Abu Mwaffaq, 65 years old, looked angry as he withdrew his pension from a Commercial Bank of Syria ATM. With the ever-fluctuating exchange rate of Syrian pounds to US dollars in the hands of black market dealers, economic pressures have compounded on the average citizen.
Yet Abu Mwaffaq’s frustration is toward a recent statement attributed to the Syrian central bank director Adib Mayaleh that he "will let Syrians eat ‘weed.’" Hundreds of Syrians expressed their anger, mainly on social media sites, after a video was published on YouTube of an economic personality, who the Sama satellite channel claimed was Mayaleh.
From the start of the crisis, Abu Mwaffaq refused to withdraw his post-retirement savings from the bank and convert them to dollars. This is despite all the hardships faced by the Syrian pound due to the speculation of the “merchants of the crisis”, as he calls them.
However, Mayaleh's alleged statements led to a wave of comments, either angry or mocking the situation. Some disagreed with the timing of such a statement, given his position and the failure of his procedures to control the currency fluctuations. The difference in recent days was around 10 Syrian pounds to the dollar.
An economic analyst commented on a social networking site, saying that trusted sources who were present in the "weed" session said that the governor clarified the statement in the same meeting.
"Don't get me wrong. I meant weeds like parsley, coriander, arugula, chicory, tarragon, purslane, cress or wild thyme," he explained. "I did not mean weed the drug or alfalfa." One commentator replied saying that one should not focus on the word too much, since Mayaleh was an economist and not a politician. "We all know what he meant by hashish."
Samer, a public employee, is not surprised by the choice of weeds instead of bread "since they are green, and the price and color are linked to the dollar." He indicated that "the price of a bunch of parsley could change from morning to evening due to fluctuation in the price of the dollar."
"The situation in the country cannot afford people believing rumors and following them," said Haitham, a shop owner. However, "it is natural that citizens exchange their money to other currencies, especially since the government's promises to intervene failed to put a limit to the drop of the pound until now."
The government took several measures to control the price of the currency, after announcing the supply of foreign currency notes at a total of €100 million.
The central bank issued a directive to banks and currency exchange companies to deliver remittances in the local currency and not the original one.
This was also met with disagreement. According to central bank sources in Al Watan newspaper, people supported the procedure because it aimed to benefit from the amounts coming from outside in foreign currencies to provide more resources to import basic goods to the country. Others said that this will mean people will be denied the market price of the original currencies, calling for measures to penalize the real manipulators that the central bank is ignoring.
The new mechanism, according to the same sources, aims to maintain the purchasing power of the Syrian pound by removing some of the speculation in foreign currencies and limiting the process of dollarization, which has been spreading in parts of Syrian society.
The new step did not convince Rami, a university student who receives a monthly remittance. He believes the step will lead to the proliferation of the black market and tighten its stranglehold on the exchange market. He indicated that Syrians will not use the dollar as an alternative to the Syrian pound since there is a moral side to the issue that the majority of Syrians will not give up.
After the recent central bank decisions and the statements of its governor, currency fluctuation is the main concern of Syrians, who never cared for the greenback before the crisis.
Translated and edited by The Syrian Observer