Deprivation strikes the majority of Syrians

Entrance of al-Hamidiyah Market in Damascus - February 3, 2024 (Enab Baladi/Sarah al-Ahmad)

Entrance of al-Hamidiyah Market in Damascus - February 3, 2024 (Enab Baladi/Sarah al-Ahmad)


Enab Baladi – Hussam al-Mahmoud

Life moves at a fast pace on a path adorned or “mined” with technological advancements and a sharp increase in human pleasures of all kinds. These pleasures range from food and its varieties to clothes and tourist trips, turning everything that can be commodified into commodities for the benefit of those who can afford the service, product, or goods.

On this path also moves the life of a large segment of the Syrian population, but in the opposite direction, making the rapidly advancing state of affairs, which requires high levels of attention and alignment, a natural progression of life. Meanwhile, the lives of poor or impoverished populations, unable to keep up with modernity and luxury, seem out of context, disrupting the general picture unless it’s a journey back in time, retrieving the past and turning it into the present. This is while other populations may treat it as a source of nostalgia, nothing more.

Mocking reality

Fadia (36 years), a graduate of the Faculty of History at Tishreen University, offers private lessons. She told Enab Baladi that she feels regret and some jealousy when seeing the content available on social media, specifically content reflecting the luxury of other populations.

Fadia believes that Syria, as a country rich with resources that enable it to be as advanced as any other nation, should have a population living in luxury like others. She says, “Why don’t we have an administration with conscience and a sense of responsibility towards us?”

The young woman tends to take the matter sarcastically, joking with her friends saying, “Unsure what to cook, let’s do like Chef so-and-so,” while noting that the matter is annoying but she is powerless to change the reality.

The political, security, and military situations that have transformed the lives of Syrians have impacted the living standards of those remaining inside Syria, regardless of residence location. As long as the land and its inhabitants are included in statistics, studies, and figures reflecting poverty, inadequacy, and the threat of hunger. Those residing inside Syria are exposed to content presented by social media, seeing the most delicious food during the harshest moments of hunger, and learning through their mobile screens about tools and means that can ease life’s burdens, without the ability to benefit from them.

The young woman pointed out the direct impact that watching content and gazing at the attractive scenes of others’ lives on social media leaves, be it their happy moments in restaurants, shops, and markets.

“I dream of traveling to Gulf countries which our government media used to describe as camel countries until recently,” Fadia said.

“These impacts include psychological issues, overthinking, and trying to find solutions for better living. Sometimes I miss the sense of self-reconciliation; in truth, we have slightly grown older. But the real impact is on younger generations who see these temptations and cannot keep up with them, leading either to depression or destructive and unethical behaviors like on live streaming platforms.”

Although these feelings or thoughts resulting from exposure to social media content are not limited to Syrians, they might seem deeper when circumstances are unstable, and living conditions and the ability to meet basic needs are in continual decline, distancing the individual from the present time or the desired time perhaps.

Feelings of regret

Mahmoud feels sorry for the state of his country and is troubled by the financial constraints that deprive him of many pleasures he sees on social media, available in neighboring countries at the very least.

Mahmoud, 33, works in digital marketing, and explains to Enab Baladi that the priority is for bread, the citizens’ concern is related to an additional hour of electricity or obtaining a gas cylinder. These are issues that do not preoccupy expatriate Syrians or non-Syrians at all.

According to Mahmoud, exposure to videos or pictures showcasing life’s luxuries outside Syria stirs feelings of regret for staying in Syria and not leaving to live the youthful life he was deprived of.

Social media reinforces these thoughts among some of its users and influences the definition of necessities and essentials in human life, while materialism obsession grows, turning wealth into an organized, templated form with reinforcement of stereotypical ideas that view wealth and prosperity as a sign of hard work and poverty as a result of laziness, as shown by reports and studies on the impact of social media.

Alongside studies discussing social media’s impact on mental peace, the agony of desire, and the emergence of unfulfilled needs, have been addressed in literature by several writers, some of whom hail from war-torn or consecutively war-stricken countries that have turned many citizens into refugees and displaced persons. Palestinian poet Mourid Barghouti, in a poem titled “Desires,” lists all that he wishes and desires from life, saying, “I no longer desire anything, for I desire everything.”

In the book “The Broken Ladder: How Inequality Affects the Way We Think, Live, and Die”, social psychologist Keith Payne says, “When we are reminded that we are poorer or less powerful than others, we become less healthy and angrier,” considering that inequality “is about the size of the gap between the rich and the poor.”

According to Keith Payne, the concept of inequality gives a person a feeling of being poorer than they are in comparison with those who have more money and raises expectations of what is normal.

Numbers speak

In Syria, 16.7 million Syrian citizens need humanitarian assistance, representing a 9% increase from 2023, according to UNHCR estimates.

The UNHCR stated that 2024 indicates that humanitarian and economic indicators in the country continue to deteriorate, and the economic situation is “increasingly dangerous” and a driving factor for needs.

80% of the Syrian population needs some form of humanitarian assistance in 2024, according to the 2024 Humanitarian Needs Overview (HNO).

Around 55% of the Syrian population, or 12.9 million people, suffer from food insecurity, including 3.1 million who suffer from severe food insecurity.

Dimensions of deprivation

Dr. Amer al-Ghadhban, an educational psychologist, explained to Enab Baladi that this condition is known psychologically as deprivation or the feeling of deprivation. A poor person may actually be deprived or may deeply feel deprived, and there may not be any objective reasons for this, but it becomes entrenched in their mind that they are deprived. This feeling can extend to other areas and is often accompanied by despair, frustration, and negative feelings towards their surrounding society or other societies. It may also lead to isolation, even from close or similar people and can cause other disorders such as depression and more.

This phenomenon can be frequently observed in various areas such as slums and large developed cities with significant economic movement. People feel that nearby neighborhoods and buildings house people who are different from them and enjoying life. This can also happen in cases of migration and asylum, where economic or social disparities, or mere differences, enhance the feeling of deprivation and that others are happy with their lives.

Al-Ghadhban pointed out that a person who feels different from another society draws a map of reality and the world and grants it certain boundaries, placing themselves within those boundaries. They expect differences in the types of people present in each place based on the borders drawn. Thus, the map becomes an idea of “us and them.” This map may be appropriate and proportionate to help the individual adapt to themselves, or it may not. It could even be a reason for the person’s psychological maladaptation.

In the current era, with social media, globalization, and the increased flow of information, the maps individuals draw and the types of comparisons they make change. This occurs as the media influx and the bombardment of life’s temptations present unrealistic models of people who are entirely happy. These images may realistically portray those people or may be unrealistic in terms of the nature of life itself. Since negative feelings are present to a large extent, realizing this point can lead to relatively rigid cognitive perceptions and entrenched negative feelings that may result in psychological disorders.

According to Dr. al-Ghadhban, the effect of this feeling can be noticed in two groups within society. The first group is parents, where the feeling of incapability to fulfill their parental role and provide for their children’s needs dominates. As a result, the father may escape this role, neglect it, or become aggressive, expressing his authority in violent ways.

This feeling also affects teenagers and young adults and is sometimes connected to the formation of an individual’s identity, which is at its peak during adolescence. The feeling of deprivation becomes integral to the teenager’s self-definition or sense of belonging, preventing acceptance of their society and leading to compensatory behaviors such as violence.

If the feeling of deprivation is accompanied by the lack of educational and guiding mechanisms in the society, it could create models that are hostile and oppositional to the society. The person sees everything in their society negatively and adopts models from other societies’ cultures and behaviors to enhance their sense of progress and self-worth. It can also lead to feelings of despair, surrender, and absurdity due to a sense of futility in their actions over both the short and long term, according to al-Ghadhban.

The problem of simplification

According to the psychological specialist, one of the main problems in dealing with phenomena of this kind is simplification. No single scientific field can provide the description and solutions for this issue. The phenomenon of disparity and the sense of inequality is a major global phenomenon, challenging sciences to develop theories and scientific principles to address it. Meanwhile, there is a movement in psychology to establish theories that study the impact of social class disparity on individuals.

Regarding the role of society in this case, society is not incapable of meeting the needs of its members but might be unable to manage its resources effectively. A society capable of managing its resources, even among refugees or displaced communities, can solve its problems and produce more mature individuals than those raised in better economic conditions. It can offer individuals a deep understanding of reality, happiness through simple things, and teach emotional and social intelligence, conveying that happiness is unrelated to changing society.

Furthermore, according to Dr. Amer al-Ghadhban, the family should be a place where a person is provided with supportive and positive values, enabling them to adjust to life outside the family. It is crucial for the family to possess positive emotions, regardless of wealth or poverty, and to enjoy happy moments in family life. Attention must also be given to the teenager’s identity formation and their self-definition, determining whether deprivation is central to that definition. This does not mean teaching institutions to condition the upcoming generation to surrender to reality as a form of taming and accepting the bad reality as it is. Instead, it means teaching realistic understanding, positive engagement, and preserving oneself without negativity or hostility.


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