A revolution of the starving in Syria

A revolution of the starving in Syria
6 min read
23 Oct, 2014
The hopes and ambitions of the uprising, founded on the injustice and tyranny of the old regime, have faded and been replaced by a desperation born of hunger
For many, hunger has become a brutal enemy [AP]

A revolution by the starving is not the same as a revolution for dignity. This is a truth that cannot be ignored. Almost four years ago the Syrian people rose up in a fight for dignity. 

More than anything else, the crowds of protesters called for freedom in their chants. Have we forgotten the chant: "Just God, Syria and freedom"? 

     Syria is going hungry. Those who decided to stay await death, while those who left now live in refugee camps in destitution.

The regime's early answer came from presidential adviser Bouthaina Shaaban, who announced an increase in government salaries, a trivial increase in comparison with private sector wages in the country at the time.

Syrians did not go out onto the streets to demand bread. Despite shortages and the low standard of living of the majority of Syrians, poverty in Syria did not have fangs. It did not bite, but it did fuel feelings of humiliation and inflamed the sense of injustice and indignity. Every day the average Syrian would see the gap widening between himself and the privileged wealthy, whose wealth and immorality grew together. Their fortunes sprouted like mushrooms out of swamps of corruption, and was closely related to power and the ability to make alliances with leading members of the regime. 

The end of hope

The situation has now changed. Syria is not the same as it was four years ago. Hunger now gnaws at the very heart of the nation. It has been ripped apart by the fangs of poverty and the swords of the disbelievers. Its olive fields have been torched by barrel bombs, its crops set alight by rockets. Syrians have no choice but to join the warring factions. Some have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group (IS, formerly known as ISIS), while others have joined the regime's forces. But starvation and despair threaten both groups. 

Syria is going hungry. Those who decided to stay await death, while those who left now live in refugee camps, in destitution and humiliation. Four years ago, the highest monthly salary of a government employee after 30 years of service was between $800 and $1,000. These days it is around $250. Loaves of bread are the only thing keeping us alive, and even those have gone up in price. The basics of the average Syrian's diet - olives, oil, butter, sugar, rice, wheat, cereals, beans and tea - now sting twice. Once because it is dangerous to go out to buy them and a second time because they are often impossible to find.

Syria's bountiful soil has been plundered, it barely supports life any longer. Fruits and vegetables are harvested all at once. Syrians eke out a meagre existence and have fallen into the hands of war profiteers. Even the food baskets intended to feed refugees are sold on the black market. 

     This Syria is hungry, it devours itself. The angels of Hell have been unleashed on it.

In Syria, where shoppers used to buy their seasonal fruits and vegetables from the greengrocers by the crate, vendors today use digital scales almost accurate enough to weigh gold. Syrians now calculate how many bites of this or that type of food they can give each child and figure out how much it will cost. They ask the seller to measure by money, not by weight. "Give me 200 liras worth of okra," they say.

In the past it was not unusual to see scavengers. But what is strange is that now they scavenge for food whereas they used to collect scrap metal. Yes, in Syria I have seen children and adults scavenging in skips, taking out rubbish and eating it. In Syria, beggars of all ages wander the streets, asking for money for a loaf of bread. Children tell you they are hungry and ask for money for a sandwich.

This Syria is hungry, it devours itself. The angels of Hell have been unleashed on it. This Syria is vulnerable. The partisan media have dined on it for almost four years, fragmenting society and fuelling malice, vengeance and the baser primal instincts. It is starving while the forces of the world are coalescing to fight their brutal new creation, armed to the teeth and indoctrinated with a creed of death. They are supported by limitless resources and have already spent billions on their futile war while the Syrians starve in want of a few lira for a simple loaf of bread.

Here is a people torn apart, scattered across the land. Those who survive are moving backwards in time, retreating into a wilderness and slowly returning to their primal state. The people are starving, and, as the Arabic proverb says, "hunger will make a man an infidel". A revolution of the hungry is different from other revolutions. Other revolutions seem luxurious in comparison. 

A revolution adrift

     The time has come for those who supported the revolution to admit their mistakes.

A revolution without intellectual cover, a programme or at the very least a road map was bound to fall apart. Syrians have been abandoned. They have become guinea pigs and tools of selfish interests to further selfish ends. The foundations of Syrian society have been damaged. It has been poisoned with revenge. Revenge from what? Revenge from the "other".

"The people want to bring down the regime" was the popular revolutionary chant. Every citizen that developed a political consciousness wanted to bring down the regime. But what have they done to bring it down? Is the regime contained in a single person? Or is it a group of interconnected systems, fused together through years of tyranny? The time has come for those who supported the revolution to admit their mistakes, mistakes largely responsible for pushing the country into its current dire situation.

As Khatib Badla said in his commentary for al-Araby al-Jadeed's Arabic edition:
"I have come to the conviction that the biggest mistake we have made, as Syrian revolutionaries, was wasting time talking about bringing down the regime. We did not bother to discuss the major fundamental issues, which give the revolution its distinctive character and could actually bring down the regime. Issues connected to the constitution, the flag, legislation and the mechanisms for the rotation of power in the future state." 

After the collapse of society, the deterioration of political awareness and engagement, the spectre of hunger is stalking the land. The hungry will take their revenge and satiate their primal instincts. The revolution of the hungry is about to happen. Who will come to the aid of a nation that has already been slaughtered? 

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.