The regime’s narratives to justify the high prices: Escaping liability, misleading public opinion
As the month of Ramadan approaches, the areas of the Syrian regime are experiencing a sharp rise in prices, which may be the highest surge in 10 years. The price of a kilogram of sugar, a kilogram of bulgur, a kilogram of rice and a kilogram of tomatoes reached about 4,500 Syrian pounds (SYP) each. The price of a kilogram of potatoes has reached about SYP 3000, and the price of a bundle of bread being sold outside the smart card (unsubsidized bread) reaches 2000 Syrian pounds, while the price of red meat exceed SYP 30,000 and white meat is 20,000 per a kilogram.
The price of a family’s basket of food commodities increases on a weekly basis in the regime’s areas. The first week of Ramadan witnessed a 5% increase compared to the prior week. Prices increased by an estimated 8% on a monthly basis in March 2022 compared to February of the same year.
The regime made excuses for the higher prices by providing a 3-pillar narrative in order to escape responsibility and mislead public opinion; As shown below:
1. To blame merchants and holding them responsible:
The Ministry of Internal Trade and Consumer Protection publishes on a daily basis the number of penalties imposed on merchants, which exceeds 100. The Ministry blames merchants for being greedy and reveals "their irresponsible behaviour." Moreover, the Syrian regime Government’s Economy Minister, Muhammad Samer al-Khalil stated on April 6 that the prices of the Ramadan festival held at the Damascus International Fair should be cheaper, calling on companies to reduce prices.
A justification as such is commensurate with the security grip and strict control over criticism against the government. Anyone who might provide a description of the state of the markets in public statements, he/ she must attribute the defect they present to the aforementioned justification, so as to avoid blaming the regime’s government and they must say like: The current problems are because of these unethical businessmen who must be held accountable. Sometimes, some call for holding not only the minor traders accountable, but also the major ones, as was the case in the statement of the members of the Damascus Provincial Council when they met with the Minister of Internal Trade, Amr Salem in late March.
2. Economic Sanctions:
The regime’s government officials do not hesitate to blame the international sanctions imposed on the regime, claiming that the sanctions cause the rise in prices, as was the case in the statement of Foreign Minister, Faisal Miqdad after his meeting with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov on February 21, in which Miqdad stressed that the sanctions are depriving the Syrians of their wealth and exacerbating the crisis.
Repeatedly, various government agencies say that sanctions are the main reason for the price hike, and this narrative is used in the meetings of the regime's international and humanitarian envoys mainly in order to solicit more humanitarian support or lift sanctions.
3. Various conditions:
In the context of using events taking place around the world as excuses, the price hike often is mentioned as a clear result of some events happening in the world. In this regard, the regime’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Bashar al-Jaafari stated on March 24 that Syria is benefiting politically from the Russian-Ukrainian war, even though the whole parties are losers economically. The Minister of Economy also stressed that one of the reasons for the rise in prices in Syria is the current global crisis, referring to the Russian-Ukrainian war.
Also, weather conditions and climate changes are usually to be blamed for higher prices, according to the regime's officials. The Lebanese financial crisis has already been blamed as a direct reason for the high prices, as well as the explosion of the port of Beirut. This narrative fits with the viewpoint of traders in defending themselves when they are held responsible, which helps them in facing criticism.
In general, the regime refuses its officials or its institutions to be blamed for the rise in prices. It treats critics of the government institutions as biased ones against its policies; Well-known figures who criticized the living conditions and held the government responsible were arrested and threatened until they were forced to retreat.