BEIRUT – Despite a nine-year civil war and widespread poverty, Syrian telecom company Emma Tel LLC announced that it ran out of its stocks of iPhone 12s in just three days.
“All the quantities supplied to the Syrian market in the first batch of iPhone 12s, which work with a SIM line, have sold out. Emma Tel is exclusively offering a new batch of the same phone in a dual SIM card version that will begin to be sold tomorrow,” the company said Monday night on Facebook.
That message was accompanied by photos of young people trying out the latest version of Apple’s flagship device – which is its first 5G-compatible phone and was launched in an event on Friday in Damascus – and of crowds gathering outside one of the stores run by Emma Tel (a regime-linked company) in the Syrian capital.
Emma Tel is offering four versions of the iPhone 12 with prices ranging from between $3,200 and $4,400 (at the official exchange rate) in a country where 83 percent of the population lives on less than $100 a month.
Emma Tel, which said it is the first distributor in the Middle East region to make the latest iPhone available to its customers, posted photos and videos of dozens of people waiting in line under a large portrait of President Bashar al-Assad.
The telecom company began selling the phone even though the United States Treasury Department in late September imposed sanctions on its founder, Khodr Taher Bain Ali, a businessman with close ties to the Syrian regime.
The company did not clarify how it obtained the phones nor how many units were sold.
The sanctions targeted Taher’s network of businesses, including a security services company that is a contractor for the Syrian army.
“Bashar al-Assad’s wife, Asma al-Assad, allegedly ordered the establishment of Emma Tel LLC in order to create alternatives to the business empire of Rami Makhlouf, the cousin of Bashar al-Assad, and to break the dominance of the Makhlouf-owned Syriatel Mobile Telecom on the Syrian telecommunications market,” the Treasury Department said in a press release on Sept. 30.
Syria has been experiencing one of its worst economic crises since 2011, a situation that al-Assad blames on US sanctions and which has been exacerbated by neighboring Lebanon’s major financial woes.
The Emma Tel announcement drew criticism on social media, with Syrian Internet users railing against their difficult living conditions and the habitual long lines for fuel and other basic products.
The World Food Programme warned earlier this month of an acute shortage of fuel across the Arab country as a result of the plunge in the value of the local currency, US sanctions disrupting critical imports and maintenance work on the country’s largest refinery.
Syria also is suffering from a crisis in wheat flour production, which currently is 1 million metric tons shy of domestic needs, the United Nations’ under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, Mark Lowcock, told the Security Council on Tuesday.