Profiteering in Besieged Damascus

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Eastern Ghouta has been besieged by Syrian government forces for more than a year and half. Some residents accuse local gold traders and money exchangers of taking advantage of the crisis. Traders buy golden jewelry for cheap from people who are in dire need of money, who sell their property in order to buy to food, residents say. This gold is then sold outside Ghouta for higher prices.
The price of food supplies is also manipulated by the same wholesalers. Basic foodstuffs can be sold at almost 10 times their original prices.
Recently, some traders in Ghouta started to deal with counterfeit currency (Syrian Pound, US Dollar, Euro and Saudi Riyal). Fake money was used by many people before it was detected by local pro-opposition committees that oversee the economy.
These officials also say that they are working on raising awareness among residents, asking them not to sell their golden jewelry for less than the usual price.

1 W/S of street from inside money exchange office
2 Shot of man weighting gold and calculating the weight

3 SOUNDBITE (Arabic, Man) Abou Sariye, money exchange office owner

(00:18) In this shop we trade in gold. We sell and buy gold. We buy gold from people who sell it to us or from the people in need. They come to sell it here. We work on collecting gold from the people, we buy it from them and then we sell it to the wholesalers who work on getting the gold out of Ghouta. The price of gold varies from Ghouta to Damascus, almost 600 to700 Syrian Pounds (SYP) [per gram, around $3.3 to$3.8]. This rate was much bigger a year ago, it was around 1000 SYP, so wholesalers used to take advantage of the situation and come to buy it from Ghouta to make a profit (00:57)

4 Various of man looking at gold
5 Medium of gold bracelets and jewelry
6 Medium of gold weighting
7 Various of shop banners
8 Various of men counting money

9 SOUNDBITE (Arabic, Man) Monzer Abdel Aal, director of the Economic Office in Eastern Ghouta, a pro-opposition committee

(02:17) Wholesalers are taking advantage of the people’s situation due to the siege on Eastern Ghouta and the people’s need for money. People are forced to sell the gold they have, which they could have owned for decades. Because of the siege on Eastern Ghouta for more than a year and a half and the people’s need to cover daily expenses, they [the people] are forced to sell parts of their gold to wholesalers who unfortunately deal with Shabiha [regime thugs]. These wholesalers are taking advantage of the difference in the rate exchange between Damascus and Ghouta, where the rate can vary up to 1200-1300 SYP per gram, and of course they are not selling one or 20 grams, but hundreds of grams (03:12).

10 Various of men counting money

11 SOUNDBITE (Arabic, Man) Monzer Abdel Aal, Director of the Economic Office in Eastern Ghouta, a pro-opposition committee

(03:40) A committee is being formed at the moment in Eastern Ghouta to maintain a stable price of gold and dollar exchange rate, and even to [stop the circulation of] counterfeit currency. This committee might set up small scale bank that will fix the rate of dollar exchange and [regulate] the process of selling gold (04:06).

12 Various of men counting money

13 SOUNDBITE (Arabic, Man) Monzer Abdel Aal, Director in the Economic Office in Eastern Ghouta

(04:25) Monzer Abdel Aal: They are trying to inject the Dollar, even if counterfeit into the market without the supervision and the inspection of the regime, the Shabiha [regime thugs]. They are injecting large amounts of money that are being exchanged here, and the proof is that the exchange rate varies from Damascus to here around 6 Syrian Pounds (SYP).

14 Various of money
15 Various of the streets

16 SOUNDBITE (Arabic, Man) Abou Abdo, citizen in Eastern Ghouta

(05:07) Wholesalers? May God get avenge them, because they are waging war on us; on our children and their lives. If a warplane bombs us we know that this is our enemy, but when wholesalers do this, they would be killing us and our children, and they are part of us. One day, they will punished for them (05:30).

17 Various of vegetables stalls

18 SOUNDBITE (Arabic, Man) Abou Abdo, resident of Eastern Ghouta

(05:40) Bulgur wheat is the cheapest, for 1000 Syrian Pounds (SYP) [a kilogram]. A kilogram of sugar costs 3500 SYP. I swear this has never happened before, not even in Moscow (05:50).

19 Various inside a copper artifact shop
20 Various of men walking among rubble

21 SOUNDBITE (Arabic, Man) Hajj Abdo, resident of Douma

(07:23) These are all antiquities, these are all from our house that we owned for long time ago. We opened a shop and we are selling these products. Nothing is left in our house, and parts of the house fell due to the bombing. I am selling things that are more than 200 years old and owned by my great grandfather for cheap so I can buy bread. All of these have great value, but no one knows their value here and I am forced to sell them for cheap so I can buy food (08:04).

22 Various of destroyed house

23 SOUNDBITE (Arabic, Man) Hajj Abdo, resident of Douma

(08:18) This house was bombed by the regime’s warplanes. The children died, the women died, the old men died, everybody died. Half of the house is destroyed. I inherited it from my great grandfather. It is around 500 years old, from the times of Mamluks (08:43).

24 Various of destroyed house backyard