Intimate agrarian experiences of the Syrian Economic Reform

Images from Tartous and Idlib

Diana Sarkis Fernández1



At the turn of the 21st century (1990-2011), the application of “economic reform and market liberalization” [al-Islah al-iqtisadiwa-tahrir al-suq] policies brought about a major shift in the historical agrarian political economy of Baathist Syria. Starting at the time of the Egyptian-Syrian Union and developed during the Baathist-Socialist Revolution of 1963, Agrarian Reform and policies of national self-sufficiency and national food sovereignty represented an exception to the very globalized new agrofood corporatist regime (McMichael, 2008). Although the policies of Economic Reform enlarged, in some respect, the political economic path set up by the Infitah [Opening] at the end of the 1980s, the transformation from an auto-centred controlled economy to a global market subjugated economy, acquired a new scale (Hemash, 2003 & 2013, Kadry, 2012b, Seifan, 2010, Zuraik & Gough, 2014). This essay considers the impact of the Economic Reform on the reconfiguration of Syrian agrarian landscapes and domestic economies from an interregional comparative perspective. Based on eighteen months (September 2008 to February 2011) of multisite fieldwork in the two governorates of Tartous and Idlib2, it also examines how rural subjects of historical differentiated regional economies conceived of and judged the transformations while trying to deal with them. The locational comparison of the consequences of market liberalization revealed the incompleteness, ambiguities and contradictory materializations of this hegemonic project and the plural, albeit connected, lived experiences of the agrarian working-class engendered by the reform.


The Two Locations

The coastal village of Beyt Khodra3 in Tartous was the first site, with 1,500 inhabitants in 2010. The main crops at the time (olive oil, citrus and eggplant) were produced under a controlled market system. A commercialization agreement existed between the state and traders since the 1990s. Small full owners dominated the landscape4, with 67% of properties below 1.5Ha (the maximum was 6.5Ha). The second location was Al-Hayat, Ma’arrat-el-No’uman, Idlib, a village of 1,296 inhabitants. Land was istimlakeye, nationalized and distributed by the state according to the laws of the Agrarian Reform and farmed under a planned production-distribution regime.


The multisite ethnography was particularly relevant given on the one hand, the uneven historical development of agrarian regions throughout the country over the long durée (Dubar and Nasr 1976, Hanna 1985 and 1975, Khalidi 1984, Mundy 2000 and Mundy and Saumarez 2007, Schaebler 2000); and on the other because of the supervised market/state-planned duality of agrarian policies that distinguished the mixed economic model developed by the Baathist Syrian State (Hinnebush, 1989; Perthes, 1999). Furthermore, an important percentage of Al-Hayat fellahin [literally tillers, in this case peasants favoured by the Agrarian Reform] were seasonal dayworkers in Beyt Khodra for decades, mostly from the 1990s onwards. The religious diversity between the two villages (Christian Maronite in the case of Beyt Khodra and Muslim in the case of Al-Hayat) helped move beyond dominant Islamocentric textualist views of Middle Eastern societies (Abu-Lughod 1989 and 2001). Despite religious diversity, moral frameworks and class-based economic customs existed among al-nas al-basita [ordinary people] in both locations, underlining the weight of political economic issues (class, state and development models) in the formation of dynamic moral economies.


Beyt Khodra: The Devaluation of Agrarian Work

For centuries, agrarian production was the centre of petty producer household economies; they would self-provision and source income through product sales, sharecropping and day-labour. Olive oil has been the main market crop since the nineteenth century when it circulated in regional, Ottoman and European markets. Farmers used to cultivate other changing crops, such as tobacco and peanuts, until the 1960s; mixed farming was for household self-provision. In 1979, citrus was introduced to coastal areas based on an Agrarian Reform plan drawn up by the Ministry of Agriculture and was sustained through peasant cooperatives and the Office for Rural Planning. At the zenith of self-centred development and economic autarchy policies, this planned extension of certain crops aimed to help Syria strengthen its national food sovereignty (Wattenbach, 1996) and feed the new state-led fruit juice and fruit-flavoured soda industries. The long eight-month harvest period of different citrus provided a secure source of income to coastal agricultural households.


