Friday, 25 April 2008

Syria—food prices

Syrians are concerned that sharp price increases in basic foods like bread will have a major impact on an economy that is already in poor shape.

The economics ministry recently announced that 15 million Syrians—or about three-quarters of the population—have been affected by rising food prices.

Bread has reached 40 lira [80 US cents] for a kilogram sold on the open market, compared with 25 lira at the end of last year. The government also offers subsidised bread, of poorer quality.

The rising prices have been widely covered in the media, and many Syrians see the cost of bread in particular as the latest and most serious example of rising inflation. While the government has downplayed the issue, many people say they fear hungry days lie ahead.

"We have two choices left to us—either to fast, or to wait for the days of hunger,” said one civil servant. “Our incomes barely cover a quarter of our basic needs, and they ask us why we accept bribes."

Syria— cuts in fuel subsidies

The Institute for War & Peace Reporting reports on fuel cuts in Syria:

The Syrian government is introducing rationing for the heating oil it makes available at subsidised prices. The move has been met by some criticism, but comes in the face of the rising cost of oil imports, and smuggling which is siphoning off much of the cut-price kerosene to other countries.

The scheme represents the first stage of a plan by the ministry of economy and trade to phase out subsidies for all petroleum products in the next five years.

Syrians are now lining up to collect the vouchers that will entitle each family to 1,000 litres of subsidised kerosene for the year. The government plans to distribute vouchers to 5.1 million families by April 26.

The government says 1,000 litres of heating oil should be enough to get people through even a cold winter. Oil minister Sufian al-Alaw said in a statement that 77 percent of families use less than that amount in the course of a year.

A litre of kerosene currently costs about 7.20 lira, about 14 US cents. The government has not yet announced what the fuel will cost under the new scheme.

Male heads of household, widows with children, and the oldest sons in orphaned families are allowed to claim vouchers, and there has been a storm of criticism from women’s rights activists who questioned why divorced, unmarried or widowed women living alone should be excluded.

“That is blatantly discriminatory against women, and it’s an irresponsible decision," said one women’s activist.

University students, too, are complaining that they are not entitled to any subsidised fuel even if they live far from the family home.

In the rural Al-Tal area outside Damascus, one resident said people there needed more heating oil than the average.

“The weather is very cold,” he said. “We definitely use more kerosene than people who live in the city of Damascus."

Tuesday, 22 April 2008


Middle East Times reports:

The shooting deaths of two activists from a pro-government Lebanese Christian party on Sunday have underscored the level of political disarray over this small country.

The town of Zahle [in the Bekaa valley] was in mourning on Monday, a day after gunmen opened fire at members of the Phalangist Party during an inauguration of a new party office, killing two and wounding three others.

Police have launched a manhunt for the suspects, whom security sources said were Christian supporters of Zahle MP Elie Skaff, who is allied with the Hezbollah-led opposition.

Lebanese commentators say the attack not only highlights the growing division among the Maronite Christian community, but signals a dangerous level the political crisis has reached, particularly amid credible reports that some of the parties are arming and training militias.

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Trouble at the Oasis

Egyptian police used tear gas on 5000 residents of a desert oasis on Saturday protesting a government decision to redraw provincial boundaries, reports the AFP.