Syrians Bear the Brunt of Lebanon’s Uprising – Stories from Damascus

Sunday 26 January 202002:53 pm
إقرأ باللغة العربية:

"اختنقنا والله".. سوريون يتحدثون عن تأثير انتفاضة لبنان عليهم

"Since October 17th, my interest has shifted from following Syria’s news to following up closely what is happening in Lebanon on a day-by-day basis, as the situation there turned out to have more of an impact on us than we expected” says Nadia Al-Taweel, a thirty-year-old woman who works as an employee in a private sector company in Damascus.

"What is the Lebanese Lira exchange rate to the dollar? Is the road from Syria to Beirut open or closed? Are the roads cut off?" These are examples of questions which have become our daily bread in Syria. We sometimes feel as if we are monitoring the situation in Lebanon more than the Lebanese themselves" Nadia added laughing.

Nadia justifies this great interest in what she describes as the “tremendous repercussions of the Lebanon uprising on the Syrian economy.” These repercussions began to emerge less than a month after the beginning of the uprising, as the value of the Syrian currency witnessed a rapid decline and reached about one thousand Liras to the Dollar, compared to about six hundred Liras last before Lebanon’s Uprising. An unprecedented economic deterioration has since affected all aspects of daily life inside Syria, with Lebanon having become the sole secure breathing outlet for Syrians over the past few years, with easy access compared to other neighboring countries, namely Turkey, Iraq and Jordan.

"We have never experienced such difficult days. The exchange rate of the Syrian Lira witnessed a significant decline, and all prices rose, including sugar, tea and milk in addition to more luxurious goods. We have become forced to reduce our costs to a minimum. Certainly the ongoing war that we have been living for years has the biggest impact, but the last three months have without doubt been the most difficult. When will things be solved and a government is formed in Lebanon?" Nadia wonders sarcastically, trying to lighten from a suffering that seems endless.

With the Lebanon Uprising, Syrians find themselves at the center of the economic collapse, the Lira plummeted 40%, and the poverty line has absorbed most Syrians now that they are unable to access their savings in Lebanese banks. Damascus at its worse.

The Syrian Lira at Its Worst

Since 2011, the value of the Syrian Lira started to decline gradually: from 47 Liras to the Dollar (USD) in March 2011, 100 Liras at the end of 2012, 210 Liras at the end of 2014, and down to approximately 500 Liras at the end of 2018.

And at the beginning of last October, the Dollar exchange rate ranged between 600 and 650 Syrian Liras, before collapsing and plummeting at an unprecedented pace with the outbreak of the uprising in Lebanon – plunging to a thousand Liras this week according to prices on the black market, while the official price in the Central Bank of Syria remained at a fixed rate of 434 liras.

One of the most important reasons for this deterioration, according to Syrian economist Muhammad Habash, is the difficulty faced by merchants and importers in Lebanon to obtain enough of their US Dollar needs from Lebanese banks, which have restricted withdrawals and their financing of commercial activity, thus increasing the demand for Dollars from Syria thus raising its price. In addition, these effects impacted the Syrian merchants who have US dollar bank accounts in Lebanon, especially those who import commodities that are not financed by the Central Bank of Syria, forcing them to buy the Dollar on the black market, leading to an increase in the prices of the goods they import.

The relative change in the exchange rate of the Lira to the dollar reached 93% compared to the prewar level, when the dollar exceeded the threshold of 1000 Liras compared to 47 Liras pre war, as Muhammad explains in his interview with Raseef22, and thus " Syrians lost 93 percent of their wealth after 2011, and are now forced to pay larger sums in order to purchase the same goods and services they used to receive before.”

With this decline, the prices of materials and commodities inside Syria increased by 35 to 50 percent, according to estimates of many we spoke to, and keeping pace with this rise has become a daily nightmare – as things which could be acquired within the average monthly (per capita) income (which does not exceed one hundred US Dollars), is no longer possible. Since then most families, even those of the middle class who have until today been able to make ends meet, have started to reduce their costs to a minimum.

"We have bid farewell to meat, chicken, most types of fruit and many luxuries a long time ago, and today we are listing the options for what we can also say goodbye to from our menu, which seems will be restricted to bread, sugar, tea, and maybe some vegetables." Such is the sentiment which has become commonplace amongst most Syrian families today – a reality which has prompted them to follow the news closely in Syria – but also to monitor the developments of the situation in their neighboring country, Lebanon, in the hope that the political and economic solution there will bring an improvement, albeit partial, on the economic situation inside their own country.

Our Money Is In Lebanese Banks, and These Ran Out Of Money!

During the past few years, with the increase in the economic sanctions imposed on Syria and the difficulty of dealing with and transferring money in hard currencies to and from the country, many Syrians have resorted to depositing their money in Lebanese banks – with the total deposits of Syrian individuals, businessmen and investors in Lebanese banks reaching approximately 45 billion dollars, according to estimates of the Syrian Labor Observatory for Studies and Research.

Similar to what the Lebanese people are suffering from nowadays, in terms of the obstacles of withdrawing money from their personal accounts in Lebanese banks, whether deposits, current accounts, or monthly salary accounts – this suffering has deepened the impact on Syrian depositors in Lebanon during the last three months, adding yet another economic difficulty to the list of consequences that were imposed by the Lebanese uprising on their daily lives.

“We get funds deposited in our bank accounts; however we don’t have access to them”, says Samir Saad Al-Din, an employee at a United Nations (UN) agency in Syria.

With the Lebanon Uprising, an unprecedented economic deterioration has affected all aspects of daily life in #Syria, for it was the sole secure breathing outlet for Syrians over the past few years, and the safe place for $45 billion of deposits now gone!

Samir explained his financial circumstances over the last three months, whereby he is facing issues that are hindering him from collecting his salary, which is transferred monthly to his account in a Lebanese bank – not least because the bank has placed a limitation on the allowed weekly withdrawn funds, in addition to the unavailability of the Dollar when he tries to withdraw his salary.

The situation is worsened for Samir, who resides in Syria and has to travel to Lebanon on a weekly basis to receive a small part of his monthly income. While he may sometimes be able to authorize another person to withdraw the available amount on his behalf, this is not always accepted by the bank for multiple reasons – including that the signature does not match, or that the number of authorizations have exceeded the daily limit.

There are not many alternative ways to solve this dilemma, as Samir says. The restriction on weekly withdrawals has affected all depositors, and the withdrawal in Lebanese Liras, which has also been subjected to less severe restrictions, will cause significant losses from the value of the monthly income with a low exchange rate to the Dollar: "I tried one of the solutions individually, by showing my credit card to my friends who wish to use them online, and then giving me the amount paid in cash – but that did not work for long as banks restricted credit card use by lowering limits."

With all these financial hurdles, Samir raises many questions that concern him: "Will new restrictions be placed on withdrawals? Will we lose all of our savings in Lebanese banks? Will we be unable to provide our daily needs one day, or perhaps be unable to cover urgent needs, such as medical care? Will we be forced to borrow money and become indebted even though we actually have money?" he wonders, as he further expresses his concerns and fears of what an unknown and ambiguous future could bring in terms of decisions and repercussions on the situation in Lebanon and in turn, Syria.

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