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Marota City: A Multi-Billion Dollar Project Under Scrutiny

Thousands of Families Demand Their Right to Alternative Housing at Damascus Governorate Gates
Marota City / Mezzeh-Basatin al-Razi area in Damascus

This investigative report delves into the plight of residents from the Mezzeh-Basatin al-Razi area in Damascus, who were displaced in 2017 following a presidential decree issued in 2012. This decree aimed to “organize the region” and establish “Marota City” and “Basilia City.” The investigation reveals a web of corruption, poor planning, mismanagement, and the adverse effects of sanctions. It also highlights a power struggle over influence and money involving the Shalish and Makhlouf families.

The projected investment returns from Marota City alone are estimated to be between 52-105 trillion Syrian liras (approximately 3.5-7 billion USD). However, many displaced residents have found themselves “begging at the gates of Damascus Governorate and the doors of real estate offices,” as one affected individual described.

Of the 7,500 families evacuated, 5,500 were promised “alternative housing” to be paid for over several years. To date, none have received their promised homes. Progress on the housing projects has been exceedingly slow, leading to suspicions that the delay aims to pressure residents into selling their rights to “mysterious figures” operating through real estate fronts, often at undervalued prices.

“You have stripped people of their homes, and now you’re charging them for it as well. Alternative housing is supposed to replace my home at cost, which I owned and lived in for many years,” says Hazar, expressing frustration over the injustices faced by the residents of the Mezzeh-Basatin al-Razi area. Displaced and struggling for their basic rights, these residents have been left homeless and marginalized.

Hazar is one of thousands affected by decisions that, while framed as regulatory, are marred by corruption, confusion, and administrative failure. These actions aim to reshape the demographic landscape of Mezzeh, one of Damascus’s most significant neighborhoods, leaving many to bear the high costs of displacement and uncertainty.  

Displaced by Legislative Decree

In 2012, Legislative Decree No. 66 was issued, mandating the creation of two new regulatory zones within the Damascus Governorate to “develop areas of irregularities and random housing,” as stated in the decree’s first article.

The first zone, named “Marota City,” encompasses the southeastern Mezzeh area, covering 214 hectares across the real estate areas of Mezzeh and Kafarsouseh. The second zone, “Basilia City,” spans 890 hectares south of the Southern District, including Mezzeh, Kafar Sousa, Qanat Basateen, Daraya, and Al-Qadam, stretching to Al-Qadam, Assali, and Al-Thalateen Street.

Population categories according to Decree 66 issued in 2012

The decree categorised residents of the targeted areas into different segments. Some are entitled to shares in the new project, alternative housing, and a rent allowance until they receive their alternative housing. Others receive a rent allowance for a limited period, and some receive nothing but the ruins of their demolished homes. Contrary to expectations, those eligible for alternative housing must pay for these homes; they are not provided for free but only confer the right to purchase.

In 2015, the Damascus Governorate began depopulating the Khalaf al-Razi area in accordance with the decree, disregarding the deteriorating social and economic conditions and the scarcity of rental homes due to the influx of displaced people from the countryside and other Syrian governorates. The governorate claimed at the time that “preparations to begin infrastructure work had been completed” with the goal of “constructing 20,000 housing units to accommodate those evacuated from the two regulatory areas.”

Ultimately, the evictions, which concluded in 2017, displaced about 7,500 families—approximately 30,000 people, assuming an average family size of four. The decree outlined specific criteria for resident families to qualify for alternative housing and other conditions for obtaining shares in the proposed project.

Ghaleb Aniz, a lawyer and former member of the People’s Assembly and Damascus Governorate Council, stated that about “5,500 families were entitled to alternative housing out of 7,500 evicted families, leaving 2,000 families without compensation, alternative housing, or rent allowance.”

Syrian law stipulates that private property may not be expropriated except in exchange for fair compensation. The state is obligated to provide compensation if there is a delay in implementing the project due to administrative circumstances. However, if the delay is due to circumstances specific to the property owners, compensation is not required.

