Syria is on the verge of economic collapse

Syria is on the verge of economic collapse. Assad is to blame
5 min read

Joseph Daher

15 August, 2023
Currency devaluation and inflation have triggered a devastating cost of living crisis. Already struggling to make ends meet, many Syrians feel they have no choice but to leave, writes Joseph Daher.
While external factors have contributed to rising inflation, it is the Syrian regime's neoliberal policies that are primarily to blame, writes Joseph Daher. [Getty]

Last month, the Syrian Pound (SYP) hit a historic low on the black market. Faced with inflation and economic stagnation, the Central Bank of Syria devalued the official exchange rate in July for the third time in 2023, from SYP 6,532 to SYP 8,542 to the US dollar.

Since then, the currency has depreciated further, currently trading at SYP 13,000 to the dollar.

The depreciation triggered a panic in local markets, with prices rising on all types of essential products, from food to fuel, as economic actors pegged prices to the black market to maintain profits.

In response to skyrocketing prices, shopkeepers from Latakia to Suweida were forced to close their establishments while importers suspended their imports.

The rise in the price of fuel and diesel has impacted everything from agricultural production, electricity generation, heating, and transportation. This, of course, increases the cost of production, further exacerbating inflation. 

The Syrian government has failed to tackle the deterioration of the Syrian national currency and its effects on the economy, creating anger and frustrations among wide sectors of the population. People have taken to social media to express their anger.

Despite this, there have been talks of cutting subsidies on key products, such as bread and oil, even further. No measures or decisions have been made to increase wages and improve living standards, except for a new one-time bonus for wounded veterans of the military, security, and National Defence Forces, a pro-regime militia, ranging from SYP 300,000 to SYP 400,000.

The official minimum wage remains set at SYP 92,970 - equivalent to just under $11 at the official exchange rate of 8,542 SYP/USD - greatly insufficient to sustain a family. In mid-July, it was estimated that the average cost of life for a family of five in Damascus is SYP 6.56 million, or $772.

In the Northeast, the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) announced at the end of July that it would set the salaries of its employees according to the dollar to counter the devaluation.

In the Northwest, the Syrian Salvation Government (SSG), which acts as Hayat Tahrir Sham’s civil administration in Idlib province and sectors of Aleppo’s western countryside, permitted the use of the dollar for vegetable and fruit trade instead of the Turkish Lira, following a new collapse of the Turkish national currency.

Prior to this, the SSG had allowed the use of the dollar for the payment of oil goods in June 2021, before issuing some wages in dollars in December 2021.

For everyday Syrians, the depreciation of the Syrian pound and  the high inflation rates have devastated their purchasing power by massively increasing the cost of living.


Even prior to July, Syrians were struggling to make ends meet. The first half of 2023 saw the national average price of standard reference food basket increase by 27%, reaching a price that is nearly seven times more than three years ago.

So far, the rapid rise in prices shows no signs of abating. In the first two weeks of August, prices continued to rise between 30% and 100%, including the price of medical drugs by 50%.

As if all of this isn’t enough, the exploding cost of living crisis is occurring in the background of a continuous decrease in international funding to the Syrian humanitarian situation. In June, the World Food Program (WFP) stated that it was cutting its aid to 2.5 million of the 5.5 million people who depend on the organisation for their basic food needs as a result of an unprecedented funding crisis.

Even before the devastating earthquake in February,  UNICEF estimated that 15 million people in Syria required humanitarian assistance, while at least 12.1 million people were estimated to be food insecure.

For some, the only way out of the dire situation in Syria is to migrate in search of a better life. 

The continuous deterioration of the  socio-economic situation, lack of work opportunities and low salaries are pushing more and more young Syrians to leave the country, particularly university graduates and skilled workers, in search of better living conditions.

More and more Syrians continue to make the often dangerous attempt to reach Europe, either through legal routes or irregularly. A growing number of Syrians are trying to leave the country through Lebanon, where several fatal accidents at sea have occurred in recent years.

External shocks - such as the financial crisis in Lebanon since October 2019 and the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 - and crippling Western sanctions have certainly contributed to the loss of value of the Syrian Pound and high level of inflation rates.

But it is the Syrian regime’s policies that are mainly responsible for the current situation and continuous impoverishment of the Syrian people.

Alongside its war against the Syrian population and destruction of infrastructure, continuous neoliberal policies, corruption and favouring particular networks of traders affiliated with the presidential palace, and austerity measures led to the current crisis.

It is the Syrian people that pay the price.

Joseph Daher teaches at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland, and is an affiliate professor at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy, where he participates in the "Syrian Trajectories" project. He is the author of "Syria after the Uprisings, The Political Economy of State Resilience".

Follow him on Twitter: @JosephDaher19

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.