Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A People's History of Syria--Part 25: 2004 to February, 2011 Period

Although Bashar Assad’s Baath regime released over 100 more Islamist and other political prisoners—“some of whom had been held since 1987,” according to Alan George’s Syria: Neither Bread nor Freedom—in November 2001, the economic performance of the Baath regime apparently did not improve between 2001 and 2011, especially after the regime began introducing in 2005 an “economic reform plan” for Syria that the International Monetary Fund [IMF] had devised. As James Gelvin’s The Arab Uprisings: What Everyone Needs To Know recalled in 2011:

“…In 2005 he [Bashar Assad] introduced what he called a `social market economy.’…In large measure, the IMF drew up the blueprint for the `social market economy.’…Syrians found two aspects of the `social market economy’ repellent: first, the…replacement of…across-the-board subsidies for food and fuel, with targeted subsidies; second, privatization of government assets…Privatization led…to crony capitalism…Rami Makhloaf, Bashar al-Assad’s first cousin…is not only principal owner of the mobile communications giant Syriatel; his empire also includes holdings in real estate, transport, banking, insurance, construction and tourism…”

The economic situation of many people in Syria also deteriorated more between 2005 and 2011 because of droughts in Syria. As the same book observed, “Syria was self-sufficient in wheat production until 2006, after which there were 4 consecutive years of drought.”

By early 2011 large numbers of people in Syria were more poverty-stricken than in previous years and large numbers of Syrian youth were apparently still unemployed under the undemocratic Baath regime of Bashar Assad. The Arab Uprisings described the economic situation experienced by people in Syria in early 2011 in the following way:

“In Syria, youths under 25 constitute 59 percent of population…Youths in Syria make up the bulk of the unemployed: 67 percent of young males and 53 percent of young females in the labor pool are unemployed. On the average, 81 percent of [Syrian] college graduates spend at least 4 years looking for work before landing their first job…Thirty percent of Syrians currently live below the poverty line, 11 percent below the subsistence level. This is because in Syria about 48 percent of household income is spent on food…The `new poor’…includes the 1.3-1.4 million Syrians who have left the countryside for nearby cities because of the drought…”

So, not surprisingly, large numbers of impoverished or unemployed Syrian youth were apparently willing to join the non-violent demonstrations organized by political opposition groups which called for the democratization of Syrian society in the months after March 2011—after people in Tunisia and Egypt showed--in late 2010 and the first two months of 2011--that street demonstrations and strikes by students, youth and workers could eventually force the leaders of undemocratic and unpopular regimes (like former Egyptian president Mubarak) to relinquish power.

(end of part 25)

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