Sanctions Pose Growing Threat to Syria’s Assad
Muzaffar Salman/Associated Press
By NADA BAKRI
Published: October 10, 2011
BEIRUT, Lebanon — The Syrian economy is buckling under the pressure of sanctions by the West and a continuing popular uprising, posing a growing challenge to President Bashar al-Assad’s government as the pain is felt deeply by nearly every layer of Syrian society.With Syria’s currency weakening, its recession expanding, its tourism industry wrecked and international sanctions affecting most essential sectors, the International Monetary Fund now expects Syria’s economy to shrink this year, by at least 2 percent.
Through nearly seven months of protests and a brutal crackdown that has killed more than 2,900 people, Mr. Assad and his political supporters have demonstrated a cohesiveness that has surprised even his critics. Differences that may exist have stayed inside a ruling clique that draws on Mr. Assad’s own clan and sect, and the security services have yet to fracture.
But analysts in the region and officials in Turkey and the United States say the faltering economy presents a double blow to a government that had once relied on its economic successes as a crucial source of legitimacy. As many Syrians, poor and rich, feel the effects of the revolt in their daily lives, a sense of desperation is echoed in the streets, even in Damascus and Aleppo, the country’s two largest cities and economic centers.
Analysts also point out that Syria could use sanctions to rally its people against a common threat.
While neither has risen up like other Syrian cities, complaints are growing, and American and Turkish officials say they believe that the merchant elite in both cities will eventually turn against Mr. Assad.
“I can no longer afford to buy anything for my family,” said Ibrahim Nimr, an economic analyst based in Damascus, the capital. “I am not making any more money. I am facing difficulties, and I don’t know what to do.”
A businessman in Damascus, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, said: “People are not buying anything they don’t need these days. Just barely the necessities.”
American and Turkish officials say that a collapse is not imminent and that the government can probably survive through the end of the year. But they now believe it is possible that the toll of the sanctions and protests could bring down Mr. Assad in 6 to 18 months.
“We’re all waiting for the thing that will crack them,” an Obama administration official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “And it will be the economy that will wake everybody up, both those who support him, and Assad and his circle.”