To boycot or to fast? Syria's Ramadan question
Syrians shop in the covered market in centreal Damascus on July 9, 2013 as they prepare for the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan.( AFP PHOTO / STR)
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As a consumer protection committee was making the rounds in a Damascus market to monitor prices before the month of Ramadan, a vendor’s cries promoted his goods: “Today the kilo is 400 liras, tomorrow it’ll be 500. Come and buy, tomorrow it’ll cost more.” The committee ignored him.
This scene summarizes the government’s impotence and the merchants’ audacity as they have come to rule the market and control the Syrian people’s food.
It appears that official statements and repeated promises to intervene to lower prices and put an end to merchants’ greed are not enough to absorb the anger of the people whose suffering has exceeded all expectations with the advent of Ramadan.
In an attempt to take things into their own hands, some Syrians have launched campaigns on social networking sites to boycott food items in order to “punish the merchants” and lower prices. The boycott campaigns began two days before Ramadan, raising slogans like “We want to live, merchants fear God.”
Majd Niazi, the secretary general of an opposition party, is participating in the boycott, announcing that she will not buy eggs, chicken, yogurt and other dairy products for a week if merchants fail to respond. She called on the Syrian media to support “the people in order to break the merchants and the prices.”
A number of people said that it is the people who have been boycotted by these products as a result of high prices. How do you ask them to boycott products they can’t afford?
Mahmoud criticized the campaign. “It is the wrong thing to do at this difficult moment,” he said. The campaign might lead to the loss of certain products if their production is discontinued.
Businessman Bashar al-Nouri, head of the organization “Loyalty to Syria,” refused comment to Al-Akhbar on the campaign because “whoever wants to get his son yogurt is going to buy it from a merchant.” He said “May God help” the merchant whose profit margin may be 20 percent and not 300 percent.
According to Nouri, the organization asked merchants, to provide “out of the kindness of their hearts” some food items at cost to be sold during the first days of Ramadan in the showrooms of the General Consumption Institution (GCI) in Baramkeh. He said that today they are focused on serving citizens and helping them deal with high prices. These high prices are the result of the deterioration of the Syrian pound.
An anonymous economic analyst argued that the market’s chaos should be examined by studying the rate of price increase. He does not hesitate to express his dismay over the government’s failure to control prices.
Aleppo today has become “a forgotten city,” having been ignored by the media, neglected by the government and besieged by the opposition as Nairi Ghassan, who resides in the Sulaimaniyah region, put it. Ghassan describes the public anger and rising resentment over the reality of the services sector in the city, which is the worst in Syria in terms of high prices and food shortages. By implementing a religious edict by al-Nusra Front, the armed opposition is trying to starve Aleppo with the start of Ramadan.
As price controls slip out of the government’s hands and prices continue to increase daily, the majority of Syrians will welcome the month of fasting with empty pockets.
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