Enab Baladi – Hanin al-Naqri
Syrians inside Syria are divided on many things – between regime supporters or opposition, living in regime or opposition areas, repressive or oppressed, appalled at the bloodbath or perpetrating it. They also differ in their modes of expressing what is happening, between those who refer to the “crisis” or the “revolution”, the “killed” or “martyrs”, “protectors of the homeland” or “regime thugs”, but what unites them all is the almost complete breakdown of services and their attempts to cope with a life with fewer resources.
Omm Alaa, a housewife, lives in part of the outskirts of Damascus that is under regime control while her sister Omm Mohammad lives in the besieged area of eastern al-Ghouta under opposition control. Omm Alaa says, “When I communicate with my sister, I feel the similarity in our situations. I reached the realization recently that we are both besieged by the same regime.”
According to Omm Alaa, the simplest thing that unites her situation with her sister under siege is the constant fear, “I watch airplanes bombing eastern al-Ghouta from the roof of my house while my sister fears dying under the rubble. I fear for her and I curse the regime, then I become afraid of detention and torture because I oppose the regime in its area, it controls me. And my sister fears the same thing.”
Siege and Displacement
When the two sisters manage to talk via WhatsApp, most of their conversations involve comparing their daily lives of siege and displacement, the difficulties each faces and the strategies they have devised to overcome difficulties. Omm Alaa says, “My sister’s family get two hours of electricity by accessing the neighborhood generator but for me, for instance today, the electricity only came for half an hour in 24 hours. In the last two months, most days we sleep and wake up without electricity. In the best cases, we get half an hour of electricity intermittently and there is an energy outage every seven hours. In total, we get no more than an hour and a half of electricity when we are lucky and the government is happy with us.”
She added that she tries to benefit from her sister’s experience of living under siege, “When it comes to drying foods, how to ignite firewood quicker, how to wash clothes by hand, charge batteries and maintain battery life for as long as possible.”
LEDs And Fireplaces
The LEDs first appeared among Syrians in liberated areas deprived of all regime services, but with time other areas – liberated and besieged – started exporting their experiences of coping without services to regime areas. Omm Alaa says, “The name LEDs was foreign to us in the beginning but now it is an essential part of household furniture for all Syrians. When the electricity comes, we charge all the batteries gathered in a corner of the room. We are all the same when it comes to this.”
Other than the “LEDs”, the besieged and liberated areas’ experiences with heating using firewood were transferred to the regime-controlled areas. Omm Alaa explains, “I send my sons to gather wood and cut small pieces from the neighboring fields to use in the sobya (heater), as diesel has become a luxury only wealthy people can afford. Using firewood for the sobya has become another common experience for me and my sister.” She pointed out that she is not alone in this, “Of course there are many people I know who are using wood for heating as there are no other sources of energy to help us face the cold.”
Although the lack of services and the bad quality of services provided extends to all Syrian provinces, the ministries responsible for providing them are often accused of favoritism. According to Abu Mounir, a bookshop owner in Hama province, there is still favoritism and special treatment, “For the past three days, we have turned on the lights using government electricity and we have not lit the fireplace in our house. We get 45 minutes of rationed electricity in exchange for six hours of cuts and that is if nothing happens to deprive us of those few minutes.”
Abu Mounir continued, explaining the tragic lack of services and their deterioration in the cold winter months, “Imagine being in an apartment on the top floor in the cold of January, and then you find that there are areas in Hama (inhabited by members of the regime’s sect) where they don’t even have electricity counters and the electricity never stops.”
Quote: “The regime announced the arrival of several containers carrying fuel but this has not affected the rationing.
“Islamic State” forces’ control over the fuel fields in Homs’ countryside, the most prominent being al-Shaar, has increased the hours of rationing.
The government has announced that three containers carrying liquid gas are coming in the next few days to avert a gas crisis.”
The issue is not limited to electricity as other services are also affected by the electricity cuts such as water and communications. Abu Mounir explains, “Aside from the water cuts due to sudden damage to the network, which we are trying to compensate for by buying water, the electricity cuts prevent us from drawing water from the building’s water supply, and so the problem is exacerbated. The mobile phone towers are also affected by the electricity cuts and are becoming weaker.” He sighed wistfully, “No one is comfortable in this country whether you are under al-Assad’s rule or al-Assad’s bombs. We have no hope for anything here.”
Lack of Flu and Cold Medication
D.L. is an employee in the special medicine dispensary in Homs city. She explained another dimension of the terrible quality of services provided in regime-controlled areas – the lack of medication. She said, “Due to my work in the medical warehouse dispensing medication to pharmacies, I am familiar with the types of medication that are lacking and rare. Imagine, we are at the start of the cold and flu season and we suffer from a severe lack of flu medication to cure its effects such as cold, coughs and other symptoms. When we get a shipment of these kinds of medicines, I buy a quantity for my family because these types of medication are not available on the market.” But D.L. pointed out, “I buy the medication although I know it is ineffective, like water, due to the lack of active ingredients.”
Responses on Social Media
Syrians do not voice their complaints publicly for fear of being arrested but the lack of services are the focus of many negative comments on social media websites. For example, one person commented on the Ministry of Electricity’s page, “There is no need for there to be a Ministry for Electricity for ten minutes a day. Without it, instead of paying your wages we could have bought fuel. That would have been more useful than your existence.”
Here is another comment made on the page of the Electricity Company of Hama, which is now known as the “City of Darkness”, “What is electricity, how can it be prepared and is it part of Syrian cuisine?”
Others demand equality in the hours of cuts between “subsidized” neighborhoods and other neighborhoods. One person commented on the Ministry of Electricity’s statement on efficient consumption, “There are street lights that are lit day and night, and you talk about efficient consumption? And the subsidized neighborhoods where the electricity only cuts by accident, tell me is there no waste in those neighborhoods?” One woman responded to the news of increased cuts due to the lack of fuel by posting the following comment on the Ministry’s page, “Electricity needs fuel, and fuel needs boats, and boats need the sea, and the sea needs water, and the water is cut sir. By God you are all crooks!”