Slums and the Syrian Revolution – By Rustum Mahmoud for The Syrian Observer
The poorest in Syrian society had the least level of political participation
The Syrian socio-economic history can be divided into three phases. The first phase was that of the bourgeoisie. This stage extends from the beginning of independence from the French colonial rule to the end of the 1950s, at the time of unity with Egypt.
During this phase, the urban wealthy elite controlled Syria, and its power was derived from its wide network of properties in the vast countryside of Syria, which covered more than a quarter of the total population of the country.
The targeted economy was the second stage in the history of modern Syria. It extended throughout the three decades that followed the beginning of the era of unity with Egypt. State institutions expanded during this stage, and through these institutions the bureaucratic elite dominated economic public life. Many Syrians moved to rural towns and villages in this stage. Cities housed nearly a third of the country’s population, as many of the young men with higher levels of education and those in need of a higher degree of services moved to the cities.
The last phase started with the an economic restructuring of the Syrian economy to become an open-market economy. The stage actually began in the early 1990s, with the issuance of the Investment Law No. 10, which required the removal of government support to agriculture and the needs of the poorest Syrians. These two factors were the most influential reasons behind the settlement of about half of the Syrians in the cities. Gradually, with the beginning of this process, millions of Syrians who had little educational qualifications and skills moved from the countryside to the six Syrian major cities: Damascus, Aleppo, Homs, Hama, Latakia and Qamishli. People were driven by the desire to benefit from the volume of investment in the modern service economy, which replaced agriculture and medium-sized industry.
This unplanned transition created major slums around each of these Syrian cities. Figures from the « Syria 2025 » project, which was supervised by the United Nations mission in Syria, showed that the proportion of residents in these neighborhoods to the total population in each of the cities of Damascus and Aleppo ranged between 42-48% , while in the rest of the four major cities the percentage was not less than 30% of the total population of those cities. We can estimate that the residents of these slums formed nearly a third of the country’s population when the Syrian revolution started.
All forms of cruel circumstances could be found in these Syrian slums; they were the poorest in the country and they made up the vast majority of the poor Syrians who were accounted for up to 37% of the total population, if we take the global standards of poverty of $2 per day per per person. The conditions of their houses and their food baskets was worse than their counterparts who remained in the countryside, as the residents of the rural areas benefited somehow from the resources of agriculture.
Because of the poor planning, the slum-dwellers were those who least benefited from the « power of the state ». The institutions of public health, transport, education and bureaucracy were the poorest in those areas, which led to a high rate of illiteracy, especially among the children, who left their studies to work in the service economy attracted their poor families.
There is a deeper factor that characterized the Syrian slums from the city centers; the process of privatization that not only affected the economic aspect of Syrians’ lives, but also affected the educational, economic and even security apparatus. Thus the dwellers of the slums participated least in public activities, had little public trust and recognition, and were the most vulnerable to all forms of bullying by the institutions of the state.
All of those conditions formed the context for revolution in the country. The Syrian slum areas were the first to participate in the revolution, and thus were the most vulnerable to the brutal destruction, displacement and murder.
date : 26/04/2014