Reza Naqshbandi, a Syrian lawyer

According to Decree 66, alternative housing is to compensate individuals for their homes that were in violation. Article 45 stipulates “the obligation of Damascus Governorate to provide alternative housing for occupants who are entitled to it within a period not exceeding four years from the date of issuance of this legislative decree.” This article was later amended by Law No. 10 in 2018, which set the deadline for delivering alternative housing to no more than four years from the date of vacating the house.

However, despite nearly nine years passing since the start of the evictions, residents have yet to receive their promised alternative homes.

Muhammad, from the affected area, describes his feelings of frustration and loss: “If we had obtained our full rights, we would have been among the happiest people and remained in our same area, but now we have lost everything.”

Recalling the events, Muhammad says, “They distributed evacuation warnings to the residents from the beginning of the area to the southern district.” Like many others, Muhammad and his family received notices demanding they leave. He remembers the hardship: “We faced a second problem, which was finding homes in areas where there were none. Friends hosted me for a few months before I rented a house in Qudsaya in the Damascus countryside.”

Hazar Ahmed, another resident, expresses her disbelief at the situation: “It is unreasonable to evacuate a family without providing them with alternative housing. The eviction process was random.”

Approved identification documents to prove residents’ rights
Approved identification documents to prove residents’ rights

Lost Rights and the Struggle for Justice

Saleh lost his home in the Mezzeh area, now known as “Marota City,” because he was abroad while Damascus Governorate committees inspected and documented properties slated for demolition. “The administration deprived large segments of their right to alternative housing, considering homeowners who were not occupying their homes or were outside the country during inspections ineligible. They did not even receive a rental allowance,” Saleh explains.

Reflecting on the upheaval in the Khalaf al-Razi area, Saleh laments, “Unfortunately, rightful owners who were promised they would become among the country’s wealthiest people have turned into beggars at the doors of real estate and administrative offices.”

Ghaleb Aniz highlights the core issue for property owners, pointing to Resolution 112 of 2015, issued by the Ministry of Housing. The resolution set conditions for entitlement to alternative housing, stipulating continuous occupancy from the decree’s issuance until eviction, disregarding the country’s unstable situation and the necessity for many to leave due to security conditions.

Indeed, the decision’s second article specified that to compensate the last occupant of a house facing demolition and entitled to alternative housing, “occupancy must be established before Decree 66’s issuance and continue until the eviction date.”

Despite discussions about potentially amending this condition, the General Authority for Housing confirmed that the requirement from Resolution 112 of 2015 remains unchanged: those entitled to alternative housing must prove their occupancy from the issuance of Decree 66 until eviction.

The Authority also distanced itself from the responsibility of distributing alternative housing and determining eligibility, stressing that “the process of entitlement to alternative housing falls under the jurisdiction of the Damascus Governorate. The Governorate sends lists of those entitled to the Foundation to conduct the necessary subscription in accordance with Ministerial Resolution 1249 of 2020 and its amendments issued by Ministerial Resolution 11221 of 2020.”

“The traveller will eventually return to the country, so we demand that all displaced individuals be allocated alternative housing. If the state is unable to provide alternative housing, it should offer fair compensation in shares”. 

Ghaleb Aniz, former member of the parliament and the Damascus Governorate Council.

Decree 66 authorised the Damascus Governorate to form one or more committees to inventory and describe the area’s real estate, creating detailed records of their contents, including buildings, trees, and crops, within a month of issuance. However, these committees made “mistakes,” according to numerous sources consulted by the investigation team.

Muhammad lost his house, which he built with his cousins, due to the eviction. He did not have proof of ownership, as the land was registered in his relatives’ names. Despite owning one of the two floors in the house, Muhammad lost his right to alternative housing because the committees deemed him a tenant, not an owner.

Ghaleb Aniz noted that some affected individuals submitted objections and lawsuits. “But the number of accepted objections did not exceed 150 out of 2,200 disadvantaged occupants. Many objections from those outside the country were also rejected,” he said.

