The New Arab Logo

Breaking News
Syria Weekly: Syria running on empty as petrol shortages fuel anger Open in fullscreen

Paul McLoughlin

Syria Weekly: Syria running on empty as petrol shortages fuel anger

Syria has been hit by a fuel crisis [Getty]

Date of publication: 19 April, 2019

Share this page:
  • 0

  • twitter
Syria's roads have come to a standstill as petrol shortages hit the country, but the regime has continued to find money for new Assad statues.
Syrians are travelling on horseback and carriages, replacing lorries on the streets of Damascus as petrol stations run dry of supplies. US President Donald Trump's efforts to financially strangle nemesis Iran are also crippling Syria, where Tehran's level of support for Bashar al-Assad is becoming clearer.

Meanwhile, as Assad wins back parts of the country, the regime is prioritising the ruling family's cult-of-personality above reconstruction.

Running out of gas

Syria's energy woes have worsened with horses replacing cars on empty streets of the capital as petrol shortages ravage the country.

For years, Syrians living in regime-controlled areas have complained about the high cost of gas and the long queues to purchase the canisters.

Now, the situation has worsened with videos from Latakia and other cities in government areas showing cars queuing bumper-to-bumper for miles outside petrol stations, as they waited their turn to fill the tanks.

Videos this week have showed Syrians travelling by horse-drawn carriages highlighted the acute shortages of fuel that have blighted the country.

Read more here: Syrians go back to horses and mules for transportation amid unprecedented fuel crisis

On Monday, the government tightened subsidised fuel supplies with private vehicles owners rationed to 20 litres of petrol every five days, which have been severely curtailed this month.

Government agencies have also suffered and been ordered to have supplies cut.

So tight is the situation, there have been reports that one fuel company linked to Hayat Tahrir al-Sham rebel group, which controls opposition Idlib province, have been selling fuel to regime areas, according to opposition media.

There have been reports that one fuel company linked to Hayat Tahrir al-Sham rebel group, which controls opposition Idlib province, have been selling fuel to regime areas

This has led to protests by other rebel groups and activists who view the alleged money making scheme as a betrayal to the revolutionary cause.

Many Syrians in regime-controlled areas have suffered hardships during the war, where prioritising the regime's war against rebels has seen shortages of basic products and general corruption and lawlessness have worsened the cost. Cooking fuel has been in short supply throughout the war.

The recent petrol crisis has laid clear the level of support Iran has lent Bashar al-Assad throughout the war, with US sanctions directly connected to the fuel shortages.

Iran has been providing Assad's regime with thousands of Revolutionary Guards officers and militia fighters during the war, but no less important has been the economic support Iran has provided Damascus.

While Syria was under sanctions due to the regime's punishing war on opposition areas that has financially crippled the country, Iran had experienced some sanctions relief following a nuclear agreement with Iran.

That changed under the hawkish government of US President Donald Trump, who has made it a foreign policy aim to bring Iran to its knees through diplomatic and economic pressure.

Iran's subsequent money troubles from the US embargo has forced Tehran to cut $200 million in credit for fuel supplies to Damascus.

Syrian consumes around 100,000 barrels of oil a day, but only produces around a quarter or this, according to the government, forcing Damascus to import around 2 to 3 million barrels from Iran.

This credit line for oil supplies started in October 2013 with Damascus racking up $3 billion, according to AP.

Head of the state fuel distribution company, Mustapha Hammouriyyeh, told Al-Ikhbariya TV that Syria has received no shipments since Trump announced tough new sanctions on Iran in October.

The relatively candid comments from the government official led to Damascus demanding Al-Ikhbariya to take down the story from its site. When they refused, the pro-regime channel's website manager was reportedly detained.

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammed Zarif visited Damascus to meet Assad this week where the issue was likely discussed.

The US State Department blamed the Syrian regime's guns over butter resource strategy for the suffering.

"The Assad regime continues to squander its scarce resources funding militias that kill Syrians while entrenching war profiteers," said Morgan Ortagus, spokesperson for the State Department.

"Meanwhile ordinary Syrians suffer daily shortages of fuel and other basic necessities. Time for the Syrian government to stop killing and starving Syrians."

Despite the evident hardship, Syrian media have tried to portray a blitz spirit aspect to the shortages, showing people dancing and bonding in the queues outside petrol stations, while businesses have rushed to captivate audiences with product samples and advertising.

Syria also hosted a horse festival on the streets of Damascus this week, in a bid to shore up morale, while some of the images of the event appear to have been mistakingly used online to highlight the fuel crisis.

The options for Syria are limited, especially since it is under its own sanctions. But the shortages will test the patience of even regime supporters if the situation continues and without fuel, business will be hit even harder.

Russia has been increasing fuel supplies but not to the levels that the country needs, according to one source.

Shipping Iraqi oil through Jordan has also been suggested and then redacted by one newspaper, although the US would be unlikely to allow its regional ally to provide an economic lifeline to Assad. 

It is clear that if Assad wins the war, then the people of the devastated country will likely be consumed by financial hardship living under a brutal police state where any complains are viewed as dissent.  

Cult of personality

Meanwhile, the regime has found money for a string of statues commemorating the late President Hafez al-Assad, who died in 2000 and was replaced by his son, Bashar.

Syria Weekly has already reported how the reconstruction of a Hafez al-Assad's statue in the former opposition stronghold of Daraa led to brief unrest.

The regime's attempts to stamp its mark on cities that fell out of its control has obvious motives but channelling scarce funds into further entrenching Assad's cult-of-personality rather than reconstruction has faced criticism from Syrians of different persuasions

Since then, other statues have been reportedly built, including one in Deir az-Zour, a city which still remains devastated by a years' long war between the regime and the Islamic State group. A monument for the current president's late brother Bassel has now been built in the city this week.

The regime's attempts to stamp its mark on cities that fell out of its control has obvious motives but channelling scarce funds into further entrenching Assad's cult-of-personality rather than reconstruction has faced criticism from Syrians of different persuasions. 

As fuel shortages hit the country, this week a letter from the ministry of electricity which shows plans to install lighting on the road leading to Hafez al-Assad's mausoleum in his home city of Qardaha. The letter calls for bids for the tender worth over $100,000, but only for energy companies with demonstrable experience in similar projects. 

It also highlights "the importance of the project... for the symbolism of the country.

Hafez al-Assad's mausoleum has become something of a pilgrimage site for regime supporters during the war, and also includes the tombs of Bashar's mother and brother Bassel.


Syria Weekly is a new, regular feature from The New Arab. To get Syria Weekly in your inbox each week, sign up here

Paul McLoughlin is a news editor at The New Arab. 

Follow him on Twitter: @PaullMcLoughlin

The New ArabComments

Most Popular

Most Popular

    Read More