No one can deny that the economic crisis in Syria is unprecedented. But what are the real reasons for it? Why isn’t Iran helping in resolving it as it had helped the regime throughout the past decade? And will that lead to “political concessions” from Damascus?
The economic crisis in recent years has reached new unprecedented lows. The Syrians have been plunged in a dark abyss that is deepest in government-held regions. They will feel the bite of the crisis even more with the advent of the bitter winter.
Prices are skyrocketing and poverty is rampant. The people are suffering from power outages and bread and fuel shortages. Savings have evaporated and foreign money transfers are dwindling. The streets are devoid of pedestrians and filled with beggars and would-be migrants searching for a better life abroad.
In Damascus, the “paralysis” is so dire that government institutions are mulling closing their doors, reducing working hours or extending holidays. Universities have reduced or even stopped class hours. Even hospitals are planning on reducing work hours.
The outcry in Sweida, where demonstrators angry over worsening economic conditions stormed and ransacked the governor’s office, is only one example of how dire the crisis is.
Why has the crisis deepened?
Throughout the conflict, Syria has been no stranger to shelling, immigration, displacement, kidnappings, imprisonment, corruption, mismanagement, western sanctions, political isolation, insufficient foreign aid and investment.
Three new factors have, however, been pushing Syria closer to the edge of a new abyss:
– The war in Ukraine: Russia’s involvement and preoccupation with the war has shifted its attention from Syria and the aid it used to offer it. Although low in quantity, Russia did provide Syria with oil derivatives, grain and humanitarian relief.
Moreover, the war shifted the West and donor countries’ attention from Syria to European countries that are closer to them in geography and culture. This is evident in where humanitarian aid is now flowing. Donor countries have failed to commit fully to their pledges at the 2021 Brussels donor conference on Syria, while increasing military and humanitarian aid to the Ukrainians.
– Turkish shelling: The latest round of Turkish shelling on northeastern Syrian focused on attacking oil and gas infrastructure to weaken the autonomous Kurdish authority that Türkiye views as a threat to its national security. Added to that was Damascus’ siege on areas of influence held by the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and Kurdish People’s Protection Unites (YPG) in Aleppo.
Damascus blocked food supplies to these regions, forcing the SDF to retaliate by reducing or stopping the flow of oil derivatives to government-held regions. War profiteers and mediators used to transfer tens of thousands of barrels of crude oil and oil derivatives from SDF regions east of the Euphrates to government regions in western parts of Syria.
– Iran’s anger and preoccupation: Since 2011, Iran had provided all forms of support to its ally, Damascus. It provided militias, experts, fighters, weapons, ammunition, military support and expertise on how to work around western sanctions. It provided its ally with credit lines to finance food and oil derivatives. It sent Syria several ships loaded with oil and its derivatives.
This all now came to a halt. The Iranian leadership had pledged to Damascus that it would send more ships loaded with oil, but they never came and never even departed Iran.
Previously, these vessels would dock in Syria in spite of western sanctions and pressure.
Tehran is preoccupied with the anti-government protests that have swept Iran and with the possibility of failing to reach a new nuclear agreement with the West.
Tehran is also angry, but Damascus does not know why. Does the anger really stem from Damascus’ attempts at normalizing relations with Arab countries? Is it related to repeated Israeli attacks on Iranian weapons caches in Syria? Is it tied to internal balances of power in Damascus itself and their future leanings?
This is all speculation with no clear answer. As Syria ponders the Iranian “mystery”, other questions are being raised in western capitals: Will the deep economic crisis lead to major collapses in Syria? Will it lead to political concessions Damascus had previously resisted because they would weaken the military grip of the government?
Will Damascus accept the “step-by-step” approach proposed to it by the United Nations, meaning display some political flexibility in return for foreign economic or political incentives? Will the positions of Syrian officials seeking reform and solutions through geo-political concessions be bolstered? Throughout all of this, will the war profiteers find a new opening to deepen their corruption and amass wealth?
One thing is certain, the days and nights of the Syrians will grow bleaker and darker as the wait for the answers to all of the above drags on.
The Syrian Observer has not verified the content of this story. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.