A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

gassing up in Syria

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on January 13, 2008

Earlier this week, Iraq Directory published a translation of an al-Thawra article announcing that Syria is now charging market prices for gasoline for trucks crossing the border to Iraq. The price of gas in Syria is heavily subsidized: the article states that gas in Syria costs $.14/liter (yes, its the European system!) while market price is closer to $.80/liter.

Filling in the article’s gaps, I assume this means that these trucks typically fuel up at the Syrian side of the Syrian/Iraqi border, so they enjoy the subsidized prices and do not have to waste time (or put themselves at risk) stopping to fuel up in Iraq.

But why increase the price? I’m guessing that the answer has to do partly with finances, and partly with politics. Syria is running a major budget deficit this year, and I understand that proposals to cut the many subsidies that Syrians enjoy have been floated – and then rejected as politically untenable. Cutting the gas subsidy on trucks leaving the county won’t be anywhere as contentious as cutting the bread subsidy – or raising gas prices for ordinary Syrians.

I do not know for certain that Syria’s Iraqi borders see more truck crossings than any others – Lebanon’s export and trans-shipment economy depends heavily on Lebanese-Syrian land routes, for example. But any change in procedures on the Syrian side of the Lebanese border usually meets with a big outcry in Lebanon – as it did earlier this week. A slow-down that Syrian officials attributed to new security procedures set off anxious news reports on Future Television and passionate speechifying by the country’s political class.

As for the Syria’s Turkish and Jordanian borders, they seem occupied by other issues: Kurds and smuggling, respectively. So I imagine that targeting trucks at the Iraqi border was appealing as well because it promised the least political costs.

In any case, its interesting to see both the change in price and the fact that it was picked up as a news item of interest beyond the country’s borders. I love stories like this – under-reported administrative changes that slip through. I puzzle over them, like I puzzled over the story that the national Syrian football team had just hired, and then let go, new coach Antonio Cabrini.

Apparently Cabrini’s salary was to be paid directly by a Syrian company, but the national football federation decided that it should instead be paid indirectly through corporate sponsorships. And rather than this disagreement becoming the starting point for dialogue, it seems to have ended it – leaving the Syrians coach-less. Puzzling indeed. I’m sure there is a larger back story here, and I sure wish I knew it :)!

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