Will Syria Witness A Bread Revolution?

Azzam Al-Turkmani | Tharwa Exclusive | May 5, 2008

Whenever the Baath regime issues an ordinance or a law that sucks in a bit of the street’s congestion, the media  portrays it as an offering or “grant” from the Commander in Chief, similar to the Ba’athist literature.

The author of this investigative report, Azzam Al-Turkmani, reports that on the May 3rd, Syrians received a new “grant” from Bashar Al-Assad’s regime. The grant amounted to the increase of Mazot (gas oil) prices by up to 250%, while the price of gas cylinders rose from 140 SYR to 250 SYR.  This all came following the wage increase of Syrians by 25%!

Despite the fact that Syria is one of the main exporters of wheat, the issue on the minds of most Syrians is the bread crisis. As previously written about in Kolona Shoraka’s bulletin, the bread crisis recently led to the death of a 19 year old man in Adlab.  The Syrian government is ostensibly subsidizing bread material and supporting its price. Yet, laws are being violated and government subsidized and rationed flour is being smuggled under the watchful eyes of government officials. This costs the State’s Treasury tens of billions annually.

The ‘Grain Institution’ buys a kilogram of wheat grain from farmers for 13 SYR, and sells it to the mills for 16 SYR.  Despite the fact that it costs 21 SYR to grind one kilogram, the mills sell it to the bakeries for 8.4 SYR, as a form of subsidized support.  This support costs the Treasury 32 billion SYR annually.  What is surprising though is that some of this rationed flour is used for animal fodder in some provinces.  In addition to that, it is being smuggled to some private bakeries and macaroni and barley factories, for subsidized prices.  Then it is sold to people for astronomical prices, or “touristic” prices as Syrians call it.

Subsidized goods in Syria became a door for corruption and wastage.  Although there has been more than a hundred thousand violations filed last year, we find that the returns of the illegal trade in subsidized flour amount to 1.2 billion SYR.

The successive losses witnessed by the subsidiary sector, the net profit of the production of one ton of flour for example, does not exceed 150 SYR.  In the face of this inversion between the cost of expenses and sales, and the successive losses, and the burden of taxes, the number of bakeries in the capital city has decreased from 365 bakeries to 174.  This means that 191 bakeries closed their doors while their owners turned to other occupations.  This explains the shoving of people at the doors of the bakeries, and their wait for hours and hours to get bread.  Therefore, emergency laws that the Ba’ath party has used to rule the Syrian people since 1963, forbid them from gathering and rallying, except at the entrances of bakeries and subsidiary institutions!

Faced with the futility of producing a loaf of bread, some bakeries practiced the profession of trading in subsidized flour instead of producing it, to minimize loss due to the higher profit margin between the price of a subsidized ton which costs eight thousand lira, and an unsubsidized ton which costs 27 thousand SYR. In the Damascus countryside for example, last year, 165 bakeries were caught in violation, selling for a higher price.   The government, represented by the domestic trade directories, did not deal with these violations with strict procedures like closure.  They only saw fit to reduce allocations to these bakeries.

According to artisans, the price of bread remains the same since 1998, but it is the price of water, electricity, labor, production materials, and production lines, that has increased.  As such, industry associations in Damascus and its rural areas, and Aleppo and its rural areas, and Latakia, joined forces to produce a study of the costs of producing flour, which was filed to the pertinent authorities in the Ministry of Economy and provincial assemblies.

After calculating the cost and dividing the income, the result reveals that it costs 11.014 SYR to produce 1 KG of bread.  Calculating a profit margin of 10%, the sale price would be 12.13 SYR.  According to the study prepared by the associations, from 1991 until now, there has not been any detailed study of the reality of bread production, thus resulting in the shying away from this profession by the artisans.

As for the quality sandwich bakeries, the efforts of the artisans have not yet succeeded in lowering prices, despite the huge increase in the price of unsubsidized flour, which reached 27 thousand SYR per ton.  Furthermore, wages have increased as have water and electricity bills and other materials involved in production.

It seems from the correspondence of the “bread production assemblies” to their “normative authority” that it seems as though there no solutions on the horizon.  The reality of the situation points to an increase in the chaos of the bread production market, and identifying the option of smuggling as the best of solutions, and being prepared to face its consequences, to cover the shortfalls and losses, or resorting to the lesser evil which is restraining bakeries and closing them. Either that, or, sell bread at the price of production cost, and become accountable from the consumer protection patrol, if they ever existed.

The most important question remains, what is the fate of bread, and therefore, the fate of the majority of the masses of hungry Syrian people after they received the latest “grant”?

What is the fate of their daily nutrition, which is dependent upon bread?  And what is the fate of “them” (i.e. the skinners of the Syrian people) afterword?  Will Syria witness a revolution because of the loaf of bread? A revolution that the leaders of the Syrian media, and the Syrian opposition with its internal and external arms, failed to produce.   This will be answered by the incoming days with “grants”, which will add poverty to the poverty of Syrians, and anguish to their anguish.