CAIRO, EGYPT - The Syrian pound has been hitting new lows against the U.S. dollar in recent days, coming close to a record low of 1,000 pounds to the dollar, before pulling back Tuesday to about 920. Arab analysts are attributing the deteriorating exchange rate to economic and political crises in neighboring states, including Lebanon, Iraq and Iran, all of which have close economic ties to Damascus.
Popular protests in Iraq, Lebanon and Iran are causing major strains on the Syrian economy, which depends heavily on its neighbors for trade and various forms of economic assistance.
Syria's currency, the pound—officially pegged at 430 to the dollar—has fallen to nearly 1,000 to the dollar in recent days, rising slightly Tuesday to about 920. The deteriorating value of the pound is creating major hardship for average Syrians.
A middle-aged man in Damascus told Arab media he can't understand what's happening.
He said “the supermarket, the vegetable man, and the taxi drivers tell us that prices are rising because the dollar is rising. It makes no sense, though, he says, because we're in Syria and we're paid in Syrian pounds. Who cares what the dollar is worth?”
Another man insisted, "price rises are just a few pounds here and a few pounds there, but at the end of the day, it all adds up to a few hundred pounds [which is a fraction of a dollar]." Many Syrian workers now make the equivalent of under $100 a month.
Syrian opposition economist Oussama al Qadi told Arab media the Syrian economy is in dire straits.
He said inflation is eating up Syrians' wealth and the economy is in a catastrophic state, reflecting a massive drop in purchasing power and demand. Eighty percent of Syrians are below the poverty level, he says, and unemployment is over 70%. VOA could not independently confirm the figures.
Lebanese economist Towfique Shumann told al Ghad TV that "there are close ties between the Syrian and Lebanese economies and that many Syrians have been keeping their money in Lebanese banks for decades."
"Hundreds of thousands of Syrians live in Lebanon," he added, "and they often send dollars to their families back in Syria."
The Lebanese central bank recently restricted the amount of currency people could withdraw from their accounts, affecting both Lebanese and Syrians, and effectively crippling trade. The Syrian central bank also was forced to limit bank withdrawals. Syrians reportedly have more than $20 billion in Lebanese banks.
Bassam Malek, a former member of the Syrian Chamber of Commerce, told the BBC Arabic service that Syrians are facing a tough winter with fuel shortages to heat their homes. He says "the government is paralyzed and unable to make decisions."
Nevertheless, he said he "doubts the time is right for a popular revolt" but adds that "nothing is impossible if the Syrian pound continues to fall."