During the first decade of the 21st century, the Economic Reform completed a deagrarinization process that was already under way due to the fragmentation of agricultural plots because of inheritance, the decreases in olive trees and citrus profitability and changes of consumption standards and values of agricultural work. Two intertwined phenomena were of particular importance. On one hand, we found the development of a land market to be the outcome of the controlled liberalization of foreign investments and the implementation of land requalification policies. These policies encouraged the return of some muqtaribin [émigrés], particularly big traders in Venezuela who held Syrian nationality and were able to buy up land and also keen on moving their capital out of the socialist country5. On the other hand, the established hegemony of the comparative trade advantage policies6 broke down the security provide to muzari’ [local farmers] by the previous national plan for supplies and self-sufficiency. Local production entered a crisis of competitiveness as compared with oil produced in the continental areas, which was preferred by foreign markets due to its lower acidity and so-called opportunity (meaning, production) costs. Syrian oil prices were the highest in the Mediterranean up until 2005 (Ali, 2009; OFCOMES 2005)7. By 2010, the laws of the free (Arab) market subsumed the local oil production to abstraction, instituting Tunisian oil (the cheapest on the market) as the base-price, which then determined the price drop for producers. As the oil trade expanded in exponential terms, local oil became a peripheral resource for households and was worked under a ḍaman [leasing contract, which comprised 60% of olive plantations in 2010] or domestically.


The devaluation of agrarian work intersected with the “crazy” (in local terms) overvaluation of land, which peripheralized agrarian production in the village. An ex-local farmer cum local businessman (money lender, builder) after selling part of his land in 2009 explained:

“ The price of the tank is decreasing. The only well-paid oil is exported… Actually, it's being bought at 6$/half a litre in Venezuela. But coastal oil is not wanted by foreigners. Picking olives is almost worthless, bearing in mind that one has to pay employees, transportation, the press ... Everyone able to sell is indeed selling. The land is now well paid and anything is better than remaining a muzari' [farmer]. Nevertheless, selling it all is not a good idea. Families are big, alhamdulillah, and cash gets away as easily as it comes in. One must therefore know how to keep the land. Most of the villagers are renting to the (inhabitants of) the surrounding villages. They work with their families and only bring a few workers with them. It's the only way to make the things work out, working by yourself. But there is another point here, nobody wants to tire with land in Beit Khodra yet. There is much takabbur [false pride] and everyone thinks of himself as a lord. I rented my brother’s and my olive trees this year. I kept no more than a few dunums [1000 m2] for us. You know, we are ten at home and nobody cooks or has a meal without olive oil” (Fieldwork Notes, November 6th, 2010).


Throughout the 1980s, 90% of adults in the village worked in agriculture, even if they were pluri-active. By 2010, no household made a living through agriculture alone; only 40% of males and 25% of females undertook some type of agrarian task8. The possibility of selling one’s land for a good price became the cornerstone of the growing social differentiation among (ex) small farmers. Migration (particularly to Spain where an émigré had opened a restaurant chain and to Lebanon for restauration and construction work) and moonlighting (combining agriculture with some self-employment or wage-work) became a widespread solution for those whose land was not valued by the emergent non-agricultural market. Additionally, some villagers borrowed plots from their neighbours in order to gain an extra source of income or enlarge their munah [self-provisions].



Olives’ harvest, Small farmers-renters and day-labourers, Rif Tartous, 2010 (Sarkis). (Complete Photo Gallery)



Olives’ harvest, Small farmers-renters working together with day-labourers, Rif Tartous, 2010 (Sarkis). (Complete Photo Gallery)



Capital’s power to shape rural subjects’ agrarian logic and reproductive strategies materialized in the re-composition of forms of day-labour. Land selling or lending and new economic strategies endangered previous human-work ties between small village farmers and old, temporary seasonal workers (small farmers) from Al-Hayat (Maʽarrat-al-Nuʽman, Idlib). Since the end of the 1980s, complementarity between both local agrarian cycles had helped root a seasonal working structure that combined domestic and waged work. Very personalized ties dominated the relationships between small farmers and labourers who had worked together for decades. Labour relations were embedded in a larger framework of moral and affective bonds, connecting employees and employers as individuals and as members of buyut [households, pl. for bayt] (Sarkis, 2015).


The new plantation tenants, and even some villagers on their own self-provisioning plots, started to focus their strategies of rationalization (towards simple viability or maximum profit) on the single factor of production that they controlled: labour. Besides the more and more contested use of family labour, the devaluation of labour was achieved by recruiting workers from impoverished continental and eastern regions. Although this new group of workers constituted no more than half the labour force in 2010, their presence in the labour market transformed the conditions of day-labour in general terms. On the one hand, they earned around 100 SP per day less than the day-workers who were part of the previous networks of ṣadaqa [friendship] and ṯiqqa [trust]. On the other hand, their disembeddedness from the moral and affective friendship bonds forced them to accept worse labour conditions: prolongation of the work-day, the scope of labour of women and teenagers (see below), and no provision of housing and food, which farmers were responsible for previously.


Besides the extension of the work-day and other forms of salary devaluation mentioned above, the feminization of gangs arose as the second main vector of labour segmentation. Bonded forms of day-labour that flourished throughout the 1990s followed the pattern of hiring groups of relatives, particularly brothers and sisters of the same extended household, while maintaining a symmetrical proportion (1:1) of female and male labourers. By 2010, women and teenagers compounded on average two thirds of the gangs (2:1). At the time, a woman’s day-salary was 78.5% of a man’s and that of a teenager was 66%9. The hiring of teenagers responded to the proportional rise of women’s salaries since the 1960s, when women made 50% less than men (Daniel, 1967), and the hike that occurred the last few years leading up to 2011. I registered that, in contrast to men’s salaries which remained fixed, women received 50 LS more per day in 2010 than in 200810.


Olives’ harvest, uarshe, Rif Tartous, 2008 (Sarkis). (Complete Photo Gallery)



Olives’ harvest, uarshe, Rif Tartous, 2008 (Sarkis). (Complete Photo Gallery)



Olives’ harvest, uarshe, Rif Tartous, 2008 (Sarkis). (Complete Photo Gallery)



In Beyt Khodra (Tartous), the liberalization of land and oil markets together gave rise to the deagrarinization of local economies and the devaluation of agricultural labour. They also set the foundation for the deepening of internal differentiation among local (ex) farmers and the precariousness of day-labour.


Al-Khayat: Disempowering Agrarian Workers

Less than 200 kilometres from Beyt Khodra, the village of Al-Hayat presented a very different, although connected, agrarian picture. Fields of wheat, barley and legumes splattered by subsistence gardens next to every extended-household shaped the agrarian landscape. The landscape was comprised of similar households, 95% of which were between 3 and 7 hectares. The maximum plot was 10 hectares. The equalitarian agrarian structure was the outcome of the Laws of the Agrarian Reform, which redistributed land in Al-Hayat at the end of the 1970s and then again in 1992.




State grain storage, Rif Maarrat el-Nouman (Idlib), 2009 (Sarkis). (Complete Photo Gallery)




Doing fieldwork, sharing life, Rif Maarrat el-Nouman (Idlib), 2010 (Sarkis). (Complete Photo Gallery)



Manual lentils’ harvest, Rif Maarrat el-Nouman (Idlib), 2009 (Sarkis). (Complete Photo Gallery)



Livestock, Rif Maarrat el-Nouman (Idlib), 2010 (Sarkis). (Complete Photo Gallery)


