After the U.S.-led coalition forces targeted the ISIS-controlled oil refineries in Tel Abyad in the Raqqa governate and Deir Ezzor, Raqqa suffered from a significant scarcity of fuel. To compensate, the Islamic State (ISIS) imposed electricity cuts of up to 20 hours per day in parts of Raqqa.
The move has caused a spike in prices of food, transportation and groceries. The price of diesel has doubled, to more than 150 Syrian pounds (or $0.93) per litre. Many bakeries have had to stop producing bread for lack of power, driving the price of one loaf of bread to 200 Syrian pounds ($1.25).
Angry at the surge in energy prices, the shopkeepers of Raqqa went on mass strike in protest.
Abo al-Ezz, who has owned and operated a shop in Raqqa for 35 years, told Syria Deeply about the power cuts, the price of fuel, and the act of going on strike – a protest in ISIS terrain.
Syria Deeply: Did you participate in the mass strikes in Raqqa? What are the reasons behind it?
al-Ezz: Yes, we held mass strikes in different parts of Raqqa and its surrounding countryside. Most of them were in al-Tabqa, in western Raqqa. We closed our shops in solidarity with some bakeries who stopped producing bread as well. One of the reasons we launched the strike was because ISIS had started a new program of power rationing in Raqqa and its countryside, which was up to 20 hours a day. But we have two dams on the Euphrates River in Raqqa that work well and produce power, as everybody knows. Additionally, the cost of fuel has reached very high levels that we can’t afford to pay. This has affected the market badly, and people can’t afford to buy things either now, so we were forced to go on strike and close our shops until ISIS provides us and the people of Raqqa with enough power.
Syria Deeply:Did ISIS allow you to carry out your strike? Was it effective in changing the situation for the better?
al-Ezz: At the beginning, they tried to force us to open our shops, but then more people joined us by going on strike, and this caught them by surprise. So they stopped using force. The strike expanded to other areas, and after days of continuous strikes, ISIS increased the electricity access in the marketplace to three to four hours during working hours, but not in residential neighborhoods. There the power cuts are still happening for more than 20 hours a day.
There weren’t any punishments or repercussions because almost every shop owner went on strike, so the situation was not controllable. ISIS tried to frighten people by shooting bullets in the air, but it was in vain. No one opened their shops, so ISIS members had no choice but to talk to us and promise better electricity management.
Syria Deeply:Do you think that the U.S.-led coalition attacks have weakened ISIS?
al-Ezz: I do not think that the coalition’s attacks on the refineries and gas factories in Raqqa and Deir Ezzor have hurt ISIS. Attacking such vital resources in those areas only affects civilians. ISIS is not affected, as they just raise taxes to compensate for loss of fuel and gas income. The prices of fuel and gas are now two to three times higher, which, as I said before, has had a negative impact on the price of transportation, shipping, food and other products.