War has been raging in Syria for five years now, and the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad is running out of cash. With ISIS running rampant and seizing oil fields, rebels fighting to replace the regime and a number of other groups scrambling for territory and influence, the Syrian government is grasping at straws.
They are also grasping for your shawarma: The Syrian government just started taxing shawarma sandwiches at a 10 percent rate.
According to Agence France-Presse, this new affront is one of a number of taxes that aim to raise some much-needed cash.
“Last week I had to pay 220 Syrian pounds (about $1 US) for my shawarma sandwich instead of 200, and the restaurant owner told me it was because there’s a new 10 percent ‘reconstruction tax’ that’s being imposed on each sandwich,” a 50-year old Damascus resident named Tahseen told AFP.
The tax adds to the economic misery in the country, where the Syrian pound trades at 390 to the US dollar, up from 60 to the dollar before the war. The Syrian pound’s value is expected to continue to dwindle, meaning the cost of a shawarma sandwich will likely be even dearer in the future.
When the war began, the Assad regime had $18 billion in reserves. Experts think most of that has been spent.
The Syrian government’s ability to produce oil has been greatly diminished, damaging one of the pillars of the Syrian economy. Not only are rebels and others holding onto many of Syria’s oil fields, but what Syria is able to pump out of the ground is now more difficult to sell. Sanctions on Syria have been severe. But there might not be much oil to export anyway. The White House recently accused Syria’s government of buying oil from the Islamic State.
Food taxes and subsidies are a tricky issue in Syria, where Assad has earned the loyalty of many subjects in part by supplying subsidized bread in a bit of (quite literally) bread-and-circuses-style governing. At the same time, the regime has cut food supplies to rebel-held territory as punishment. However, Assad has had to raise the price of state-subsidized bread in the last two years, suggesting that the financial situation isn’t pretty. The price of water and electricity is on the way up, too.
Life in Assad’s Syria looks to only get bleaker moving forward, as dwindling resources will likely lead to even more desperate economic conditions.
A more expensive shawarma sandwich is just one more day-to-day trouble.