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ISIS have taken their oil, so Syria has put a tax on shwarmas to pay for the civil war

The country’s oil revenues have imploded.

Image: Flickr/bombardier

MORE THAN FOUR years into a grinding civil war and after losing most of its eastern oil fields to so-called Islamic State, Syria is looking for other ways to raise funds.

The Syrian government is scraping the barrel to boost its revenues and even the humble shawarma sandwich is fairgame.

The shwarma, a popular Middle Eastern dish of grilled, spiced meat cut into thin slices, has not escaped the government’s drive for tax revenues.

“Last week I had to pay 220 Syrian pounds for my shawarma sandwich instead of 200, and the restaurant owner told me it was because there’s a new 10% ‘reconstruction tax’ that’s being imposed on each sandwich,” explained 50-year-old Damascus resident Tahseen.

The country’s economy has been ravaged by the conflict that began in March 2011, which has claimed the lives of over 250,000 people and pushed over four million to become refugees.

The new measures come after previous steps, including easing subsidies for bread, which increased in price three times in 2014, along with rising costs for water and electricity.

Revenues have slowed to a trickle, particularly as the government has come under sanctions that prevent exports and lost control of much of the country’s oil and gas resources. 

With the capture by the Islamic State jihadist group of most of Syria’s eastern oil fields, the government now produces just 9,688 barrels a day, down from 380,000 before the war.

MIdeast Syria Smoking ban A cafe in downtown Damascus (2010). Source: AP/Press Association Images

‘Bleak’ future

Property rents also face new taxes and the tourism ministry has began taxing restaurants based on the number of diners they can accommodate.

The government has also sought to squeeze revenue out of issuing and renewing passports, raising fees while lifting some restrictions.

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It has stemmed the outflow of foreign currency, limiting import licenses and giving priority to those seeking raw materials for the production of dairy products, canned foods, medicines, detergents and textiles inside Syria.

But despite the regime’s efforts, Jihad Yazigi, editor-in-chief of The Syria Report, says ”the future is bleak” for Syria’s economy and the government’s finances.

“The state will be forced to slash its spending even further,” he said.

“And since it won’t be able to touch military spending, it will cut public services and not repair what is damaged, and people will become poorer and poorer,” he added.

“They will be forced increasingly to dip into their savings and many will look to emigrate.”

© – AFP 2015

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