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)
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

Video British Fighters On Frontline of ISIS Information War

It’s estimated that several hundred British citizens are fighting for Islamic State alongside other foreign jihadists More

Multimedia Hit Song Delivers Ebola Message in Liberia

'Ebola in Town' has danceable beat, while also delivering serious message about avoiding infection More

Video New Technology Gives Surgeons Unprecedented Views of Patients’ Bodies

Technology offers real-time, interactive, medical visualization and is multi-dimensional 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.
Native Bees May Help Save Cropsi
X
Deborah Block
August 22, 2014 12:23 AM
U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video Native Bees May Help Save Crops

U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video US Defense Officials Plan for Long-Term Strategy to Contain Islamic State

U.S. defense officials say American air strikes in Iraq have helped deter Islamic State militants for the time being, but that a broad international effort is needed to defeat the extremists permanently. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned Thursday that the group formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, is better organized, and financially and militarily stronger than any other known terrorist group. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Drug-Resistant Malaria Spreads in Southeast Asia

On Thailand’s border with Myanmar, also known as Burma, a malaria research and treatment clinic is stepping up efforts to eliminate a drug-resistant form of the parasite - before it spreads abroad. Steve Sandford reports from Mae Sot, Thailand.
Video

Video Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbas

The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Nigeria's 'Nollywood' Movie Industry Rolls in High Gear

Twenty years after its birth in a video shop in Lagos, Nigeria's "Nollywood" is one of the most prolific film industries on earth. Despite low budgets and whirlwind production schedules, Nigerian films are wildly popular in Africa and industry professionals say they hope, in the future, their films will be as great in quality as they are in quantity. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Lagos.
Video

Video UN Launches 'Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years' in Iraq

The United Nations has launched what it describes as one of the biggest aid operations in 30 years in northern Iraq, as hundreds of thousands of refugees flee the extremist Sunni militant group calling itself the Islamic State. As Kurdish and Iraqi forces battle the Sunni insurgents, the fighting has forced more people to flee their homes. Kurdish authorities say the international community must act now to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Cambodian American Hip Hop Artist Sings of Personal Struggles

A growing underground movement of Cambodian American hip hop artists is rapping about the struggles of living in urban America. Most, if not all of them, are refugees or children of refugees who came to the United States from Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s. Through their music, the artists hope to give voice to immigrants who have been struggling quietly for years. Elizabeth Lee reports from Long Beach, California.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid