy came into the cell bleeding from behind. He couldn’t walk. It was something they just did to the boys. We would cry for them,” the man said.

HRW said many of the assaults were in circumstances in which commanding officers knew or should have known the crimes, such as electric shocks to genitalia, were taking place.

In another face-to-face interview a woman from the Karm al-Zeitoun neighbourhood of Homs city which was overrun by Assad’s troops said she heard security forces and shabiha militia rape her neighbours while she hid in her apartment in March.

“I could hear one girl fighting with one of (the men)… She pushed him and he shot her in the head,” HRW quoted the woman as saying. She said three girls, the youngest aged 12, were then raped. After the men left the woman went next door.

“The scene on the inside was unreal. The 12-year-old was lying on the ground, blood to her knees… More than one person had raped the 12-year-old… She was torn the length of a forefinger. I will never go back there. It comes to me. I see it in my dreams and I just cry.”

Some interviewees told HRW that victims did not want their families to know about the assault because of fear or shame. In one case, HRW said a female rape victim was willing to be interviewed but her husband forbade it.

“Even when they may wish to seek help, Syrian survivors of sexual assault have limited access to medical or psychological treatment and other services,” HRW said.

“It is critical that survivors of sexual assault have access to emergency medical services, legal assistance, and social support to address injuries caused by the assault; prevent pregnancy, HIV, and other sexually transmitted infections; and to collect evidence to support prosecution of perpetrators.” (Reporting by Oliver Holmes; Editing by Andrew Roche)

Related posts

Profits of War- cash, construction , medicine, and petrol black markets

Reuters, March 25, 2012

Syria‘s economy might be broken but illegal construction has boomed – the authorities are too busy crushing the revolution – and cash, medicine, and petrol black markets have mushroomed all over

BEIRUT:  While Syria’s economy as a whole has been crippled by violent unrest, there are some people for whom the uprising has created business opportunities. Take building contractor Ahmed, who asked to be identified only by his first name for fear of arrest. He has been artfully building unlicensed , small-scale housing while the authorities are distracted with the more pressing task of quelling a revolt. “Yes , yes, I exploit the revolution. The government is preoccupied,” the 48-year-old said from his home in Aleppo, Syria’s northern, sprawling merchant city of 2.5 million people. “I used to do some covert building before, but now I’m fairly public about it,” the entrepreneur added. President Bashar al-Assad‘s forces have killed more than 8,000 people in his drive to crush the year-long uprising, according to the United Nations , with his troops fanning out around the country to try to stamp out the opposition.

Opportunistic builders, loan sharks and black market importers have all done well from the revolt, Syrians say. Urban residents say security firms, selling closed-circuit television cameras and thick steel doors to fretful Syrians who want to beef up home safety, have also seen a boom in sales. Jihad Yazigi, a Damascus-based economist and editor of the English-language Syria Report , said that in the early days of the revolt Syrians saw that inflation would become a threat – the value of the Syrian pound against the dollar has roughly halved since the unrest started. They therefore sought to buy property or build on existing land holdings as an investment.

This strategy appears to have worked, with house values remaining fairly strong in areas not directly caught up in the fighting. “We saw a lot of illegal building in the first few months of the revolution, not only because people were afraid of inflation but because many people had plans to build but they didn’t have licences,” Yazigi said over the telephone from Damascus. He said authorities had since clamped down on illegal building in the capital, while cement and steel prices have risen sharply, making construction more expensive. But in other parts of Syria, the building boom appears to have continued . For Syrian men, owning one’s own property is often a prerequisite to getting married; high demand has driven up house prices. For Syrian fathers, slyly adding a floor or two to the family home is often cheaper than buying apartments for sons.

Cash from chaos

Other entrepreneurs have taken advantage of the chaos in the country’s banking sector, which is reeling from economic sanctions and falling foreign currency reserves; Western and some Arab countries have banned imports of Syrian oil and cut financial ties with Syrian banks, among other steps. Syria’s bank deposits have shrunk almost a third since the unrest began. Few banks are willing to sell scarce foreign currency, for which demand grows as the Syrian pound weakens, and bazaar-based currency traders selling dollars in the central markets of Damascus have profited from panic buying. Bank loans appear nearly impossible to acquire , creating opportunities for unlicensed loan sharks.

Ali, 34, works for his father, a struggling farmer who has been trying to keep the family business alive but has been refused loans from both state-owned and private banks. “My father ended up borrowing money from a loan shark,” Ali said, adding that the loan was a three-month advance at 50 percent interest, with a 25 percent surcharge for late payment. “I was so surprised at how organised it was, and how he had official papers. Everyone is having to take out these loans now and the lenders are working openly while the police are distracted .”

In an effort to preserve foreign currency reserves , the government has increased customs tariffs on some imports to prevent currency from leaving the country. Syrians who are in need of foreign-manufactured goods, such as medical drugs, have been forced to look to the black market.

Lama, a 25-year-old pharmacist in the capital , says there has been a marked increase in the trade of black market drugs. “We have been forced at the pharmacy to deal with smugglers. Medicine is not something that can be postponed. If we don’t boost our supplies using illegal means then customers, especially those with chronic diseases, will try to get smuggled medicine themselves.” And as queues to obtain heating oil and petrol lengthen and the government raises the official prices of fuel, city residents increasingly head to the flourishing black market. Issa, a mid-twenties student in Damascus, said he had noticed a change of business practice in the petrol station where he works parttime . “As fuel prices rise, my boss has hired more people to walk along the queue of cars waiting for petrol. When they see people give up waiting and drive off, they stop them and ask if they want to buy fuel at a higher price,” Issa said. Reuters | Mar 25, 2012 “The queues are so long that people are willing to pay extortionate prices.”

The worse news

However, many people in Syria believe the general economic crisis is so severe that even the most savvy entrepreneurs are probably only breaking even. The government has not provided figures for how the unrest has affected gross domestic product, but Yazigi estimated the economy may have shrunk 15 percent last year and could shrink a further 15 percent or more this year. The government has warned citizens of the possibility of wider energy rationing, blaming terrorists for the sabotage of power plants, in what economists and business leaders say is an effort to conserve scarce fuel.

The Syrian government says these “armed terrorists” have killed more than 2,000 soldiers and police during the unrest. And as the value of the Syrian pound has plummeted, the cost of living has sky-rocketed . Many Syrians are unable to buy anything but the bare essentials. The official inflation rate was 15 percent in January; some basic goods such as sugar, butter, vegetable oil and eggs have risen in price by as much as 100 percent.

Related posts