In contrast with their coastal neighbours, Al-Hayat’s cultivators farmed under a regime of planned possession and production-distribution led by the state. In 2010, at the same time as coastal crops were being integrated into the Great Arab Free Market, the state continued to pay double the global price for grain11 (Cf. Ababsa, 2007), seventy-five per cent more than private traders. The State Department of Supplies (idarat-el-tamuin) also persecuted commercial practices of grain hoarding. Nevertheless, some applied polices of market liberalization undermined the domestic economies of Al-Hayat’s cultivators. The partial retirement of subsidies for fuel and supplies12, the drop of lentils and barley prices after the sector liberation in 2005 and the transformation of wheat to the mixed-economy sector [quita’ mushtarak] in 2002 are some of the ramifications. Additionally, some changes in state credit and distribution policies (i.e. restricted withdrawal of amnesties regarding unpaid credits and delays in payments for grain) underpinned the subjugation of cultivators to usurious-merchant capital (Hemash, 2003 and 2013; Kadry, 2012b; Zuraik and Gough, 2013). Finally, the intertwining between the devaluation of their waged condition and inflation13 eroded their livelihoods even more.


Agrarian workers made sense of these political-economic transformations by returning back to past forms of dispossession [horman] and domination [saitara] related to the bekawuat (pl, for bek ottoman rank, referring to latifundia owners who were also money lenders] system of capitalist serfdom14 prior to the Agrarian Reform:


“We were discussing changes in agrarian policies with some members of the family.

Nidal intervenes: The state used to give us everything, the seeds, the fertilizer ... But in the last years, everything has changed. The state has abandoned the cultivators.

Um Nasr nods and points: We are heading back, little by little. Traders [et-tuyar], el bekawat are dominating us [isaitaru ’alayna] again. They tried to come back the same day that we chased them away, and they are now taking advantage of the laxness of the son (referring to President Bashar Al-Asad) to come back and dominate us, the state and everything (…)

Nasr grumbles from the porch outside the room: What are you talking about? The government is still controlling the merchants. Have you forgotten that several traders from Aleppo ended up in jail last year because of hoarding? The state then distributed all hoarded crops among the people (el-sha’ab). The state is not going to let merchants dispossess us (yharmuna) again.” (Fieldwork notes, Al-Hayat, 22.10.10).


The juxtaposed perspectives of the members of the family of the cultivator locate the process of economic reform and market liberalization in the history of class struggle. From their perspectives, the reform formed a long-standing project of domination mediated by the remaking of the state. Notwithstanding regional differentiation, state-rent and merchant accumulation (Kadri, 2012a and 2012b), the Baathist state, through its socialist and nationalist-corporatist forms, provided a certain degree of improvement and material security for agrarian producers. Particularly important for farmers were: improvements in food provisioning, security provided by state planning and distribution, access to land and other means of production, infrastructural development allowing access to basic means of livelihood (e.g. water) and the scholarly enrolment of younger generations. Similarly, the cultivators’ [fellah’s] political empowerment and moral revalorization were highlighted.

“The lives of cultivators today have nothing to do with the past! How much misery did we suffer! I remember how we would run behind the carts laden with grain to steal some. But today, mashallah, we have everything to eat. Look at the chicken, the pea cream, the salad, the bread in front of us. Look at our beautiful garden full of onion and beans, and there, far away in the horizon, the wheat and the olives. Bekawat’s time was the time of oppression [zulum]. And we had to put up with everything because we did not have anything. The house was for the bek, the seeds were his, and even our souls were his! We were absolutely dispossessed [mahrumeen] (…) Then, everything changed and we opened our eyes to life. We stopped being blind. Are you hearing Warde? Are you hearing how she uses water and more water to clean the floor? We walked five kilometres to fetch water and ploughed by hand. Now with the tractor, everything is easier. Have you seen the roads, the schools, the universities? We didn’t have any of that before because the bekawuat wanted to keep the people poor and ignorant. The Reform (referring to the Agrarian Reform) arrived and the government fired all these dogs and brought land for the cultivators and gave rights to the people. Before we worked to death in order to eat, and even that was sometimes impossible. Now we live well [mukayfeen]. There is stability [istiqrar]” (Fragment of Um Nasr’s life-history; 2009).


In 2010, the Economic Reform was eroding this lived sense of stability in rural and urban areas throughout the country. Nevertheless, the dialectics between regional and local histories, the dualism of the Baathist Agrarian System, and the ambivalences of the Economic Reform unevenly shaped local experiences. In our case of study, several factors exacerbated this differentiation. Firstly, the constitution of a market of lands in Beyt Khodra accelerated deagrarinization and allowed some small farmers to become more comfortable and give up the difficulties of agrarian livelihood. Secondly, agrarian workers from Al-Hayat were more exclusively dependent on agricultural work to make a living and faced a crisis in local production at the same time that they were excluded from their waged positions in Tartous. In contrast, proletarized farmers in Tartous were able to rely on network migrations to find jobs and fuel their small petty shops, taxis and rent with expatriés remittances. The unequal rates of medium and higher education and public employment deprived Al-Hayat cultivators from one source that sustained the polyhedral domestic economies of small farmers from Beyt Khodra. The Agrarian Reform brought a relatively larger rupture in class and social improvement dynamics for agrarian classes in Al-Hayat compared to Beyt Khodra; the Economic Reform eroded the lives of the former group greatly.


The Economic Reform, Social Conflict and Imperialist War

Our comparative and ethnographic focus unveiled the incomplete, contradictory and regional (and even local) differences the process of economic reform. On the one hand, we observed the cross-regional devaluation of agricultural work and livelihoods and the disempowering of agrarian workers through the reorganization of the state. On the other, we examined the deepening of previous forms of regional differentiation. Finally, we recognized that between 2010 and 2011, the process of liberalization/devaluation was still limited by the partiality of politico-economic transformations and the ambiguity of state polices. The endurance of some fuel subsidies and the continuity of the Idarat-el-tamuin [the State Department of Supplies] in controlling market mechanisms in some areas are examples of the Syrian State’s ambivalence in applying the World Bank promoted process of economic reform. In 2007, agrarian GDP continued to represent 30% of the national GDP (Ababsa, 2007). The 11th Quinquennial Plan (2011–2015) intended sector investments did not fulfil the directives of (imperial) international institutions (Landis, 2011)15. The self-centred nature of the Syrian economy during this period and the limitations imposed on corporate metropolitan capital, restrained the pauperization of agrarian subjects, particularly in relation to other neighbouring countries. In 2008, Syria had the lowest rate of rural poverty in the Middle East (15%) (Kadri 2012a) as opposed to Egypt (43.7 %) (Cf. Zuraik and Gough, 2013).


I would like to conclude this piece with some thoughts about how the devaluation of agrarian work and livelihood engendered by the Economic Reform are intertwined with the escalation of social conflict and the outbreak of the imperialist civil war. Despite most dominant contemporary accounts, in my view, the relationship between these three processes is neither linear nor the product of exclusively internal variables. On the contrary, I believe that it is analytically (and politically) worth separating what appears as a continuum, into two points of interrogation. These thoughts do not pretend to represent the experiences, judgments and political positions of the Syrian people, nor the agrarian citizens of both areas and localities. Rather, they are situated in the dialogic experiences I established with particular families and individuals. In this sense, they represent a part of the complex agrarian experiences of the decade before the war.


The first question refers to the links between the Economic Reform and the growth of social conflict. On the one hand, agrarian workers (small owners, state-planned cultivators, day-labourers, sharecroppers, renters) in both areas of study showed their distrust of the shift in agrarian and social policies and blamed these for pushing them back into old forms of exploitation and deprivation. For them, agrarian power relations were personified in the historical subjugation of the fellah by commercial and financial capital. Nevertheless, some medium farmers in Beyt Khodra, and even small ones who owned market-valued plots of land, were ambivalent about the possibilities of social improvement brought by the Reform (el-Iṣlah). On the other hand, throughout both areas, agrarian subjects’ valorisations and judgments of the Syrian State, the Baath Party and the government continued to be tied to long-term processes. In some cases the processes were much valued (i.e. Agrarian Reform, progressive and nationalist social policies leading to social enhancement) and, in others, were felt to be oppressive and subjugating [ẓulum] (i.e. issues of corruption [fassad] and the control exercised by information services [mukhbarat]16). Finally, in both fields, particularly Al-Hayat, social conflict took the form of moral critique instead of political discourse against the government, politicians and state. Agrarian subjects made sense of the socioeconomic transformations unsettling their lives in terms of the moral degeneration of the social body; a corrupt social state where private interest [maslaha] and the rule of money replaced human moral [damer] and affective [ahsas] capacities for judging good (economic) behaviour (Sarkis, 2015)17.


