The new 2,000 Syrian pound banknote carries a purple portrait of the Grand Umayyad Mosque on the front, next to an image of Bashar Al Assad. The back features the drawing of the interior of Syria’s Parliament. Image Credit: Sami Moubayed/Gulf News

Damascus: Syrians are actively debating the release of a new 2,000 Syrian pound banknote issued by the Central Bank of Syria in early July.

It carried a purple portrait of the Grand Umayyad Mosque on one front, next to an image of President Bashar Al Assad and a drawing of the interior of Syria’s Parliament on the other, with its new value glowing in green. In the photo, Al Assad looks serious and stern — no smiling, while wearing a suit and tie.

Opposition activists were furious, seeing the move as a clear message directed at those asking him to step down since outbreak of hostilities in March 2011.

“It’s the president’s own way of telling them and the Geneva talks that he has no intention of doing so; not now or anytime in the future. He is winning this war and regaining territory, thanks to the Russians. He wants the world to remember that clearly, both inside Syria and abroad,” Mazen Al Shammat, a writer and member of the ruling Baath Party, told Gulf News on Friday.

Pro-regime bloggers did try to downsize the economic impact of the new move, claiming that it was unrelated to inflation but rather, linked to the upcoming 17th anniversary of Al Assad’s inauguration on July 17.

“He came to power in the year 2000, and we now have him on the 2,000 Syrian pound banknote” said Samira Al Ahmad, a schoolteacher in the countryside of Tartous.

Meanwhile, at least three opposition entities have banned circulation of the new paper money. A coalition of anti-regime businessmen called the Committee of Free Economists for Development, issued a statement saying that adopting the new currency was akin to “accepting rule of the gangsters and their economic dominance.”

On July 7, Jawad Abu Hatab, Prime Minister of the Interim Government-in-Exile banned the use of the new banknote in rebel held territory — a vague term that only applies to pockets nowadays rather than to entire cities or districts. The cities that are neither in the hands of government forces or of the opposition are presently held by Daesh, mainly Deir Al Zor and Al Raqqa on the Euphrates and Al Bu Kamal on the Syrian-Iraqi borders.

In both, the use of government-issued currency is prohibited since 2014. Abu Hatab did not say what the punishment would be for those who break the law or what measures his team had to prevent the circulation of the new paper money in villages scattered throughout the Syrian north. And finally, the local council of the town of Atharib, located 25 kilometres west of Aleppo, also banned the new currency, threatening violators with up to one year in prison if found in possession of the new banknote.

Elsewhere in Syria, ordinary people were unimpressed with the further denomination of their currency, which spoke of gross economic mismanagement and incompetence. The value of 2,000 is the highest even in the history of Syria. A 1,000 Syrian pound banknote was issued 17 years ago, with a portrait of then-president Hafez Al Assad.

Until mid-2011, fifty Syrian pounds equalled $1 but now, after nearly seven years of war, the exchange rate has gone up to 530 Syrian pounds to the US Dollar. Rumour has it in Damascus that a 50 Syrian pound coin will be introduced soon, showing how low is the value of Syrian currency.

The new 2,000 pound banknote was printed in 2015 but it was only released earlier this summer — showing how much authorities resisted putting it into circulation, hoping that they could somehow restore their collapsing economy without restoring to issuance of higher denomination banknotes. While releasing the new currency note, Central Bank Governor Duraid Durgham said that there is “no need to panic” claiming that the inflation rate will not rise, although it currently stands at more than 52 per cent.