The construction of “alternative housing” is proceeding very slowly – December 2023 – “Syria Indicator”
The construction of “alternative housing” is proceeding very slowly – December 2023 – “Syria Indicator”

Power Struggles Over Profitable Projects

In December 2016, the Damascus Governorate launched the Damascus Cham Holding Company, based on Decree 19 of 2015. This joint-stock company, with a capital of 60 billion Syrian pounds, is responsible for managing, building, and investing in the first regulatory zone in Mezzeh behind Al-Razi Hospital. Ownership of the governorate’s real estate in the region was transferred to Damascus Cham Holding Company, as reported by the official SANA news agency. This move has raised many questions about the company’s true objectives, the members of its board of directors (chaired by the Governor of Damascus in his official capacity), and its role as a potential front for powerful interests.

Although many details remain unclear, significant indicators suggest what might be happening behind the scenes. Notably, Damascus Cham Holding was initially the exclusive body implementing the project, in cooperation with contracted executive arms. However, in 2020, the Minister of Public Works and Housing issued Resolution 1249, assigning the General Housing Corporation to implement alternative housing buildings.

Sources within Public Works and Housing link this decision to the declining influence of the well-known businessman Rami Makhlouf. In 2016, Riad Shalish, then Director General of the Military Housing Corporation, offered to undertake the project’s infrastructure work at 20% below the lowest other bid. Despite this, Makhlouf’s companies, including Rawafid Damascus Private Joint Stock Company, secured contracts with Damascus Cham Holding at that time. The historical competition for economic dominance between the Makhlouf and Shalish families appears to have resulted in the latter capitalising on Makhlouf’s diminished role.

While Damascus Cham Holding remains involved, representing Damascus Governorate, new decisions seem to have facilitated a division of interests. In February 2021, the first concrete layer was poured for alternative housing towers in the Basilia City project, undertaken by the General Housing Corporation and other public companies, including the Military Housing Corporation, General Corporation for Military Construction Implementation, General Company for Roads and Bridges, and General Company for Construction and Development, according to a statement by Minister Suhail Abdel Latif in October 2021.

The Damascus Governorate states that the alternative housing, consisting of 48 sections, covers approximately half a million square metres of residential floors. Addressing the variation in apartment sizes, Sufouh Qarqour, supervisor of alternative housing in Damascus Governorate, explains, “The areas range from 45 square metres to 120 square metres due to design obstacles, with slight adjustments permissible. Beneficiaries pay only for the net space they receive.”

Regarding changes in the price per square metre, Qarqour adds, “Alternative housing is provided to citizens at cost price, without profit. Initially, the price was 550 thousand Syrian pounds per square metre, but it later rose to 3.3 million Syrian pounds at the time of allocating the first batch of subscribers.” He also notes, “The Damascus Governorate pays about 3 billion Syrian pounds annually in rent allowances to those entitled. Adjustments to these allowances are determined by the Legislative Decree Directorate.” 

Changes to Housing Specifications Raise Concerns

Initially, it was planned that alternative housing would be provided within the same area from which residents were evacuated. This meant that those displaced from “Khalaf Al-Razi” would be housed in “Marota City,” while those from “Mezzeh, Kafarsouseh, Qanat Basateen, and Daraya” would be accommodated in “Basilia City.” However, the Damascus Governorate decided to establish alternative housing for both areas in “Basilia City,” which many argue is a violation of the original decree.

Location of Marota City and Basilia City, Damascus
Location of Marota City and Basilia City, Damascus

Ghaleb Aniz highlights this issue, stating, “The plans initially included allocating a number of sections for alternative housing in Marota City. We were surprised when these plans were altered, transferring the housing to Basilia City in 2017, which is against the decree.”

Lawyer Reza Naqshbandi adds, “Alternative housing should be provided in the same regulatory area. Engineering studies should account for the number of residents and the proportions of housing units to allocate appropriate spaces. If these plots are moved to a different area, the benefits or returns for those entitled must be re-evaluated.”

