The merchant "Abu Ahmad" bought 9,000 Dollars at the Suq al-Hal market in Misyaf for which he paid in Syrian pounds to a black market currency dealer; only to discover a few days later that the bills he had bought were counterfeit. Despite his his strong ties to some security officers, he still was unable to recover his money.
Abu Ahmed is considered one of the more successful merchants, yet he lost confidence in the Syrian pound. And despite long having been an apologist for the regime government's policies, he decided to convert some of his possessions to hard currency.
One of his friends actually told Rozana: "I believe it is the state that is responsible for spreading counterfeit dollars in the market. Their aim is to prevent people from acquiring the dollar; and after the fraud Abu Ahmed was subjected to, many others who do not have the counterfeit currency detection equipment, actually declined from buying dollars."
In Tartous, merchants call currency exchangers several times a day, searching for the best rates, then transferring large sums of money to them and traveling the next day to collect their dollars. They do not directly mention the word 'dollar' in their conversations with their clients, but use certain ‘code’ words, such as asking: what is the price of ‘cashew’ today?
Milad confirms he fears the collapse of Syrian currency, and is seeking to convert his money to the stable American currency, as he describes it.
Dollar Traders Monopolize the Exchange Rate
Many in the coastal region feel that the regime government is utterly inccapable of overcoming the crisis, end the conflict, or even to maintain any semblance of economic stability. They fear the collapse of the local currency, with even some state employees converting their bank loans to the dollars.
Currency traders prey on laborers returning from stints of work in Lebanon, and who areusually paid in dollars. As these workers are forced to convert their earnings into Syrian currency, the traders buy off their dollars at low rates.
Hasan, from Tartus, says: "I know these currency traders are greedy. I know they are stealing my hard-earned money. But I have no other alternative but to deal with them."
Hasan says that in addition, this crisis has created a new class of intermediaries, between those wishing to sell hard currency and those wishing to buy it. They take advantage of the people’s fear of openly dealing in dollars, thus monopolizing all buying and selling and making hefty profits in the process.
The Volatile Prices Build, and Destroy, Fortunes
During the Allied bombing of ISIS, the rate of the dollar jumped from 165 pounds to 195. Thus, anyone buying $10,000 before the bombing campaign, for example, made themselves a profit of 300,000 pounds in only a few days.
The regime’s government is trying to track and control currency traders in its attempt to bolster the Syrian pound. Some government informants attempt, by requesting dollars from merchants, to detect who is dealing in hard currency; but merchants are circumventing this control by only dealing with people whom they trust.
Says a food retailer in Tartous: "I sell and buy more than ten thousand dollars a day, and everyday I meet people I do not know. Yet I always deny that I deal in dollars, for fear of being entrapped."
It is worth mentioning that, during the threat of an American strike against regime headquarters following the chemical massacre of East Ghouta, the rate of the dollar jumped to 285 Syrian pounds.
The merchant continues: "The public was afraid that the dollar might climb still higher, so many of them bought dollars, which the traders sold them. When the regime agreed to surrender its chemical weapons arsenal the dollar fell, plummeting to 120 Syrian pounds. This is when the traders started to buy, raking in huge profits at the expense of the public.”
On this subject, one of the losers in this game acerbically notes: "In Syria, it is enough for a currency trader to have the right instincts to build himself a fortune; as much as it is enough for the state to be in a coma, for poor people to fall into the traders’ trap."