“We want to live.” These simple words were uttered by Abu Mohammed, a sixty year-old owner of a grocery store in the city of Raqqah, in a local accent and with a long sigh. He described the state of trade in the city’s markets, “Despite the war and the bombing, we are surviving.”
While talking to Enab Baladi, Abu Mohammed emphasized that the situation in the city is deteriorating due to the injustice, harassment and high taxation imposed on traders under ISIS rule. He said, “The economic shocks and instability we have faced aren’t necessarily crushing trade but it’s hindering growth and prosperity.”
An increase in prices of commodities
Two hundred thousand civilians live in Raqqah, according to estimates by activists, their lives continuing amidst the huge restrictions imposed by ISIS, who control the city. According to locals, immigration into the city due the brutal battles taking place in the countryside has contributed to the rise in prices of food and basic goods.
The price of a loaf of bread has reached 400 lira, even though its quality has declined. A number of residents Enab Baladi spoke to expect to see a continuous rise in the price of bread due to the shortage of flour and wheat. Added to that, the price of a liter of diesel fuel has now reached 500 lira, while the price of a liter of gasoline has risen to 700 lira.
Hussein Ali, the owner of a second-hand goods store in Raqqah, says that the flow of money and merchandise to Raqqah has not stopped “but it has gone up and down. Traders have always found sources for new goods to cover the needs of the market, which has managed to keep trade going”.
Hussein adds that the unstable security situation and the frequent closure of roads and border crossings have had a “clear impact” on the state of the market, “The market in Raqqah is essentially based on consumption not production, Most of the goods come from areas under the control of the regime or from outside Syria.”
Money comes into Raqqah from foreign transfers and money brought in by people moving into the city from the countryside, in addition to the money given by ISIS to pay for its personnel’s wages and distributed as “donations” to some of the city’s poor families.
From and Into Raqqah
For a city on the verge of war and living under daily bombing, an economic recession would seem likely. However, Raqqah continues to witness nearly ordinary levels of trade despite the difficulties in transportation and the rise in transport costs, according to Khalaf Hussein, a truck driver who transports goods into and out of Raqqa.
Recently, the International Coalition’s air power has destroyed some bridges in the city of Raqqah in an attempt to isolate the area from its surroundings. Among the bridges destroyed are the old al-Mansur Bridge, a new one known as al-Rasheed Bridge and the al-Muqlah Bridge, which splits Raqqah into northern and southern banks along the Euphrates.
According to Hussein, trade is still active despite destruction of the bridges. Communication with the outside continues despite the fact that the level of movement across the border has decreased. Boat owners have carried on transporting commodities for a certain amount of money.
The city’s property market has also been affected by the situation. The prices of apartments and houses decreased dramatically after many residents sold their properties before leaving the city. The large emigration flows reduced the demand for properties (both to buy and rent) balancing the flow of newcomers into the city .
ISIS “takes over the furniture market”
The decline in the exchange rate shadowed also the furniture market both new and used. Hussein attributed the decline in home furniture prices to “the sale by ISIS of the contents of houses they live in, which they took over under various pretexts”.
Some members of ISIS who took over houses have sold them or the furniture they contained. Some residents of the city told Enab Baladi that some of them had left for the countryside of Deir Ezzor to sell their furniture “in a safer place and closer to the Iraq-Syria border”.
Hussein described the situation as “a sort of monopoly”. He expects the phenomenon to grow in the coming phase as the siege on the city tightens. He said, “Some members of ISIS are selling all the goods they get their hands on before escaping the city.”
There are rumors circulating in Raqqah today that ISIS is stockpiling goods in preparation for a potentially long siege. Residents say traders also stockpiling their goods in order to sell them for higher prices during the siege.
Despite the absence of some goods in Raqqah’s markets and the shortage of many others, and the increasing fears of Raqqah’s inhabitants for the future, they insist on carrying on with their lives in the hope of seeing a brighter day. Fears of a worsening siege and escalating bombings have not destroyed the aspirations of Raqqah’s residents for a return to better days for their city.