The reasons for this change remain unclear, but many affected residents and those following the situation believe the motive is evident. The disparity in real estate values between the two areas is significant. “Mezzeh remains more expensive and attractive to investors than Basilia City,” explains a real estate office owner in Kafarsouseh.

According to this theory, the Damascus Governorate sought to maximise profit margins by shifting alternative housing to the less expensive Basilia City. A university professor specialising in economics, who wished to remain anonymous, points out that estimating the value of losses and gains for those affected is challenging due to economic instability and delays in implementing both Marota City and the alternative housing projects.

“The value of the land in Khalaf al-Razi has increased significantly since reconstruction began, compared to its value before evacuation. This means the residents would have benefited more from their original properties if they had remained and sold them today,” he says. The professor highlights that Marota City’s proximity to key areas, like Umayyad Square and Mezzeh Highway, makes it far more valuable than Basilia City, which is located near the southern highway of Damascus.

The professor also notes that real estate is a means of preserving currency value for citizens. “The affected people gained alternative housing (which no one has received yet), but they lost the future value of their original property. Their initial losses include loss of social stability after nine years of eviction without securing alternative housing, as well as the financial burden of renting or buying a new home.”

The lack of clear explanations for these changes continues to frustrate and burden the displaced residents, who face ongoing uncertainty and financial strain. 

Billions of Dollars for Investors

A significant disparity exists between the potential returns for the governorate and private sector investors compared to what residents might receive in the future if they do not sell their alternative homes. Nasouh Al-Nabulsi, Executive Director of Damascus Cham Holding Company, sheds light on the substantial investments in the “Marota City” regulatory zone, which spans 3.5 million square metres, encompassing residential, investment, and mixed-use areas. Of this, approximately 1.5 million square metres are designated as investment areas.

Al-Nabulsi explains, “The investment returns can be estimated by simple calculations based on current sales prices. The average price per square metre for a structure or with cladding for public facilities ranges between 15-30 million liras. Multiplying this by the floor area of 3.5 million square metres yields returns of approximately 52-105 trillion liras, equivalent to 3.5-7 billion dollars.”

The Damascus Cham Holding Company was initially responsible for the implementation and construction of the project. However, the reality has been a series of transfers from one contractor to another. Eventually, “Housing” handed the project to a major contractor, who then subcontracted it to others. This process resulted in up to 15% commissions on each housing unit, which is against the law, yet these violations seem to be overlooked.

Ghaleb Aniz, former member of the parliament and the Damascus Governorate Council.

He further elaborates that property prices vary depending on factors such as location, view, implementation progress, contractor reliability, liquidity availability, type of cladding for public facilities, luxury amenities, and the intended residential or investment purpose.

Upon its founding, Damascus Cham Holding Company invited investors with financial solvency, reputation, and experience. This led to the establishment of several companies and contracting agreements, triggering a significant investment boom in the region during 2017 and 2018. Property owners benefited immensely from the rising value of their shares and properties.

However, Al-Nabulsi concludes by acknowledging that economic sanctions have impacted the company, causing delays in contract execution, especially for investors with regional and global interests. 

Sanctions on “Marota City”

On 17 June 2020, the Office of Foreign Assets Control of the US Department of the Treasury (OFAC) imposed sanctions on companies and investors involved in “Marota City.” The sanctions list included the Damascus Cham Holding Company and Damascus Cham Management Limited, an executive entity of the former. Additionally, the “Bonyan” private joint-stock company was sanctioned for being directly or indirectly owned or controlled by Damascus Cham Holding Company, or for working on its behalf.

Promises of establishing Marota City and “alternative housing” evaporated with the issuance of the “Caesar Act,” which imposed strict American sanctions - “Syria Indicator”
Promises of establishing Marota City and “alternative housing” evaporated with the issuance of the “Caesar Act,” which imposed strict American sanctions – “Syria Indicator”

Other entities on the list were Rawafid Damascus, the Mirza company established by Damascus Cham Holding Company, and several individuals, including the Governor of Damascus, Adel Anwar Al-Olabi, for his supervisory role over Damascus Cham Holding Company and the Marota City real estate development project.

