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 Drug Use Rises in Afghanistan

Ninety percent of world’s heroin comes from Afghanistan More

Here's Your Chance to Live in a Deserted Shopping Mall

About one-third of the 1200 enclosed malls in the US are dead or dying. Here's what's being done with them. More

Video NASA: Big Antarctica Ice Shelf Is Disintegrating

US space agency’s new study indicates Larsen B shelf could break up in just a few years 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.
Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriagei
X
May 21, 2015 4:14 AM
The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.
Video

Video Women to March for Peace Between Koreas

Prominent female activists from around the world plan to march through the demilitarized zone dividing North and South Korea to call for peace between the two neighbors, divided for more than 60 years. The event, taking place May 24, marks the International Women's Day for Peace and Disarmament and has been approved by both Koreas. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Drug Use Rises in Afghanistan Following Record High Poppy Crops

Afghanistan has seen record high poppy crops during the last few years - and the result has been an alarming rise in illegal drug use and addiction in the war-torn country. VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem has this report from Kabul.
Video

Video America’s Front Lawn Gets Overhaul

America’s front yard is getting a much-needed overhaul. Almost two kilometers of lawn stretch from the U.S. Capitol to the Washington Monument. But the expanse of grass known as the National Mall has taken a beating over the years. Now workers are in the middle of restoring the lush, green carpet that fronts some of Washington’s best-known sights. VOA’s Steve Baragona took a look.

VOA Blogs