Breaking News
Get Actionable Insights with InvestingPro+: Start 7 Day FREE Trial Register here
Investing Pro 0
Ad-Free Version. Upgrade your experience. Save up to 40% More details

Syria's election holds few surprises after years of war

WorldMay 25, 2021 04:49AM ET
Saved. See Saved Items.
This article has already been saved in your Saved Items
2/2 © Reuters. People shop at Souk al-Hamidieh decorated with banners depicting Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, ahead of the May 26 presidential election, in Damascus, Syria May 22, 2021. REUTERS/Yamam al Shaar 2/2

By Suleiman Al-Khalidi

AMMAN (Reuters) -Campaign posters for Bashar al-Assad line the streets of Damascus, alongside those for two obscure rivals, but no one really doubts that Wednesday's election will extend his presidency despite 10 years of war that has left Syria in ruins.

Ruled by his family for five decades, Syria is now barely recognisable from the nation that Assad, now 55, took over in 2000 after the death of his father, Hafez al-Assad.

When he began, the young eye doctor, who was belatedly groomed for office after his elder brother died in a car accident, promised a shift from his father's iron grip - offering space to opponents and overtures to Western foes.

But reforms were swiftly buried and protests against his authoritarian rule erupted in 2011 as the Arab Spring swept across the region, turning into a conflict that has killed hundreds of thousands of people and driven 11 million from their homes, about half the population.

Assad has retaken control of much of his nation, where some voters will cast ballots this week at polling stations surrounded by bombed out buildings. But he has achieved this only with the decisive military help from Russia and Iran.

"If war imposes itself on our agenda, it doesn't mean to prevent us from doing our duties," he said on the Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) account for his campaign, which has the slogan "Hope through work".

But, for swathes of the country, their employment barely buys enough food. A shawerma sandwich, made from chicken or meat roasted on a skewer, was once the kind of snack people grabbed with little thought from a street cafe.

"Can you believe a shawerma costs nearly half my salary?" said Ali Habib, 33, saying it cost 20,000 Syrian pounds, while his monthly wage as a teacher in a state school is 50,000 pounds, or just over $16 at the unofficial rate.

Subsidised food has become a lifeline for many. Habib, who like others in Syria quoted in this article communicated with a Reuters correspondent outside the country, has had to sell some furniture to feed his wife and two daughters.


Western governments and Assad's domestic opponents, many now abroad because they say it is the only way to avoid Syria's pervasive secret police, or mukhabarat, view the vote as a choreographed affair to rubber stamp his rule.

"The country Assad is ruling is a shadow of the country that was Syria 10 years ago," said Wael Sawah, a former political prisoner in exile in the United States. "The structure of society has changed as well as the economy too. It's a shadow of what Syria was."

Some Syrians say the vote aims to tell the United States, Europe and others that Assad is unbroken and Syria still functions, even amid pockets of fighting, mostly in the north.

"These elections are aimed at the West, taking the pattern of Western-style elections in one way or the other to give an 'I am like you' message," said Maan Abdul Salam, who heads Syrian think-tank ETANA.

There has been nothing Western-style about past results. In the 2014 poll, official numbers had Assad securing almost 89% of votes on turnout of more than 73%, even though it took place amid fierce fighting. Critics dismissed it as a sham.

This year, Assad's rivals are former deputy cabinet minister Abdallah Saloum Abdallah, and Mahmoud Ahmed Marei, head of a small, officially sanctioned opposition party.

Assad has also released hundreds of longtime supporters from judges to civil servants who were arrested earlier this year in a crackdown to silence critics within his loyalist camp.

Assad, who is from the tiny Alawite religious community, has all but crushed the insurgency in Syria, a majority Sunni Muslim nation. He has done so with the aid of Russia, which sent in warplanes, and Iran, whose support includes fighters from Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shi'ite group backed by Iran.

Turkey still holds territory in the northwest where millions live in squalid camps after fleeing Russian-backed bombardment, and there is a small U.S. military presence in the northeast, underpinning Kurdish rebels.


Before the war, Syria had a small but growing industrial base and produced modest amounts of oil from its northeast, now under Kurdish control, where most of its wheat was grown. Other food needs were met mainly from its fertile Mediterranean coast.

Now the economy has crumbled. Power cuts are longer than during some of the worst fighting, as the government lacks foreign exchange to import fuel. Inflation has soared.

"The situation today is not better from previous days when we lived under siege and bombardment," said Abdul Khalek Hasouna from Moudamiya, a town near Damascus. "It was better than now."

But Assad has contained his main opponents. Sunni rebels, the backbone of the insurgency, are largely hemmed into the north. There is little sign of new opposition in other areas.

