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Syria’s Other Crisis

Most of the attention about Syria has been on the civil war and its appalling human toll. Rightly so. But the Syrian economy may ultimately be what brings Assad down, as the economic strains mount. As the FT reports, “The value of the Syrian pound has dropped by more than 15 per cent on the black market since the start of November as military . . . raising the possibility of an eventual currency collapse.”

The currency is falling rapidly, inflation is disrupting economic activity, and life is getting harder for Syrians still under government control. Fighting a war is expensive, and civil unrest and rebellion disrupts the economy even as sanctions abroad take a toll.

Assad and associates seem determined to hold on as long as they can. Ultimately the crumbling Syrian economy may make it impossible for them to continue the war effort and lead to the disintegration of their remaining support.

It’s hard to keep this in mind as the daily toll continues, but in Syria as in Libya the real trouble may begin when the old government falls. It’s unlikely that the economy will miraculously start to recover the minute Assad falls from power. The outside world needs to be thinking now about aid to the Syrian people, who are going to endure harsh conditions for quite a while after the world’s most destructive eye doctor has gone on to his next assignment. And given the chances that Syria will pass through an additional period of anarchy and chaos in the Assad aftermath, economic woes will worsen even as the country teeters on the brink of genocidal ethnic and sectarian strife.

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