With Syria’s economy on the verge of collapse, the country’s currency is plunging to record lows. Although Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad has thus far survived the decade-long civil war, his hold on the country now seems more tenuous than ever.
Assad, on Thursday, fired prime minister Imad Khamis, state media reported.
They did not give a reason for the sudden decision to fire Khamis, nonetheless, it is apparent that he was made the scapegoat for the economic crisis. Khamis’s successor as prime minister will be Hussein Arnous, the current water resources minister. Arnous was born in Idlib and has served in a variety of government posts, including as the governor of Deir Zor province that borders Iraq and Quneitra province in southern Syria.
The move to fire Khamis follows weeks of worsening economic conditions and an outbreak of anti-Assad protests in government-held areas.
In Syria’s southern Suwayda province, the Druze community sent a blunt but pointed message to Assad, after three days of protests.
“We promised to keep things peaceful … but if you want bullets, you shall have them.”
The Druze protest was followed by a phony pro-Assad counter-demonstration where government officials were warned by Assad’s secret police what would happen to them if they chose not to be involved.
These events were significant because the Druze — a minority sect — had largely stayed out of the political maelstrom that has been engulfing the country. But their economic plight has made them a very vocal anti-Assad voice, something which they didn’t attempt to hide.
Druze citizens chanted, “curse your soul, we are coming for you.”
Syria’s currency hit a record 3,000 Syrian pounds to the dollar earlier this week in a dangerous free-fall. For comparison, it was trading at 47 pounds to the dollar at the start of the conflict a decade ago.
Nearly 85 percent of Syrians live below the poverty line and food shortages are always a harbinger of bad things to come for an established regime. The Turkish government’s decision to transition the areas that they control to the Turkish lira puts Assad in a no-win position and there is nothing that his benefactors in Moscow and Tehran can do.
Assad and his supporters blame U.S. and Western sanctions for the economic collapse which has led to soaring prices and a lack of basic necessities such as food and other items.
The Trump administration is in the process of leveling new sanctions, known as the Caesar Act, which will take effect later this month. They will put the Assad regime in even more dire straits.
Assad, with the backing of massive Russian airstrikes and an influx of Iranian-led proxy militias, has crushed the opposition forces, with the exception of those in Idlib province. Yet, the brutal repression by the regime, which was the cause of the civil war’s eruption, has not disappeared — on the contrary, it has intensified. For the average Syrian citizen, the standard of living now is worse than at any time during the civil war and they’re getting increasingly fed up with Assad.
And those voices are being heard in Assad’s long-time supporters in Moscow. The anti-Assad messages coming out of Russia are making it clear that the Putin government isn’t against regime change.
The new prime minister is placed in a no-win situation. He and Assad may simply be biding time until the inevitable regime change takes place.