Roll up! Syrian cigar factory hopes to smoke out the competition despite war
Of the 130 factory workers, only 6 are men. The state-run factory is hoping to create up to 1000 jobs. (Image: Wikimedia Commons)
In Syria's northeastern province of Latakia, workers roll the country's first locally made cigars, a new product being launched despite the devastating civil conflict now in its fifth year. The project is three years in the making, with workers learning to hand-roll cigars "in accordance with international standards". "We decided to develop a new product without foreign expertise with the hope of supporting the economy," Shadi Mualla, the plant manager told AFP, in a criticism of what he believed was "the economic war waged against Syria" by the West.
Despite the conflict in Syria, workers at the state-run General Tobacco Company have launched the country's first locally made cigars, in an effort to create much-needed jobs and increase revenue, AFP reports.
Operating from Syria's northeastern province of Latakia, the initiative will create approximately 1,000 new jobs, according to the company's director general, Salman al-Abbas. "The company will start selling the products on the local market very soon and then begin trying to export to friendly countries," says Abbas.
Now entering its fifth year, Syria's brutal civil war has ravaged the economy and has claimed over 215,000 lives. Smarting from European Union sanctions since 2012, the General Tobacco company was formerly one of the country's most successful state-run enterprises. The company's assets were frozen after accusations that it helped finance the government's bloody crackdown against unrest.The tobacco for the cigars is grown by the factory in coastal Latakia, which is situated in a stronghold of the government of President Bashar Assad. Largely insulated from the conflict, the region is the birthplace of Assad's father, and is also the heartland for the Alawite minority sect to which the president belongs.
Um Ali, a woman in her fifties began working at the factory in 2011 and says it has taken three years to master the subtle art of rolling cigars. "At first, I didn't even know what a cigar was," she tells AFP. "One day, Hussam, an engineer here, said to us 'Ladies, you're used to making (local delicacy) stuffed vine leaves, so try to roll cigars the same way'," she adds.
Um Ali used the internet to watch videos about Cuban cigar production to learn how to best produce the luxury item and boasts that the cigars will be "100 percent Syrian". "They have the flavor of Syrian tobacco, and they are made by Syrian workers," she says, taking a puff on one. Only six of the 130 factory workers are men, and the factory produces 400 to 500 cigars daily. Still in the testing and quality control phase, the company hopes to export, as well as sell to wealthy locals. Hussam Mahmud, a factory engineer, says the new cigar line is intended "to defy the embargo by creating a new and profitable product", and hopes to compete with the world's most prestigious brands, including those from Cuba. He plans to target countries that retain ties with Syria, including Iran, Russia and China, as well as some African nations.
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