The second question engages how the worsening of agrarian livelihoods, the spreading of sentiments of subjugation, the growing distrust vis à vis agrarian and social policies intertwined with the outbreak of armed conflict which then became an open-war. Although it is not my intention to analyse this intricate question in the scope of this paper, I would like to interrogate some aspects regarding the dominant accounts of the current war as the linear product of a “popular rebellion” against neoliberalism (Rafizadeh, 2013)18. These accounts obliterate the fact that the key figure of the Economic Reform, the World Bank-backed former Prime Minister for Economic Affairs Abdallah Al-Dardari, left Syria in 2011 because he joined international institutions outside the country. Many other important politicians of the period were dismissed by the government or joined the Syrian NATO-supported expatriate Opposition thereafter. My ethnographic study underlines the ambivalence of state polices and the existence of a conflict inside the Party and the institutional apparatus regarding the policies of Economic Reform19. I believe the role of the US-NATO block in promoting the process of Market Liberalization for decades, and their direct implication in transforming social conflict into violent war (Sarkis, T., 2016), are important parts of the untold history and ongoing destruction of Syrian people, land and wealth.





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1 University of Barcelona (GRECO, GER, Department of Anthropology). Member of Thimar - Research Collective on agriculture, environment and labour in the Arab World.

I am grateful to the Spanish Minister of Science and Technology (FPU Program) for supporting the research on which this paper is based and the ERC Greco Project for supporting early stages of the writing of this report.

This essays was funded by the Leverhulme Trust International Network Grant ("Agricultural Transformation and Agrarian Questions in the Arab World).

2The results of this fieldwork are part of my PhD dissertation, “Working from the Heart: Work, Capital and Moral Economies in Syrian Agriculture”, Universidad de Barcelona, 2015 (omnia cum laude, unpublished). I had previously conducted eight months of fieldwork between 2006 and 2008 for my Master’s dissertation.

2Beyt Khodra was within an Alawite Muslim majority.

3I use fictional names for the villages and people in order to preserve their anonymity.

4Beyt Khodra was one of the few places in the country where full-ownership of agrarian land was registered since French colonial rule.

5 Modal price of land in Beyt Khodra reached around 2,000,000 LS/1,000m2, though large differences may be perceived depending on proximity to a road, the city and the shore (between 50,000 to 5,000.000 SP). Along the shores of Tartous and Banyas, prices reached 30,000,000-40,000,000 LS/1,000m2 in 2010 (cf. Tishrin Diary, 28th of September, 2009). In contrast, the price for “good lands” in the Idlib governorate costed 50 times less; it did not reach 40,000 LS/dunum. At the same time, wages in Idlib were around half of those in the coastal zone (field information compared with Fiorni, 2001). For discussion of commodification of land from an ethnographic perspective, see Sarkis (2011) and Sarkis et al. (2011)

6 Liberalization of oil exports (1996) was preceded by protectionist law, which banned imports. In 2006, the new law temporarily allowed imports, though just for the immediate pre-harvest. Full application of the Arab Free Trade Area arrived in 2007.

7 Malevotti (1998: 28) points out how in 1998, Syrian producers sold their oil at 2.84 $/kg to the final market and sold it at 2.60 $/kg to traders. Oil from other Southern Mediterranean areas was at 1.71 $/kg.

8 The decrease in the rate of agrarian tasks in Beyt Khodra was especially high even for coastal standards and might be put in contrast to rural continental areas, such as Al Hayat, where over 90% of inhabitants were in 2010 still mainly involved in agriculture. Concerning the national level, Zuraik and Gough (2014) pointed out that the agrarian sector (including livestock) continued to employ the 55% of rural population.