Conversely, on 1 June, the European Union announced the lifting of economic sanctions on investors in the “Marota City” project. The individuals relieved from sanctions were Maan Rizkallah Heikal and Hayyan Muhammad Nazim Qaddour, partners in the “Exceed Development and Investment” company, which was formed with “Damascus Holding.” The decision also included the “Developers Private Shareholding Company,” a joint venture worth US$17.7 million between Damascus Cham Holding and Tagaz for Development and Investment, both of which participate in Marota City investments. According to a statement reported by Enab Baladi, the EU lifted these sanctions because these individuals and entities had ceased the activities that had initially led to their punishment.

The “Governorate” Buys in Lira and Sells in Dollars!

The suffering of residents did not end with their displacement; it extended to the inadequacy of the rental allowances provided. These allowances were calculated based on 2016 prices, while rental costs have multiplied many times over since then.

Muhammad explains: “I was receiving an annual rental allowance of 400,000 Syrian pounds in 2016-2017 (about 35,000 pounds per month), while the rent for my house at that time was 75,000 pounds per month.” Today, this amount wouldn’t even cover renting a “toilet under the stairs,” as confirmed by a real estate office owner in Qudsaya.

Muhammad asserts that the evaluation of homes was not fair. “For example, the governorate allocated a rental allowance of 600,000 pounds to the occupant of a 70 square metre house, while a 120 square metre house occupant received only 350,000 pounds.”

Ghaleb Aniz, who was displaced from a 120 square metre house, still receives an annual rental allowance of 800,000 to 900,000 pounds. “This is unfair,” he says. This amount was equivalent to about $1,500 in 2017 but is less than $60 today.

Lawyer Reza Naqshbandi argues that “the rent allowances set by the governorate do not match current inflation. Rents should have been paid in full (rather than in monthly instalments) or properties owned by the governorate should have been rented to beneficiaries of alternative housing until the project was completed.”

In contrast to the stagnant rent allowances, the Damascus Governorate has increased the amounts it collects from those entitled to alternative housing, reflecting market price increases. Beneficiaries pay 10% of the estimated value of their housing category upon entitlement and 30% upon allocation, with the remainder paid in monthly instalments.

Some beneficiaries sold their shares due to their inability to meet the financial obligations and the absence of a set timeframe for the housing delivery. They also faced financial burdens from having to live in rented apartments, for which the “provincial allowances” were insufficient.

Shaher and his siblings inherited shares from their mother, which she had inherited from her father. The estate was divided among eight individuals. Shaher explains, “The land is my grandfather’s private property. My uncles and aunts farmed it, and my cousins built houses on it.”

The heirs were entitled to shares in the new project in exchange for their ownership. Shaher’s siblings sold their shares for only one Syrian pound each after the eviction. Shaher, hoping for a price rise, decided to register for commercial housing.

Ghaleb Aniz clarifies that “the estimation of the share’s value at one pound was for calculation purposes, not an actual accurate estimate.”

It has been revealed that the price per square metre in the regulatory divisions of “Marota City” is 100,000 Syrian pounds, whereas in “Basilia City,” it is estimated at 400,000 pounds – four times higher than the first area.

“As the project inches forward at a snail’s pace, we’re left in the dark about timelines and costs. The initial stress of evacuation within six months forced many to sell their shares at a loss. Who can afford a staggering 100-million-pound payment upfront? And with more instalments looming, the cost of alternative housing feels astronomical. It’s enough to make you laugh, but the reality is far from amusing.”

A Displaced Resident

In November 2022, the General Housing Corporation announced the allocation of 522 homes for subscribers to the alternative housing project in Damascus Governorate, within the second regulatory region (Basilia City). The Corporation explained that the allocation would commence on 14 December and continue until the end of the allocation sessions at the project management offices in the Directorate of Implementation of Decree 66 in Mezzeh.

