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Syria Introduces 'Shawarma Tax' to Fund Civil War

The government is now levying additional taxes on the nation's favorite sandwich.

Louai Beshara/Getty Images

Syria has been embroiled in a bitter civil war for nearly five years, with an estimated death toll of more than a quarter million people so far. As the country's government struggles to raise more money to fund its fight against rebel forces, it's seeking new revenue sources wherever it can — including new taxes levied on restaurants and diners, reports The Guardian.

Last week I had to pay 220 Syrian pounds for my shawarma instead of 200, because of a new 10% ‘reconstruction tax’

The government is now taxing shawarma, the traditional street food dish of spit-roasted meat that's often sliced into a flatbread sandwich. "Last week I had to pay 220 Syrian pounds ($1 USD) for my shawarma sandwich instead of 200, and the restaurant owner told me it was because there’s a new 10% ‘reconstruction tax’ that’s being imposed on each sandwich," a Damascus resident told news agency Agence France-Presse.

Restaurants are also now reportedly facing additional taxes based on how many diners they're able to accommodate. Meanwhile, the government is also reducing its subsidies for bread, a staple of the Syrian diet which has steadily risen in price over the past couple years. "To the casual observer, a price hike of $0.06 for over a kilogram of bread" — or a ten cent increase in the price of a sandwich — "may hardly seem cause for concern," journalist Brent Eng and the University of Cambridge’s José Ciro Martinez wrote in an op-ed earlier this year. "In the context of bread’s nutritional, political, and symbolic importance in Syria, however, the increase is monumental."

The reigning Assad regime has long won the support — or at least, tolerance — of civilians by providing affordable food, but as the conflict prepares to enter its fifth year it looks like that will only get more and more difficult.

Taxing food isn't an unusual measure for governments seeking to raise money: As Greece attempts to recover from massive debt, it introduced austerity measures earlier this year that include a 23 percent sales tax on food items like meat, sugar, and coffee, as well as restaurant meals.

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