Protests against Syria’s soaring cost of living spread to north and east of country

Calls for minimum wage and release of political prisoners

Protests against Syria’s soaring cost of living launched early this week in the southern provinces of Deraa and Sueda have spread to Aleppo in the north and Deir al-Zor in the east. Images posted on social media have recorded Sueda protesters chanting, “Long live Syria and down with [president] Bashar al-Assad,” a slogan resurrected from the 2011 Arab Spring uprising.

Members of Mr Assad’s small Alawite community in coastal Latakia province have posted calls for a minimum wage of $100 (€93) a month and the release of political prisoners.

The government’s efforts to restructure the country’s collapsed economy by lifting subsidies on fuel and doubling civil servants’ salaries and pensions has triggered inflation, prompting the first far-flung demonstrations in government-held areas since the civil and proxy conflict wound down in 2019. While Syrians believed this would mean reconstruction and an end to privation, US and European sanctions have discouraged expatriate Syrians and Arab firms and governments from investing in Syria.

The Syrian currency has fallen to an all-time low against the dollar, food prices have risen sharply, electricity is rationed to three hours a day in many areas, and, according to the UN, 90 per cent of Syrians live in poverty.


Syria reconciled with Arab countries in May, and US academic and Syria expert Joshua Landis told Washington-based Al-Monitor website, “People were expecting things would get better.” Instead, he added, “It’s a perfect storm. Things are much worse.” There had been no foreign investment which could boost employment and rescue the economy.

However, he said, current conditions were unlikely to precipitate a fresh conflict. “There is no foreign support for an uprising, there is no potential for unity [against the government], and the opposition has been destroyed,” Mr Landis stated.

While a low level of unrest in Deraa is chronic, Sueda’s influential Druze religious clerics could compromise with the government over its unpopular economic plan. Powerful businessmen in Aleppo are likely to back Mr Assad, and there is a strong military presence in Deir al-Zor, where roaming jihadi fugitives often attack troops. Consequently, if the challenge grows, Mr Assad could count on the Alawites, Aleppo and Deir al-Zor as well as Damascus, Homs and Hama, which have not so far been caught up in protests.

Syria’s 2011-2019 war was sparked by unrest in Deraa while Sueda – dominated by the minority Druze community – backed the government. Syria’s commercial hub, Aleppo city, was divided between the government-controlled west and opposition-held east until late 2016 when the Syrian army ousted rebel and jihadi forces from the eastern sector. Oil centre Deir al-Zor was besieged for 1,225 days by the Islamic State terror group until it was routed by the army in 2017.

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen contributes news from and analysis of the Middle East to The Irish Times