Subsequently, the Corporation amended its announcement regarding the period allowed for completing the allocation payments. It required the allotted individuals to pay 30% of the estimated value of the home based on its actual area, in three equal instalments within three months from the date of the allocation. If the subscriber fails to complete the payments within this period, their allocation will be cancelled, and they will lose their priority status. Their name will be placed in a special sequence for subscribers who are late in meeting their financial obligations, provided they continue to pay the monthly instalments due. Non-compliance will result in cancellation of their subscription in accordance with Resolution No. 1249 of 2020 and its amendments.

Muhammad has been paying the monthly instalments for two years. The required instalments for those eligible for alternative housing range between 20,000 and 35,000 Syrian pounds per month, depending on the size of the anticipated housing.

At the beginning of 2023, those entitled to the allocation were informed of the need to choose the floor, and based on the area, the allocation amount would be paid, after which they were given two to three months to make the payment.

Muhammad says: “The amounts required for the allocation were very large, reaching 100 million Syrian pounds, so I sold my shares, and my brother also sold his right to housing and shares and bought a house in the Moadamiyeh Al-Sham area.”

Muhammad sold his right to alternative housing and shares for only 150 million Syrian pounds because he could not wait for the alternative housing, and the amount was not enough for him to buy a two-bedroom house with a living room. He added: “Unless I buy on the outskirts of Damascus, which means the hardship of commuting to my workplace in the city centre.”

In 2020, those entitled to alternative housing were required to pay 10% of its value. The Housing Corporation estimated the price per square metre at 550,000 pounds, with monthly instalments ranging between 13,000 and 33,000 pounds.

At the end of 2022, it was decided to allocate only 550 units at a price of 3.55 million pounds per square metre (an increase of 3 million from the previous estimate). It was also decided that the amounts previously paid would not count as 10% of the amount due, but rather as merely 1%, according to Aniz, who added: “This is, of course, unfair and against the laws, as the 10% must be considered paid.”

Hazar Ahmed explained that the price per square metre of alternative housing was initially set at 550,000 pounds, but the beneficiaries were shocked when it was raised to 3.5 million pounds at the time of allocation.

Hazar says: “Once the allocation is obtained, 30% of the value of my house must be paid according to the new estimated value. Government agencies are asking people to pay millions to keep their alternative housing without providing a delivery date!”

The General Housing Corporation responded to questions about its role in managing the alternative housing project by stating that it “manages the subscription process for those eligible according to the lists provided by Damascus Governorate, in parallel with contracting to build the required housing units, and then allocates and delivers them to those eligible, provided that Damascus Governorate secures the necessary funding for implementation.”

The Corporation sets the period for securing alternative housing as “three years, starting from the preparation of the contractual files ready for announcement by the governorate.”

The institution justifies changing the values of the payments required from those entitled to housing for the allocation by “the changes that occurred in the implementation costs, which were reflected in the estimated cost during the period from the initial cost estimation at the beginning of 2020 until the new estimation in 2023.”

Hazar Ahmed believes that the complexities of alternative housing aim to pressure people through means such as low rent allowances and failure to secure shelter before eviction. The result is that “the majority sell their shares at a low price.” Saleh agrees, stating: “In the face of these outrageous values, people were forced to sell their alternative housing books in the market.”

Amidst Uncertainties: Who Holds the Key to the Future?

Private sources familiar with the situation reveal that plans to reorganise some informal areas in Damascus were already being considered before 2011. It is clear that these plans align with the Syrian authorities’ trend in the first decade of the current millennium, showing a strong bias towards wealthy social classes, investors, and businessmen, while neglecting the middle class (which has now disappeared) and the poorest sectors of society. This approach is reminiscent of the “Dream of Homs” project, which seems to be resurfacing.

When Decree 66 was issued in 2012, there was a widespread belief among decision-makers that a substantial cosmetic investment project could be implemented for the irregular areas around Damascus, prioritising the interests of the affluent classes. This is evident in the promotional material on the Marota City website, which describes the area as “a new commercial centre for Damascus.” The site boasts that its towers and buildings will feature luxury residences, shops, hotels, hotel apartments, restaurants, cafes, financial and banking institutions, specialised healthcare, cultural services, and educational schools that embrace green architecture. Additionally, the area promises abundant green spaces and water bodies, special roads for buses and bicycles, an electric tram, and networks for gas supply, cables, and fibre optics.

