The Syrian pound continues to depreciate sharply in value, with one U.S. dollar now being equivalent to more than 1100 Syrian pounds by many exchange rates. This depreciation has had a sharp impact on people's livelihood inside Syria and more people are beginning to speak up. The Syrian state media agency SANA even provided coverage of a recent peaceful demonstration in the southern province of Suwayda' protesting against the high cost of living.
To get some local perspective on the problem of the depreciation of the Syrian pound and its impacts on the Syrian people, I conducted an interview with Abu Hadi, a resident of the Damascus area. This interview was conducted on 15 January 2020. It is slightly edited and condensed for clarity. Any parenthetical insertions in square brackets are my own.
Q: According to what the people think, what are the reasons for the rise of the price of the dollar?
A: Most of the people think that the reason for the rise of the dollar is the sanctions that Washington imposes on Syria, and on all countries that deal with Syria, in addition to the game of hoarding that some of the traders deal in. The most recent cause was the sanction that the U.S. imposed on the Central Bank of Syria. After this event the Syrian currency was ruined and the expensiveness began in a noticeable sense, and what has topped it off is the manipulation of the traders with the goods and the prices in an insane way, and especially the local goods and products, and we know that in terms of food, Syria has almost self-sufficient production for most food items.
Q: Do the people believe that corruption is responsible for this rise in the price of the dollar as well?
A: No, they don't think that the corruption has a link with the dollar market, but it is of the responsibility of the government and the traders to find measures for the issue of the expensiveness, but what is happening is that we are not finding any notable measures. There are some measures but in a very small sense and they do not correspond at all with the living situation, but on the contrary, we find that some of the politicians and traders deny the bad living situation and are ignorant of it, and claim that the situation in the country is under control, and that there is no poverty and hunger. But when you go down to the street and you see the mass of people, you find them living in great despair with no one content to speak in fear of being harmed or thought of badly by the government on the grounds of it being incitement, but recently people are no longer tolerating it at all, and you have begun to see the opinions that have started to come out.
Q: How has the rise of the price of the dollar impacted life exactly? I mean for example prices of goods, gas, electricity, water etc.
A: Regarding the prices of goods, everything is expensive without exception, except the bundle of bread. Electricity, gas and fuels: their cause is corruption and theft, and they have no relation with the dollar because they are local production. For you find people dying to secure a jerry can of gas on the card, and when the gas car comes, a number of them [jerry cans of gas] go to those with connections and those with wasta [i.e. access/connections], or they are sold to people to hoard them and sell them in an independent sense, and their price can reach 15,000 [Syrian pounds] in the countryside areas, while the entitlement of the card does not exceed 3000 [Syrian pounds]. Mazout [a type of heavy fuel] and gasoline are pretty much available in most areas: water is not at all impacted and praise be to God its affairs are fine. But what has killed the people is the food, not to mention the prices of the rest of the goods from electronics, clothes and accessories of life from necessities, cleaning agents and household goods and and...
Q: The bundle of bread: the price does not rise because the government supports?
A: Yes of course, naturally wheat is local production and most of the ovens are affiliated with the government and the traders cannot manipulate the prices.
Q: In addition to Suwayda' province have there been any peaceful demonstrations regarding the prices? And if the problem is not resolved, what will happen?
A: I don't know [if there have been demonstrations elsewhere]. My expectations are that there will be a tumult and popular explosion, and God knows best, because wherever you go, you find people complaining, and have started to raise their voices, and especially after enduring a war that has lasted around 9 years. And most of them were standing with the government and the Syrian state but recently they are the ones who have gone hungry and they are the ones upon whom the crisis has come. As for the one who travelled abroad and returned and gathered wealth and those who have dealt in the people and its livelihood, they are living and not at all affected by this crisis, because all the goods are available but at elevated prices that do not correspond in any way at all with the income of the people.
Q: Yes. By God I thank you for this interview brother.
A: Habibi you are welcome. It is my obligation towards the people of my country to speak of their sufferings, and God reward you best for your initiative. And lastly we have a state of resistance and principal pillar in the resistance axis led by Dr. Bashar al-Assad, and we hope there will not happen to us the likes of what has happened to others besides us and the destruction of the country because of corrupt people in the government.