9 Gender and age inequality in salaries remained however, lower than in other regions of the country (as Hama, Homs or Alep) were they reached 50 % (fieldwork notes compared with Abdelali-Martini, 2011); as well as in other agrarian contexts over the Middle East (Hammam, 1986; Moghadam, 1994; Toth, 2005).

10 Although I cannot further develop here this line of analysis, I tend to remark that the trajectory of the feminine salary in Beyt-Khodra before the current war showed how social practice had been influenced –even going beyond it- by some state policies for attenuating gender inequalities (Rabo, 2000). In this sense, pointed the struggle of the woman who managed Mudiriet-Beyt Kammuneh against women’s discrimination concerning salaries. Likewise we cannot avoid the conceptions of some farmers (I registered particularly two cases during my fieldwork) who decided to pay the same to men and women (nor to teenagers), and the resistance of women day-workers who battled for keeping their salaries up, in some cases with positive results.

11 According to data collected during my fieldword, in 2010 the Syrian Arab State paid to cultivators 26.000 Syrian Pounds (around 400 euro), while private traders paid 16.650 SP/tonne (around 250). In the same date, in France, following world-price fluctuations, grain Corporations paid to producers between 110 euro/tonne in March to 223.5 euro/tonne in August (when the majority of contract farming agreements had been already signed), see

12Although the retirement of fuel’s subsidies started to be effective in 2008, in 2009 they continued to represent the 5% of the GDP. Albeit between 2005 and 2010 the Syrian State invested 27.8 bn dollard in fuel’s subsidies, the dual price policies starting in 2009 (subsidiarized fuel: 9 SP/liter and free fuel: 25 SP/liter) endangered agrarian livelihoods.

13 Between 2006 and 2010, inflation was around 10% on average (

For data concerning the previous years, see Hemash (2003). Kadri (2012b: 18) estimated a drop in the real salary of the 50% between 2006 and 2011. Although this estimation seems to me a little bit exaggerated (i.e. because the estimated “average household’s expenses in food (= 14.000 SP)” are above the data that I registered in Idlib), it offers a good insight into the precarisation of working people that characterize this period.

14 Capitalist relations in the embodied historical experiences of agrarian workers from Al-Hayat have historically been personified in the figure of merchants and financial-latifundia owners (Al-Yundi, 1963; Hanna, 1975). For similar cases in other areas of Syria and Lebanon, see Ababsa (2004), Gilsenan (1984 and 1996) and Mundy (2000).

For a critique of the idea of “oriental despotism” applied to the bekawuat structure of power from the point of view of its connections with capital accumulation on a world scale, see Gilsenan (1984); Islamoglu (2000) and Mundy and Saumárez (2007).


15 Landis (2011) “The 11th FYP (2011-2015) does not propose to cut jobs in the public sector, which is a huge cost to the state (…) It should also be careful not to focus on unproductive and water-intensive areas such as agriculture and industry when the money could be better spent on retraining people to work in more productive areas”.

Cf. Aita (2007).

16 These complex political experiences contrasted with some old academic accounts of the Baathist Revolution, as that of Seurat (1979), who blind to the historical experiences of millions of Syrians, allowed himself to establish a continuity between the all despotism of latifundia owners and the new despotism of the first decades of the baatisht state.

17 For similar grassroots lived judgments and explanations of the Market Liberalization in other Arab contexts from an ethnographic point of view, see Gilsenan (1996 and 2008). Authors like Tripp (2006) and Rice (1999) provide contested arguments about the place of private interest and money in the so-called “Islamic moral economy” from the perspective of Qur’anic exegesis and expert literature. In Sarkis (2015 unpublished) I had already advocated the importance of class-based and historically situated analysis of the plural and conflictive economic moralities present in Islamic contexts. I considered the rise of a millenarian discourse in Al-Hayat critical with the process of liberalization at the conference “Nahna-fi-yum-el-Ajira (We are at the End of Time): Popular Religiosity, Economic Reform and Moral Economy in the Syrian countryside”, hold at the University of Barcelona on 4th June 2011.

19 For further information and analysis about the conflicts and their implications in the Syrian war, see Hemash (2013).


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