News / Middle East

Crackdown Hurts Syria's Economy

A tourist visits the St. Ananias church, dating back to the first century, in Damascus June 3, 2010 (file photo)
A tourist visits the St. Ananias church, dating back to the first century, in Damascus June 3, 2010 (file photo)
TEXT SIZE - +
Ben Gilbert

The bloody crackdown ordered by President Bashar al-Assad against protesters throughout Syria is having an effect on the nation's economy. International condemnation of the military assaults have prompted trading partners in Europe and elsewhere to hold off on business dealings, and tourists have been scared away.

Nabil Salha lives in a little mountain resort town called Mashta Helou. The town boasts the best of both worlds: the cool air of the mountains, and beaches just a short drive away.   

Salha usually works as a guide for the flocks of tourists who come to escape the summer heat. But not this year.  

"There’s no tourism this year," he said, "because for a tourist to reach the resort he needs to drive down a highway with loads of police and army stationed on it.”

The police and army are there to clamp down on anti-government protests. Salha says there aren’t any problems in his town, which is mainly Christian. But he said in nearby villages and towns there have been clashes between protesters and security forces. So this summer he's gone to Lebanon to stay with his mother.

“We are living without work in Syria,” he said. “My father is getting his pension - but it’s not much."   

Salha says he is losing about $1,000 a month and hasn't worked for three months. He said he is borrowing money from people, and going into debt.

Other Syrians in the tourism industry also are suffering.

Reports suggest hotels in the tourist hubs of Damascus and Aleppo are empty. Tourism makes up about 12 percent of Syria’s $52 billion economy.

Hilal Khashan of  the American University of Beirut said the the uprising, and the government’s refusal to make meaningful reform, have put a serious strain on the economy.

“There’s no tourism, no transit. There’s a flight of capital from Syria. The economy is not in full gear,” said Khashan.

Gulf Arab and foreign companies have delayed or cancelled huge projects in Syria. The stock market there has dropped 41 percent.  Economists say the gross domestic product, projected earlier this year to grow at 3 percent, may shrink by 5 percent.

Khashan said the greatest threat now facing the Assad government is not the protests - it’s Syria’s collapsing economy.  

"Those middle class people who have secure jobs and send their kids to school and can afford to go to super market and live fairly decent by Syrian standards will begin to realize the Assad regime has become a liability," said Khashan.

Many of those middle class people live in Aleppo and Damascus, cities that have yet to see significant protests. Khashan said people in those cities have benefited from Assad’s economic liberalization, and found stability with the regime, but…

“If the elements of good life they are enjoying seem to be endangered, they may change their minds,” said Khashan.

One example came last week. Syrians found that their credit cards stopped working due to U.S. and European sanctions on Syrian banks.

But it’s the rural poor who’ve suffered most under Assad’s decade of economic reforms. He cut subsidies on fuel and food, lowered investment in agriculture and cut government jobs. Now in the face of growing unrest, Assad has increased subsidies, and raised wages in the large government bureaucracy.  

Syria used to bankroll the subsidies through its oil exports. But those exports are dwindling.

The European Union has been the number one buyer of Syrian oil. Now sanctions could bar EU countries from importing Syrian oil.   

Economist Lahcen Achy said sanctions in general could wind up hurting Syria’s poor and working classes - the very people who are protesting.

“And the issue is that the effectiveness - it still might take a long time. A regime can survive for a long time. Iran, Iraq, Libya, etc.," he said.

Achy said economic sanctions can only do so much. He said political and diplomatic pressure is the best way to push Assad into enacting real reforms, or stepping down.  

Salha, the unemployed tour guide, doubts the tourists will come back to Syria any time soon. And he doesn’t see any end in sight.  

“I’m afraid from both sides” he said. “If the regime is toppled there will be chaos.  And the opposition has no leadership." Salha said "there’s no one to take over if Assad leaves." At the same time, he believes that the Syrian president will not make any meaningful reforms that will calm the protesters.

For now, Salha is staying in Lebanon, looking for work as a tour guide here.

Follow our Middle East reports on Twitter
and discuss them on our Facebook page.

You May Like

Russia-Ukraine Crisis Could Trigger Cyber War

As tensions between Kyiv and Moscow escalate, so too has frequency of online attacks targeting government, news and financial sites More

Egyptian Court Jails 23 Pro-Morsi Supporters

Meanwhile, Egyptian officials say gunmen have killed two members of the country's security forces More

Pakistani Journalists Protest Shooting of Colleague

Hamid Mir, a host for private television channel Geo, was wounded after being shot three times Saturday, but is expected to survive More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid