October 16, 2007 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 395

Electricity Crisis in Syria

October 16, 2007 | By Ofir Winter*
Syria | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 395

"What is the daily schedule of the Syrian citizen during power outages? At night, naturally, he spends his evening by candlelight or by the light of a flashlight, and if neither are available, there's nothing wrong with moonlight either. In this way, our ridiculous authorities aspire to restore the productivity to our troubled souls. As we know, the light of the moon revives our souls and enriches our imagination, and it has the power to transform us into silver-tongued lovers or poets. The afternoon is the worst time for a serious power outage – especially in the middle of a burning hot summer. The hours between one and four or five transform one from a keen-sensed poet into a crazed murderer... You curse your mother and your father who brought you into Syria."[1]

- Ahmad Mawloud Al-Tayyar, a resident of the city of Al-Raqqa,
describes life in Syria under electricity outages

Since early summer 2007, Syria has been suffering from a severe electricity crisis, the worst in many years. Recurring power outages last four to 10 hours a day, and this has obviously affected the lives of Syria's citizens, as well as causing serious damage to the Syrian economy.[2]

At first, the Syrian government assured the public that the crisis was temporary – that it stemmed from increased demand due to the summer heat and was expected to resolve itself within a few weeks.[3] Syrian Prime Minister Muhammad Naji Al-'Utri even gave Electricity Minister Ahmad Khaled Al-'Ali a two-week ultimatum to solve the crisis.[4] But when the problem persisted, with the weeks turning into months, harsh criticism of the government, and particularly of the prime minister and electricity minister, began to appear in the Syrian media.

The Syrian government daily newspapers called on the country's decision makers to act swiftly to correct the flaws in the country's public services, including the electricity crisis. More critical articles appeared in the Syrian dailies and news websites, and also on the opposition sites, which attributed the crisis to public corruption and to poor planning, and called for the privatizing Syria's electricity services.

Protests against the situation reached their height in early August, after Prime Minister Al-'Utri blamed the crisis on political reasons and on international pressures that had led, inter alia, to refusal by the world's four largest companies dealing with electricity to work in Syria. In this context, Al-'Utri pointed at former French president Jacques Chirac as the one who had pressured a French company to withdraw from a Syrian tender for erecting a power station in Syria.[5]

The criticism over the electricity crisis also spread to popular protest, when, on August 2, 2007, a hacker penetrated the Electricity Ministry's website and left the following notice on the homepage: "I thank all the Electricity Ministry employees, and particularly the [electricity] minister, who so far has offered no solution and has abandoned the country and the people who gave him his job. I also express my gratitude for the tremendous effort of all those in charge of maintenance in the Electricity Ministry – an effort that demonstrates their inability to bear the responsibility and to hold onto their lofty positions. How long will we remain backward? How long?" [6]

The following are excerpts from articles and reports published in the Syrian papers and news websites in response to the electricity crisis, and particularly in response to statements by Syrian Prime Minister Al-'Utri:

Government Papers: The Regime Must Hold In-Depth Discussions on Issues Concerning Residents' Lives

Sana Ya'qoub, columnist for the Syrian government daily Teshreen, wrote: "In light of the pathetic picture before the eyes of the residents, from the water and electricity crises, to the narrow streets full of dust and potholes, to the animals and cattle in the neighborhoods and the bugs, rats, and sewers polluting everything around them – the people say to the makers and executors of the decisions: 'When will you speak the truth and keep your promises? Are we to remain forever at your mercy?!"[7]

Isma'il Jaradat, columnist for the Syrian government daily Al-Thawra, also wrote about the crisis in public services: "[There are] many issues that members of the legislative authority must raise with the executive authority. It is to be hoped that [the matter] will not end this way, and that the discussions will not take place infrequently. We are interested in an in-depth discussion that will deal with all the issues concerning the lives and livelihoods of the residents – and not in discussions aimed at grabbing media prestige."[8]

Al-Watan Daily: The Electricity Crisis is the Result of Corruption and Poor Planning

In a July 30, 2007 editorial, the Syrian daily Al-Watan called for privatization of Syria's electricity: "What is the use of talking about achievements? What is the use of all members of the government stressing the 'improvement' in the citizen's [standard of] living? What is the use of threats, promises, and ultimatums [for solving the crisis] when they are only slogans? The Syrian citizen raises these questions every day, every hour, in an attempt to obtain an explanation of what is going on. Water comes from Allah, but electricity is the government's responsibility... What are the investor, the tourist, and the immigrant told? Are they told that the planning is poor, and that the cause of the crisis is the corruption and neglect? Or are we to reiterate the words of the government and of the electricity minister, that the crisis is temporary and it will be overcome within a short time?

"And who will bear the material losses? Will the citizen be allowed to sue the Electricity Ministry for damages? We have no answer to any of these questions, and it is best that the government move over and permit the private sector to supply electricity, instead of scattering promises, threats and ultimatums. At least with the private sector we know our rights and our obligations in settling accounts and suing those in charge. It is a great scandal – a scandal to the detriment of the government, which is obligated to improve its citizens' standard of living."[9]

Syrian columnist Haytham Yahya Muhammad wrote in a similar vein in the daily Al-Watan: "In light of the disorder and the chaotic way in which the power comes on and off, and in light of the negative and dangerous ramifications of this situation, some say – and I among them – that if the 'moral system' of those in charge of electricity in our country had not crashed, the power grid would not have crashed so suddenly either!"

Syrian Opposition Forces: The Problems are the Product of the Authorities' Policy

In an editorial titled "The Syrians Without Water, Electricity and Security – That Is, Without a State!" the website of the Damascus Declaration, an umbrella organization of the Syrian opposition forces,[10] wrote: "The problems of the Syrians are the product of the authorities' policy, and the essence [of this policy] is suppressing any opinion different [from the regime's] and abolishing political freedoms – primarily freedom of expression and freedom of assembly... This policy consistently prevents opportunity for national dialogue, thereby making it impossible for public opinion to form that will expose the essence of the problems and their [various] aspects. Thus, there is no systematic planning or handling [of the problems]; the level of responsibility drops, and the demand to provide an accounting weakens – if not completely disappears – [as you descend down] the ranks of authority. [Ultimately], it is directed only at the lowest levels that lack all protection.

"The reality in Syria has long required that the government change its policy from the root, and that it be subjected to supervision and held accountable [for its policies], to the maximal degree. The continuation of the current situation, and the worsening of the problems with which the Syrians are dealing, are simply unacceptable."[11]

"Syria News" Editor: Al-'Utri's Statement – Evading Responsibility

Nidhal Ma'louf, editor-in-chief of the Syria News website, which is affiliated with Syrian regime circles, criticized Prime Minister Al-'Utri's attribution of the power crisis to political reasons and international pressures: "...To the best of my knowledge, the establishment discourse has recently been marketing [the idea that] 'America's policy of isolation has failed to accomplish its goals regarding Syria' – [yet suddenly] the prime minister comes and tells us that we have entered a new era – an era of 'distress' caused by the international sanctions against Syria.

"I do not know whether [the policy of] blaming 'international pressures' for the government's failure to meet the basic needs of the Syrian citizen is wise during this sensitive time, when Syria has begun to reap the fruits of its resistance to the American-Israeli plots in the region. We are handing them the big prize on a silver platter, telling them, 'Behold, you have succeeded, and we have begun to live in the era of darkness as a result of the policy of isolation that you have employed against us.'

"I do not think that it is possible that Siemens, or any of the companies scattered throughout the world, would reject offers to build power stations in Syria, since we have already in recent years signed contracts with U.S. and European companies in [various] areas, [including] communications and oil... I think – and this [too] is the message being marketed by the government, morning and night – that we have friends in the 'Eastern' [regions], which reach to China, who [could have] helped us acquire power stations, if [only] we had planned so as to deal with this crisis in a timely fashion and had taken into account all the social, political, and environmental circumstances.

