Ahmed Aisha grew up in a village in the A’zaz region of rural Aleppo. In the early eighties, he moved into the city of Aleppo in order to continue his preparatory and secondary education. There, he experienced firsthand the tense security conditions that prevailed.
"In 1980, Aleppo witnessed an unprecedented inspection campaign with the erection of never before seen roadblocks. For the first time in history, a major city like Aleppo was surrounded for thirty days and all its homes were searched."
Even school exams were conducted in a strange way with the presence of supervisors being a mere formality while soldiers controlled exam halls. They had the power to bring textbooks and give answers to whomever they wanted without any supervisor daring to object.
Ahmad studied at the Faculty of Agricultural Engineering for one semester and then left because of harassment by the security services, inspections and the physical barriers that were located at the entrances of university buildings. The following year, Ahmad passed the General Secondary School exam then studied at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering for two years, before being imprisoned from 1983 up until 1991.
“After we left the prison, a presidential decree was issued that allowed us to return to study at the university without counting previously completed years. I went to college again and graduated in 1997 with a good grade.”
Ahmad moved in between various sections of the electricity company, from power line maintenance, to power stations, to the maintenance of electric meters and the programming division.
“The province of Aleppo consumed a quarter of the national electricity production. It was clear in my work how the authority monopolized all national resources, only for these to be redistributed to specific networks according to their loyalties. In other words, the authority created clientelism through a policy of resource and privilege distribution, including the granting of licenses and waivers for the import of raw materials, tax exemption etc. All of this was done in order to create a corrupt bourgeoisie that would meet, when necessary, the needs of a corrupt government.”
Ahmed believes that the big industrialist class, which he calls the neo-bourgeoisie, created by the ruling power in the early 1990s, was primarily connected with security officers or senior army officers. As long as these industrialists provided royalties and protection rackets they were rewarded with facilitations that included tax exemptions.
Ahmed explains the mechanism for controlling SLA violations. Committees were formed, each of which was responsible for a certain sector. This covered domestic sectors up to large industrial ones. In 90 percent of the cases, the committee cooperated with industrialists and the owner was informed in advance of visits so that he could take the necessary precautions. Of course, given high electricity bills and violations, all this was done in return for large bribes that amount to millions of Syrian pounds. As a result, the electricity waste amounted to more than 40 percent across the country.
"In one of the mills of rural Aleppo that was working 24 hours a day, the monthly electricity bill was about 100,000 Syrian pounds, which was a small illogical number" Ahmed says. "This made me analyze the billing data and I started to pay unannounced visits. I finally discovered how electricity was stolen, so I instructed a patrol to accompany me in order to cut the power to the mill. In a matter of two minutes, the owner of the mill came with some tough guys, threatened to kill me and forced me to sign a declaration saying that I had caused him damage as a result of cutting off the supply. I returned to Aleppo, submitted my report to the board of directors and lodged a fine against the mill owner for 13 million pounds. However, I was surprised after some time that the bill had been amended to only to 75000 pounds plus a tax of 8000 pounds. Only then did I understand that it was wrong to endanger my life and become a victim of this network of interconnected corruption.”
During his work, Ahmed was summoned several times to security branches because he was charging violators. “I was summoned to security branches in Aleppo and Damascus several times as a result of the relationships and partnerships that existed between many industrialists and important state figures. All of this was done under the pretext of the abuse and harm I was doing to industrialists, who were the pillar of our national economy.”