Hungry and Humiliated: Will the Syrians Face the Regime Again?

Maksim Othman
Syrian Journalist

The Caesar Act has caused the cost of life in Syria to skyrocket. People eat bread with tomato puree and pepper spread over two meals a day. With the streets empty, pockets empty and tables empty, how can the Syrians ever rise up again?

In the city the echo grows. A squeaking car drives by. The culture of the city is one of emptiness and echo. The emptiness of the streets adds anxiety to a situation which drives people to isolate themselves in their homes.

The poverty has a strange yet calm impact, one that imposes silence. A silence that suppresses all forms of protest, and so people become even more sullen and troubled. For the Syrians, this is enough. They have even lost their tendency for funny and ironic criticism of the regime.

In 2020, the Syrians no longer felt afraid. This is due to the Caesar Act sanctions and the corona crisis. The Syrians did not lose their fear because they had become more powerful. On the contrary. They only became more used to the fact that they are unable to take precautions in order to live with a minimum level of dignity and food security. The only way to express their anger and despair has become throwing insults.

Hence, there is no room for irony or black humor on social media, only for direct insults targeting regime and state. The individual prayer to God, for the sake of soul and country, has become an acceptable setting for the individual to overcome the fear of protesting, without anticipating the whip of the security forces, which have begun to accept Syrians insulting the regime during the long hours waiting for bread or diesel.

More than half of Syrians did not receive the subsidized diesel ration allocated to them. And when they want to appear in the streets, they are further humiliated as they search for food for their children or heat for their homes.

Life outside working hours, the monthly salary of which – no matter how high – does not compensate for the stress it produces, is a humiliating struggle. Crowds thrown onto the streets waiting in lines in front of the bakery window. After waiting too long, the miracle of arrival of the goods happens, and crowds start running and fighting.

This is only one scene in the daily series on Syrian suffering.

The regime then chooses to arrange individuals and their dignity, as it arranges their bodies according to favoritism among the humiliated crowd. The chaos is good for the masters of the game. As for the bodies waiting in line, they have a good time controlling their violent outbursts and suffering under the batons that maintain order.

Empty Pockets

As soon as the Syrian pound lost its ground and hit a record low against the US dollar when the Caesar Act came into force, the prices of goods skyrocketed. Many people closed their shops. This prompted state institutions to attack the merchants. In fact, the regime tries to kill merchants who import using hard currency. In doing so, the regime tries to force merchants to give up everything for the benefit of the people. However, more accurately, the regime aims to prevent the masses from rebelling against the regime by putting the merchants at the forefront.

The character of the roads have changed. Following the corona pandemic, the streets became empty. This emptiness was followed by another emptiness caused by poverty. The residents’ feet felt shy of the streets, and that seemed to be a kind of moral violence against the regime, a passive, static rebellion. But one the regime accepts, even promotes. The empty markets, the poverty, the mad price increases, all worsened when the state decided to send monitors to force merchants to lower their prices. In return, the merchants closed their stores.

The state’s real aim behind delaying the price increases is to restore its lost social hegemony and make merchants pay in wholesale losses. In this country, the merchants were only retailers who buy and sell according to the rate of the dollar to sustain themselves. As for the dominant economic class that shares everything with the ruling class, it plundered the exchange market, benefited from the increase in the exchange rate, and made even more profits.

After all, everything in Syria is controlled by the ruling family. In the battle for Syria today, 90 percent of the population is in conflict with a regime that owns everything and benefits every time the people are more impoverished.

Empty Markets

Think of going to the city’s fruit and vegetables market as a trip. In all Syrian cities this trip was profitable, whereby agricultural sufficiency helped. However, after corona and Caesar the trip to the vegetables market became gloomy.

Before, the market was full of goods, but now it is a bunch of almost empty stores. Or, they are full of products that the average citizen cannot afford. Street vendors, contemplating the weak traffic, know beforehand how the day and markets will run. “There’s no one on the streets,” is the sentence merchants use describing their work situation. A sentence that shows there is no work nor purchasing power for citizens to go to the market.

The lack of the purchasing power is the inevitable result of a failed and oppressive political and economic system. The monthly salary of a Syrian employee does not exceed $15 as a minimum and $20 as a maximum. The Caesar Act transformed Syria into a mass of ruined and ugly buildings. The population has completely disappeared from its streets.

Thus a new marginal society is built. A society in which individuals reach the vegetables market where they see hundreds of kilograms of fruits and vegetables thrown in dumpsters, because the merchants could not sell them, no matter how much they lowered their prices. The reluctance to buy products from the land is not only subject to supply and demand, but also to the lowest price the farmer needs to ensure himself a decent living.

The locals exchange envious looks. Whoever comes from the market is subject to them. People exchange silent looks while scanning the three nylon bags with a diameter of no more than 15 cm. These three bags are now equal to half the salary of a Syrian worker. Where did the buyer get this money? How can people still afford to eat? The Syrians are not used to the mad increase in prices, and, most likely, they will never be.