Places like Ghouta, on the edge of Damascus, remain subdued. Western states and rights groups say Ghouta faced deadly gas attacks that killed hundreds after an uprising. Assad denies it.

To encourage any disenchanted loyalists, Assad has offered interest-free loans and one-off grants to state employees. State salaries have been hiked. But Western sanctions still bite.

"The economy won't stand on its feet if economic sanctions are not lifted," said Nabil Sukr, a Damascus-based economist.

During the war, Assad's security services nurtured militias to help fight its battles. With the fighting subsiding, some disenchanted militia members say the groups have created powerful fiefdoms. Others complain they have not been fairly rewarded.

"My two brothers were martyred and what did we get? Nothing," said Younes, a former fighter in a militia in Tartous on the Mediterranean, who only gave his first name.

Yet, for some Syrians, such as Habib on his tiny teacher's salary, election or not, there is little choice.

"Life has become unbearable under Assad," he said. "We used to look at him at as saint and now he is pushing us from stalwart supporters to silent opposition."

Syria's election holds few surprises after years of war

Related Articles

Add a Comment

Comment Guidelines

We encourage you to use comments to engage with other users, share your perspective and ask questions of authors and each other. However, in order to maintain the high level of discourse we’ve all come to value and expect, please keep the following criteria in mind:  

  •            Enrich the conversation, don’t trash it.

  •           Stay focused and on track. Only post material that’s relevant to the topic being discussed. 

  •           Be respectful. Even negative opinions can be framed positively and diplomatically. Avoid profanity, slander or personal attacks directed at an author or another user. Racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination will not be tolerated.

  • Use standard writing style. Include punctuation and upper and lower cases. Comments that are written in all caps and contain excessive use of symbols will be removed.
  • NOTE: Spam and/or promotional messages and comments containing links will be removed. Phone numbers, email addresses, links to personal or business websites, Skype/Telegram/WhatsApp etc. addresses (including links to groups) will also be removed; self-promotional material or business-related solicitations or PR (ie, contact me for signals/advice etc.), and/or any other comment that contains personal contact specifcs or advertising will be removed as well. In addition, any of the above-mentioned violations may result in suspension of your account.
  • Doxxing. We do not allow any sharing of private or personal contact or other information about any individual or organization. This will result in immediate suspension of the commentor and his or her account.
  • Don’t monopolize the conversation. We appreciate passion and conviction, but we also strongly believe in giving everyone a chance to air their point of view. Therefore, in addition to civil interaction, we expect commenters to offer their opinions succinctly and thoughtfully, but not so repeatedly that others are annoyed or offended. If we receive complaints about individuals who take over a thread or forum, we reserve the right to ban them from the site, without recourse.
  • Only English comments will be allowed.

Perpetrators of spam or abuse will be deleted from the site and prohibited from future registration at’s discretion.

Write your thoughts here
Are you sure you want to delete this chart?
Post also to:
Replace the attached chart with a new chart ?
Your ability to comment is currently suspended due to negative user reports. Your status will be reviewed by our moderators.
Please wait a minute before you try to comment again.
Thanks for your comment. Please note that all comments are pending until approved by our moderators. It may therefore take some time before it appears on our website.
Are you sure you want to delete this chart?
Replace the attached chart with a new chart ?
Your ability to comment is currently suspended due to negative user reports. Your status will be reviewed by our moderators.
Please wait a minute before you try to comment again.
Add Chart to Comment
Confirm Block

Are you sure you want to block %USER_NAME%?

By doing so, you and %USER_NAME% will not be able to see any of each other's's posts.

%USER_NAME% was successfully added to your Block List

Since you’ve just unblocked this person, you must wait 48 hours before renewing the block.

Report this comment

I feel that this comment is:

Comment flagged

Thank You!

Your report has been sent to our moderators for review
Disclaimer: Fusion Media would like to remind you that the data contained in this website is not necessarily real-time nor accurate. All CFDs (stocks, indexes, futures) and Forex prices are not provided by exchanges but rather by market makers, and so prices may not be accurate and may differ from the actual market price, meaning prices are indicative and not appropriate for trading purposes. Therefore Fusion Media doesn`t bear any responsibility for any trading losses you might incur as a result of using this data.

Fusion Media or anyone involved with Fusion Media will not accept any liability for loss or damage as a result of reliance on the information including data, quotes, charts and buy/sell signals contained within this website. Please be fully informed regarding the risks and costs associated with trading the financial markets, it is one of the riskiest investment forms possible.
Continue with Google
Sign up with Email