‘People can’t stand it any longer:’ Regime supporters in Latakia fed up with 1 hour of electricity

On January 15, dozens of pro-regime supporters protested even deeper power cuts in the Syrian government’s northwest stronghold of Latakia.

For the past five months, the coastal city’s residents have lived in darkness for 23 hours a day, Umm Jafar, a Latakia resident who witnessed Sunday’s demonstrations but did not participate, tells Syria Direct’s Noura Hourani.

“We only get one hour of electricity per day. This applies to the entire city, to both pro-regime and opposition neighborhoods,” she said.

The lack of electricity is due to a general shortage of crude oil and damage to electricity grids. On January 9, the Islamic State blew up a gas-manufacturing plant in Homs province that supplied Latakia province.

When the “golden hour” of electricity strikes, residents scramble to charge their phones, wash laundry and turn on water pumps needed to increase low water pressure, said Umm Jafar.

“We have a rudimentary lifestyle,” she said.

When asked about the demonstrations, Umm Jafar said that people are beginning to speak up because they “can’t stand it any longer.” 

Blackouts across Syria are a result of “systematic and planned attacks conducted by terrorist groups to destroy the Syrian state’s infrastructure,” Syrian state media agency SANA quoted Minister of Electricity Mohammed Kharbutali as saying on January 12.

Despite government promises to improve living conditions, electricity hours continue to shorten, Umm Jafar said.

“As regime supporters, we have put up with a lot. Every family has lost a soldier to the war,” she said.

Time and time again, the government has promised us that, at the very least, living conditions would change. But things continue to get worse.”

Umm Jafar, a Latakia resident who lives in Hay al-Zaraa, a pro-regime neighborhood. She witnessed Sunday’s demonstrations in the city.

Q: How many hours of electricity do you get a day?

Unfortunately, we only get one hour of electricity per day. This applies to the entire city, to both pro-regime and opposition neighborhoods.

But the city’s informal settlements, where extremely poor people live, sometimes don’t get any power all. This is because of poor electricity grids that are often in need of repair.

  The Latakia Electricity Directorate posted this picture on Saturday of the Electricity Minister giving the victory sign outside the directorate building. The caption as posted by the directorate is directly translated as follows: “In the middle of the snow, underneath the frost, our minister said it. No, he didn’t speak, but rather signaled to us with his two gentle fingers. They don’t represent victory, but two hours. Yes, two hours [of electricity] a day…is enough for you.” Photo courtesy of Latakia Electricity.

Q: Most of the people who attended Sunday’s demonstration were shabiha members and regime supporters, according to local reports. Why do you think they decided to protest?

As regime supporters, we have put up with a lot. We’ve stood by the army and the nation, overlooking many issues that we’ve faced because of the war. This is a sacrifice that we made, for the sake of our country. But time and time again, the government has promised us that, at the very least, living conditions would change. But things continue to get worse.

People demonstrated because they can’t stand it any longer. Every family has lost a soldier to the war. Some households have lost two, or even five men. For all of these sacrifices, we don’t receive anything in return.

For five years, we’ve listened to the government’s silver tongue. At first, we had eight hours of electricity a day. Then it was four, and then three. Now, we get one hour of electricity each day. It’s been like this for the past five months.

And right now, the government is trying to cover up people’s dissatisfaction by lying about Sunday’s protest.

[Ed.: On January 15, dozens of people demonstrated in front of the Electricity Directorate in Latakia city, Baladi News reported the next day. Pro-regime Facebook pages, such as Lattakia News Network, also reported the demonstration. Photos from the demonstrations, sources tell Syria Direct, have been removed from social media sites.]

Q: Many people say that life in Latakia is normal and easy. What’s the reality from your perspective?

This isn’t true. Even though there are no clashes or battles here, we suffer a lot. In fact, the electricity situation is better in some rebel areas than it is in Latakia because people rely on generators.

Take me for example. It takes three, or even four days to do the laundry. I can only wash small loads of clothes at once because of the electricity shortage.

Also, gas isn’t readily available. I have to sign up in order to get a gas cylinder from the government, which can take months because fuel is in such high demand. Gas bought from the government costs SP2,500 ($11.70), but some people pay more than double the price in bribes so they can move up in the line. If you want to buy gas from traders, it costs SP6,000 ($28).

We have a rudimentary lifestyle. We’ve gotten used to darkness. During the “golden hour,” as many people call it, people scramble to charge their phones and turn on the water pumps for their homes, so they can have better water pressure.

The water situation isn’t better than the electricity; our water gets cut off, too.

The poor suffer the most. They can’t buy gas or diesel, which are almost nonexistent in the first place. You see long lines of people waiting at the gas station to buy a few liters of diesel. One liter of diesel costs SP350 ($1.60). The highest monthly government salary is SP40,000 ($187) whereas a small family needs SP200,000 ($930) to live frugally. We live by the power of God.

People have stopped eating cheese, eggs and meat because of their expense. Around 200 grams of meat costs SP1,100 ($5).

Q: Do you expect the electricity situation to improve after Sunday’s demonstration? What are representatives from the government and Ministry of Electricity saying?

I don’t think that things will get better. On the contrary. About a week ago, Islamic State (IS) terrorists blew up the Hayyan gas plant in the north Homs countryside. It was one of the biggest gas plants that supplied electricity to the country.

[Ed.: On January 9, IS fighters blew up the Hayyan gas plant in Homs countryside. One of the largest gas plants in Syria, the Hayyan plant produced more than three million cubic meters of gas daily, al-Mayadeen reported the same day.]

The Minister of Electricity made a statement that the explosion would affect the electricity rationing hours. The government’s excuse over the years has been that terrorists control fuel stations, or that they have damaged oil fields. But the government can still give us generators. There are many solutions.

There are also war profiteers, who make things worse. They have made a lot of money these past five years selling batteries and generators for high prices.

Noura Hourani

Noura Hourani studied English Literature at Tishreen University and previously worked as a private English tutor. She left Syria at the beginning of the conflict.

Jessica Page, Reporter/Translator

Jessica was a 2013-2014 Georgetown University Qatar Scholarship Program fellow in Doha, Qatar. She received her BA in both Arabic and International & Area Studies from Washington University in St. Louis. She has worked and studied in Jordan, Oman, and Qatar.