Skip to main content

War puts Syrians on unexpected career paths

Young graduates in Damascus are having a hard time securing a job in their field, thus turning to nongovernmental organizations and volunteer work.
People sit in a shop as they watch TV broadcasting Syria's President Bashar al-Assad speaking as he is sworn in for a new seven-year term, in Damascus July 16, 2014. Al-Assad, who was sworn in for a new term on Wednesday, said Western and Arab states that have supported "terrorism" will pay a "high price" and that he would fight insurgents until security was restored to the whole country.
 REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki (SYRIA - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST) - RTR3YVXN

DAMASCUS, Syria — Behind the Umayyad Mosque in the old city of Damascus, where the streets are still busy during the day, Abu Mohammed sits on a wooden chair in front of his gold shop playing backgammon most of the time. The gold trade is no longer in vogue as the number of customers has drastically decreased, and so he has time on his hands.

Al-Monitor met Abu Mohammed at his shop, which has become a place where he spends time at leisure instead of working. “Two years ago customers stopped visiting the shop, except for a few people who come in to sell their possessions or to ask about the constantly rising prices of gold, due to the Syrian pound’s drop against the US dollar,” he told Al-Monitor.

“This trade is no longer profitable. Many of the jewelry shop owners have closed down their shops and started new jobs. It seems I am next. I will look for another profession if things go on like this,” he added.

Not far from Abu Mohammed’s empty gold shop is his neighbor Adnan's accessory and gifts shop, which was once also a jewelry shop.

“Before, few people wanted to buy small items and gadgets as a friendly gesture or gift, as they used to prefer gold. Now it is the other way around, especially in light of the dire economic conditions faced by Syrians, who prefer not to buy any gold. I am glad I found an alternative to my old job. Although it is less profitable, at least I can still make ends meet,” Adnan told Al-Monitor.

The gold trade is obviously one of the professions that has been affected by the Syrian civil war, which has entered its fifth year. On the other hand, other professions have gained popularity, such as journalism, which now provides a fixed income to a good number of young Syrians.

“One journalistic article is worth one month of work in the medical field [equivalent to roughly $300], of course taking into consideration the exchange-rate difference,” said Dr. Nael, who spoke to Al-Monitor on condition his last name not be revealed. Nael came from Aleppo to Damascus to work as a journalist. Journalism has been a great source of income for him after he lost his job in one of Aleppo’s hospitals in northern Syria, the name of which he preferred not to mention, as a result of the war.

Nael said, “The medical sector in Aleppo has been affected [by the war] since 2012, and that is why I stopped working in hospitals as their numbers have decreased greatly.” There are three public hospitals and seven private ones in the regime-controlled areas, while opposition-controlled areas have two government hospitals and four private ones. Four of the major hospitals in Aleppo have been destroyed due to the bombings and explosions.

“In Damascus, I could not open a clinic or find a job in private hospitals. Therefore, I started writing press articles, especially since all media outlets are eager for news from Syria. Journalism has turned into my basic source of income. However, after the war is over, I will focus again on my dream in the medical field,” he added.

While some Damascenes have changed professions willingly, others have found themselves forced by displacement and war conditions to embark on a change of career.

Abu Radwan told Al-Monitor that before moving to Damascus, he used to own a carpentry furniture workshop in Arbin in eastern Ghouta, which was burned to the ground. “I work as a taxi driver right now, and I heard that the city of Arbin has been flattened after the heavy shelling by the regime’s forces,” he said.

“The war has tipped all the scales. Some people have made great fortunes, while others have lost everything they own,” he added.

Other activities have started gaining ground as well, especially among young people, such as volunteer work and work with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), whose numbers have been on the rise during the past two years in Damascus and with the escalation of the war.

Al-Monitor met with Maher, a new graduate of the faculty of economics at Damascus University, who spoke about his volunteer work. “I tried so hard to look for a job in my field but to no avail, as people have been displaced to Damascus, which has become densely populated. Moreover, in light of the large numbers of displaced young people from other towns, it has become even more difficult to find a job; therefore I decided to work as a volunteer with the organization Jouzour,” he said.

“It is true that I only receive a token salary in exchange for my work, but I feel happy. I work for relief campaigns and provide humanitarian services and fill my time with something useful,” he added.

Khaled, a young graduate of the department of libraries and information at Damascus University who works for an NGO in Damascus called Mobadroon, has a different take on this issue.

“If you managed to secure a job with the state, you would face accusations from the opposition. Meanwhile, it remains very difficult to find a position within the private sector for new graduates with no experience such as myself,” he told Al-Monitor.

He added, “Working with NGOs is much easier, as the work does not necessitate previous experience, and all you need is to be familiar with office affairs and languages. I can gain some experience while I am working here and then after the war ends I will search for a real job, and maybe even outside Syria."

Syrians hope that the war comes to an end very soon, so they can have their old jobs back. Abu Mohammed wishes to sell gold again as he used to four years ago, when his small shop would be filled with customers from Damascus and the countryside.

Join hundreds of Middle East professionals with Al-Monitor PRO.

Business and policy professionals use PRO to monitor the regional economy and improve their reports, memos and presentations. Try it for free and cancel anytime.

Free

The Middle East's Best Newsletters

Join over 50,000 readers who access our journalists dedicated newsletters, covering the top political, security, business and tech issues across the region each week.
Delivered straight to your inbox.

Free

What's included:
Our Expertise

Free newsletters available:

  • The Takeaway & Week in Review
  • Middle East Minute (AM)
  • Daily Briefing (PM)
  • Business & Tech Briefing
  • Security Briefing
  • Gulf Briefing
  • Israel Briefing
  • Palestine Briefing
  • Turkey Briefing
  • Iraq Briefing
Expert

Premium Membership

Join the Middle East's most notable experts for premium memos, trend reports, live video Q&A, and intimate in-person events, each detailing exclusive insights on business and geopolitical trends shaping the region.

$25.00 / month
billed annually

Become Member Start with 1-week free trial

We also offer team plans. Please send an email to pro.support@al-monitor.com and we'll onboard your team.

What's included:
Our Expertise AI-driven

Memos - premium analytical writing: actionable insights on markets and geopolitics.

Live Video Q&A - Hear from our top journalists and regional experts.

Special Events - Intimate in-person events with business & political VIPs.

Trend Reports - Deep dive analysis on market updates.

All premium Industry Newsletters - Monitor the Middle East's most important industries. Prioritize your target industries for weekly review:

  • Capital Markets & Private Equity
  • Venture Capital & Startups
  • Green Energy
  • Supply Chain
  • Sustainable Development
  • Leading Edge Technology
  • Oil & Gas
  • Real Estate & Construction
  • Banking

Already a Member? Sign in

Start your PRO membership today.

Join the Middle East's top business and policy professionals to access exclusive PRO insights today.

Join Al-Monitor PRO Start with 1-week free trial