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

India PM Modi's party distances itself from religious conversions

BJP under fire for being slow to rein in hardline affiliate groups allegedly trying to promote a Hindu-dominant agenda by luring Muslims and Christians to convert to Hinduism More

Anti-Whaling Group Found in Contempt of Court

Radical environmentalists who threw acid and smoke bombs at Japanese whalers in the waters off Antarctica continue their campaign to disrupt Japan's annual whale hunt More

UN's Ban Urges End to Discrimination Against Ebola Workers

Ban was speaking in Guinea on the second day of a whistle-stop tour aimed at thanking healthcare workers of the countries at the heart of the epidemic 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.
Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacksi
X
December 19, 2014 12:45 AM
The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Putin Says Russian Economy Will Emerge Stronger

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country's sinking economy will not only recover but also become stronger, despite falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Detained Turkish Journalists Follow Teachings of US-Based Preacher

The Turkish government’s jailing of critical journalists has sparked international condemnation and is being seen as an effort to undermine the followers of an ailing Turkish preacher based in the United States. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.

All About America

AppleAndroid