November 12, 2011


Aleppo merchants abandon a regime that fails on stability (Hassan Hassan, Nov 13, 2011 , The National)

When I visited Aleppo a year ago, the Carlton Citadel Hotel had just opened. The hotel was built on the site of an old palace near the Aleppo Citadel, a well-known tourist attraction. Because of the protests, there are few tourists in the city and such hotels are losing million of dollars a year just in rents and maintenance. The slump in the tourism industry means that associated businesses are losing too. Other cities that Aleppo relied on as markets have become protest hot-spots. And wealthy people tend to hoard their wealth in times of unrest, instead of spending it on luxury items like jewellery.

A broad section of the wealthier classes had hoped that the regime would quell the protests quickly before business deteriorated further. But as the violence spread across the country and the death toll reached the thousands, hostility towards protesters began to turn into sympathy and pragmatism.

One of the merchants in Istanbul said leading business figures in Aleppo now want the regime to fall sooner rather than later.

Although it is unlikely that the silent wealthy class will join the protests, the new attitude strongly indicates that the protest movement has entered into a new phase: the beginning of the downfall of the regime.

It has long been argued that the Baathist regime holds power partly because of the loyalty of the business community. The argument is flawed. Businessmen who directly benefit from the regime are a small oligarchy. In recent years, the majority of businesses suffered in the same way that the agricultural sector did. Many businessmen in Aleppo, for example, closed down their factories after the government told them to relocate to a centralised industrial zone in 2009. The new zone barely accommodated half of the existing businesses.

Dissatisfaction within the business community is as deep as in the agricultural sector, which has been neglected by the regime for many years and suffered from inflation as "reforms" focused on raising the salaries of government employees.

It is not that the business community supported the Assads; if anything, it supported stability. It was passivity, not loyalty, that kept it outside the protest movement.

Posted by at November 12, 2011 9:05 AM

blog comments powered by Disqus