Empty Tables

The austerity of the families increases, until austerity loses its effectiveness. How can a family organize its monthly expenses? The prices seem brutal, which has prompted everyone to shop secretly. There is no adequate bartering system to facilitate people’s lives, nor any alternative austerity system that the regime offers them. The Syrians have been thrown under an unjust economic blockade.

According to a 2019 United Nations report, before the Caesar Act, 80 percent of the Syrian population living below the poverty line. How will Syrians live after the Caesar Act?

The markets’ emptiness is painful for everyone. People in their homes are humiliated by silence and fear, as they cannot find an escape to protest. The Syrian bodies have been well “disciplined” in the detention centers, and in the streets that have been turned into theaters for mass viewing of the regime’s sadism.

The locals look only at each other and wrestle with each other, bypassing the system and its dominant social classes. The individual hatred grows within the community to avoid accusing the regime, or rebelling against it. In the market, people exchange hysterical looks. The faces are angry, pale and anxious.

People are developing strange feeding mechanisms for their children. Thousands of families are eating bread with some pepper or tomato molasses over the course of two meals a day. A mix of tomato and pepper puree is divided into two meals a day. As for vegetables and fruits, they became impossible to reach for the inhabitants of the oldest agricultural land in the history.

Amidst the scarcity and humiliation, Buthaina Shaaban, a prominent political figure in the “royal court” appears to ask Syrians to pride themselves on the extreme poverty they have gained their dignity. This, by their resistance and their opposition, for being aligned with Iran, Hezbollah and Russia against the American project.

After her declaration Shaaban was sharply criticized by regime loyalists and opponents alike. This psychological degradation in the name of values and patriotism cannot be applied to a people who cannot buy food. A people that lacks a clear mechanism to eradicate poverty.

Regime loyalists have a new sense of class, which did not appear during the years of war and revolution. Now a question is being raised in the face of Bashar Al-Assad: why does the ruling family and its servants still own billions, and boast about them?

The absence of a government austerity plan has also had a socio-political impact, especially since Syrian society is day by day being transformed into a criminal society, as a result of extreme poverty.

More Theft

On a visit to a police station, the concerned parties assured us that the government is not revealing the new rate of theft that has increased considerably. This has created fear amongst the security forces due to the fact that thefts were often associated with murder and torture. Thousands of thefts that took place across Syria involved small items or cash. The level of poverty transported the poorest class onto the path of, justified and understandable, banditry.

Many of the families who were subjected to theft (water generators gas tanks, TVs, electrical parts, etc.) said the police did not respond to their calls. It did not even receive their complaints. Theft has become a common thing, and the idea of the all-controlling state is fading, due to its limited resources and capabilities.

For instance, the state is facing difficulties in reforming the contracts for water and electricity. The citizens are the ones to pay, from their own pockets, for repairing the state’s power lines, water channels and other facilities. The private sector, for its part, dispenses the state’s services.

In the Syrians’ diaries, this is harsh, as even the basic elements of life are missing, to the extent that the society seems to be less able to spot the gaps. A kilo of coffee equals about a quarter of an employee’s salary. The general character of the daily protests is changing. The fear emerges with every sunrise and every time a Syrian needs something. Everyone produces new sentences.

“We are afraid of a single cup of coffee, because it’s so expensive we can no longer drink it at the start of the day,” said Abu Zaid Khalo, who eats eggs and labneh in the morning. “We are afraid of the day when we will have nothing to eat.”

Such sentences are but a two examples of what the Syrians say in their daily life. People use these sentences to warn about a severe danger that is threatening food and social security.

The regime is being pushed towards a battle through social media. This due to the fact that the range of the individual and collective expression against it is increasing. The regime is receiving stinging criticisms that are escalating relentlessly, especially in the pro-regime areas that support and tolerate the regime the most.

The Streets are Becoming Frightening

As an illustration, the Alawite areas are expressing their discontent more and more. Following the end of the war in most areas, everyone started to return to their homes. This made the Alawites feel as if they have lost their most precious possessions for nothing. Moreover, the behavior of the ruling family and its entourage made the Alawites feel that they were deceived.

They felt remorse having seen the war that stood on their shoulders, especially as they were the ones who raised their voices the most in support of the regime. Their aim was to gain privileges or to preserve its survival and gain access to it. However, amidst the escalating hatred towards the regime, it does not seem society will revolt, but rather that it will share poverty and fear.

This will become manifest in an escalation of all forms of crime and decadence on the one hand, while on the other it will push Syrians to try to make a living by joining the new militias led by Russia, Iran and the regime, which is very favorable to these militias. Hence the Syrians start searching for another war to die in, to earn a salary in dollars, just to sustain their families. Syria and its streets are becoming frightening.

The night of the city begins early. The people are afraid of one another. Despite the fact that there is still some room now for mockery and sarcasm, raising one’s voice against the regime remains difficult, for it still bears the threat of violence and torture.

As long as the regime has not launched its violent tools against the protesters on social media, or in public, everyone is waiting for a fantastic revolution. Meanwhile, regime loyalists are also saying: “We need a revolution.”

But this will not make any difference. The amount of Syrian blood that was shed over years of the war is sufficient to make Syrians sleep hungry, humiliated and besieged, without thinking of yet another confrontation with the regime.

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