"These government statements [by Al-'Utri] have had a twofold negative impact... on the Syrian public: Some interpreted them as 'evading responsibility,' [i.e.] as an attempt to blame the government's obvious failure on 'international pressures,' while others saw it as the 'harbinger' of an era in which the international pressures and the U.S.'s isolation policy have begun to make significant breakthroughs – to the point where they have caused Syria to live in darkness. I think that both these interpretations are nothing but adding fuel to the fire of the crisis."[12]

Former MP: The Regime is Insulting the Citizens' Intelligence

Former Syrian MP Muhammad Mamoun, now a political dissident who is active outside Syria, responded to Al-'Utri's statements by telling the Italian news agency AKI: "How long will the regime insult the intelligence and feelings of the citizens while ignoring the facts and the reality for which it is fully responsible[?]... How can the regime seek to blame others for the policy it employed – a policy that has brought Syria ruin and economic and political destruction[?]... Are the prime minister's statements a kind of false accusation, a distortion of the facts, an [attempt to find] a new hook on which the regime's mistakes and faults can be hung, or [an attempt to] spread hatred and animosity between the peoples?...

"Syria's electricity [crisis] is one of the problems from which the Syrian people suffers, and it stems from poor management of the country, from defective planning, and from the corruption that afflicts all the country's services... Where was this problem two months ago [during the presidential referendum], when [electric] decorations filled [the streets] and electricity was used with abandon throughout the country for two months, so that [the president would be reelected and] the regime's robbery of the people could continue?"[13]

Syrian Oppositionist to Regime Heads: Stop Stealing Water, Electricity, Liberty, and Freedom of Expression

In an article on the Akhbar Al-Sharq website, Syrian oppositionist Dr. 'Ali Hussein wondered how a regime capable of undermining the stability of the Middle East could not solve its electricity crisis: "Mr. Al-'Utri, why don't you tell the Syrian people the truth? One month ago, you lied when you blamed the power outages on the electricity minister, and today you are blaming the collapse of Syria's electricity network on Chirac. Why don't you tell the Syrian people that it is your idiotic policy, and President [Bashar Al-Assad], that are the reasons for the problem? If the problem is power stations, and if there were tensions in your relations with Jacques Chirac because of the shameful crime of the assassination of [former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq] Al-Hariri, then where are your strategic relations with the rest of the countries of the world? Where is your ally Iran in this crisis, and where are your private trade relations[?]...

"Do you have the capability to infiltrate across the borders of the neighboring countries in order to kill innocents and to undermine [these countries'] security and stability? Do you have the capability of setting the region ablaze, from the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean? Do you have the capability to steal both the best of Syria and the crust of bread of the poorest of her sons? [The answer is] yes, you have all these capabilities – but you do not have the capability of resolving the problem of the power supply – which all over the world is considered a basic commodity...

"Enough, Al-'Utri. Enough, you who carry out the orders of the regime. Stop playing with the livelihood of the poor citizen; stop robbing the country and the human beings, stop stealing the water, the electricity, and the even the air, and stop stealing the liberty and the freedom of expression.

"We remind you, Al-'Utri, and we remind your heroic president, and all the mercenaries who enjoy [the pleasures of] the regime: The Syrian people will not take pity on you when the time of salvation comes. The [Syrian] Republican Guards and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards will not protect you. Your palaces, armies, and diplomatic immunity will not protect you either. Whatever your control of the people may be [now], victory is always the ally of the peoples."[14]

*O. Winter is a research fellow at MEMRI.

[2] Nobles News (Syria), September 9, 2007.

[3] Al-Ba'th (Syria), June 27, 2007.

[4] Al-Thawra (Syria), June 29, 2007.

[5] Syria News (Syria), August 4, 2007.

[6] Syria News (Syria), August 3, 2007.

[7] Teshreen (Syria), July 7, 2007.

[8] Al-Thawra (Syria), July 4, 2007.

[9] Al-Watan (Syria), July 30, 2007.

[10] In October 2005, an alliance among Syrian parties, forces, and oppositionists signed the "Damascus Declaration for National Democratic Change." The document stresses the need for democratic change in Syria and for the end of the military regime that has controlled the Syrian people for over 30 years. The declaration calls, inter alia, for the establishment of a democratic government in Syria, the elimination of the Emergency Law, the release of all political prisoners, and a solution to the Kurdish problem. The signatories included the Committees for Reviving Civil Society, the Kurdish Democratic Front in Syria, the National Democratic Union in Syria, the Syrian Committee for Human Rights, and the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria.

[11] The Damascus Declaration website (, July 2, 2007.

[12] Syria News (Syria), August 5, 2007.

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