Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Ali Baba is looting Damascus

From Angry Arab's correspondent in Syria, Akram:

"Amid the brutal fighting between the Syrian regime and the armed opposition groups and while the Syrians are occupied in securing their daily bread, and without a prior notice, Bashar Al-Assad has signed a decree that would reshape the life of hundreds of thousands of Syrians in Damascus for coming decades. As in each time it is about making a critical decision, the decree has been circulated and constructed within a tight circle under cover of darkness while the so-called "Council of People" (the Syrian parliament) was enjoying a deep sleep. The decree, holding the name 66/2012, gives the starting signal for the development of two zones in the southern part of Damascus with a total area of 10 square Km. The current landuse of the tow the zones is dominated by agriculture though they are partly occupied by several informal settlements inhabited by tens of thousands of people, who are, in their vast majority, extremely poor and don’t have titles supporting their ownership of their own houses.

What's more is that the legislation privileges the real-estate developers (Rami Maklouf's "Bena Properties" is only an example to not forget the Kuwaiti developer Al-Futeim and other GCC firms like the Qatari Al-Dyiar and the UAE Imaar ) in selecting the lots that are suitable for their projects and, to a less degree, the most powerful owners who have the capacity to form coalitions while, in practice, the only option available for the less capable owners is to give up their lands through an auction controlled by the corrupt municipal council of Damascus. Those the houses of whom are built illegally are obliged to demolish their houses and deport the rubble on their own while their right is limited to pick up the remaining of their houses (doors, windows, rebar steel, etc…) and a meager compensation equivalent to two-years home rental and face their own fate though the municipal council, according to the legislation, may (or may not) allocate them with an alternative "social housing" (a deceptive term used to describe uninhabitable housing built by the City of Damascus and distributed (not for free of course) in similar cases).

At least, thousands of the least privileged people who inhabit the informal settlements (Bayader Nader for example) are there only because Hafez Al-Assad, before carrying out his 1970 "Correctional Movement", was defense minister in 1967 when Israel occupied the Golan heights at the end of Al-nakssah (the Six-Day war). Seemingly, this simple fact wont be of any help for them to avoid another displacement.

As in anywhere else in the third world, informal housing phenomenon is the direct consequence to the institutionalized corruption and ill-governance. The same applies to Syria. This phenomenon has exacerbated in the last four decades and coincided with huge fortunes collected by the construction contractors and the "civil servants". However, fearing the possible social and political consequences, the Syrian regime didn't dare to solve this cancer with the only method in which it excels: the repression. But the current crisis has brought down the "wall of fear" not only among the Syrian people: especially the heavy fighting in Damascus and the mass destruction that touched some of the neighborhoods concerned by the development plan have apparently offered the government a golden opportunity.

What leads to questioning the real objectives of this legislation is the suspicious way with which the government has exceeded the legendary Syrian bureaucratic system that dominates the public administration: yesterday, only five days after the legislation has been issued, three ministers along with Damascus governor began a series of meeting to establish the "executive instructions" of the legislation, a step that usually takes months or even years.

It is notable that the two "patriotic opposition" representatives in the Syrian government: the big-mouthed Qadri Jamil (who, few days ago, expressed his discontent with his own ministry's decision of raising the diesel price by two Syrian Pounds per liter!!!) and his trivial colleague Ali Haidar, the National Reconciliation minister, haven't said a single word yet. Maybe they are busy in the final preparations of their "state-owned opposition" conference that will take place in Damascus the day after tomorrow.
For those interested in analyzing the legislation, they can find the full text here (Arabic)."