A former assistant to one of the ministers, who wished to remain anonymous, said, “There was great reliance on the participation of real estate development institutions and prominent investors from one of the Gulf countries in investing heavily in the Marota City and Basilia City projects. Indeed, there were promises and oral agreements as well.”

However, these promises quickly dissipated with the implementation of the Caesar Act, which imposed strict American sanctions. Once the act came into force, it severely threatened the interests of any company or government that engaged economically with Damascus. Nonetheless, these changes created opportunities for other categories of investors, including the wealthy war class and influential businessmen, to invest heavily in these two projects. According to the same source, these investments are expected to yield significant profits in the long term, especially since investment opportunities outside Syria have become almost non-existent under the weight of sanctions.

Marota City, DamascusReal estate sources interested in the area estimate the number of alternative housing listings that have been sold at “more than a thousand” so far. Most of the sales that were tracked take place through real estate offices and companies that are keen to hide the identity of the buyers.
Marota City, Damascus
Real estate sources interested in the area estimate the number of alternative housing listings that have been sold at “more than a thousand” so far. Most of the sales that were tracked take place through real estate offices and companies that are keen to hide the identity of the buyers.

Within this context, “alternative housing” real estate presents a profitable opportunity for several reasons. Primarily, the final prices for these homes will be lower than others because “Damascus Governorate is obligated to offer them at cost price or slightly higher,” according to the source. Moreover, the homeowners of alternative housing belong to groups that cannot afford the rising prices due to the declining value of the lira, while the Damascus Governorate ties the required amounts to the actual market values of building supplies.

The constant pressure on this segment, the lack of confidence in receiving housing by the promised dates, the absence of transparency, and increasing administrative laxity and corruption are all factors pushing beneficiaries of alternative housing to sell their rights, hoping to buy apartments in areas on the outskirts of the capital.

Real estate sources estimate that more than a thousand alternative housing listings have been sold so far. Notably, most of the sales tracked are conducted through real estate offices and companies that make efforts to conceal the identities of the buyers.

After several attempts, the owner of a real estate office in Mezzeh agreed to speak to one of the authors of this investigation inside his car, after asking them to leave their mobile phone and personal bag in the office. He then turned the radio up to the maximum volume and answered some questions in a whisper. He revealed that he has an agreement with a senior lawyer, who gives him a large commission for every notebook he buys from its owner. In turn, he provides a commission to employees involved in the project, both in the governorate and elsewhere, for every beneficiary they refer to him who wants to sell their notebook.

The real estate office owner confirmed that the lawyer he works with represents two high-profile Syrian figures living outside Syria: one is a woman from a prominent family, and the other is a former senior official. Despite our insistence, the source refused to provide further details or comment on several names we mentioned, only saying, “The job is bigger than me; I cannot open my door. It involves Russians.”

Hope Amidst Loss: The Human Stories Behind the Figures

Article 15 of the Syrian Constitution states: “Individual property may not be expropriated except for the public benefit and in exchange for fair compensation in accordance with the law.” Similarly, Article 771 of the Syrian Civil Code asserts: “No one may be deprived of his property except in the circumstances determined by the law, and in the manner prescribed by it, and this shall be in exchange for fair compensation.”

Muhammad wishes he had received fair compensation at the time of his eviction so he could have bought a house in a nearby area. Reflecting on his loss, he calculates: “The price of a 240-square-metre house in Moadamiyeh al-Sham was 17 million Syrian pounds, while now it’s 750 million Syrian pounds. In my entire life, I will never get an amount like this. We have lost everything… everything.”

Muhammad nostalgically recalls the days spent with his family and neighbours: “We all lived in the same area from behind al-Razi to the southern hill, but now we have dispersed, each person in a place far away from the other.”     

By: Soha Sharhan and Nihal Arab (pseudonyms) Supervised by: Suhaib Anjrini and Ali Eid

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