Assad’s New Property Law Threatens Regime Loyalists

Assad’s New Property Law Threatens Regime Loyalists – Asharq Al_ Awsat

Forced displacement no longer threatens Syrian rebels alone but now faces regime loyalists as well. Bashar Al-Assad’s government revealed blueprints for gerrymandering Damascene suburbs under the recently issued property law 10.

Poor slums scattered in Damascus rural areas, also inhabited by pro-Assad citizens, are eyed by the governmental agenda for reconstruction and redevelopment.

Law No. 10 of 2018, passed by the Syrian government on April 2, 2018, allows for creating redevelopment zones across Syria that will be designated for reconstruction.

The law does not set out any criteria for which areas can be designated as redevelopment zones or a timeline. Instead, redevelopment zones are to be designated by decree. Within one week after a decree is issued, local authorities are to request a list of property owners from the area’s public real estate authorities. Public real estate authorities must provide the lists within 45 days.

Rights groups and governments hosting Syrian refugees and internally displaced persons say they risk becoming permanent exiles if they lose their properties because it would remove a major incentive to return one day.

Assad‘s law is not only going after those who fled their properties but also allows for state authorities to confiscate slum neighborhoods from inhabitants and use the land plots for profit-oriented infrastructure projects.

Northeastern Damascene neighborhoods like Qaboun, Barzeh, Esh Wurwar and Jobar are threatened with demolitions for the later erection of mega residential complexes. Only citizens capable of providing proof of ownership will be become stakeholders in upcoming projects.

If they fail to do so, they will not be compensated, and ownership reverts to the province, town, or city where the property is located. Basically, those who succeed in proving property ownership will get shares only in the zone.

It is untestable as to why Assad would want to exact absolute control over rebel neighborhoods, but it becomes absolutely punishing and inexplicable when announced construction plans include poverty-stricken quarters that are home to loyalists who fought side by side with regime forces.

Figures show that decades-old unregulated housing amounts to half total housing in Syria and is distributed over 147 zones.

Most slum inhabitants are ex-farmers who were driven out of their villages in the aftermath of severe droughts.

Over 75 percent of Syria’s farms failed because of the drought and at least 85 percent of livestock to die between 2006 and 2011.

The collapse in crop yields forced as many as 1.5 million Syrians to migrate to urban centers, like Homs and Damascus.

It was then that irregular housing peaked and slums were being rapidly developed without any state-provided services such as water and sewage networks, power stations, and proper infrastructure. It is worth noting that no cultural and social centers existed in such areas.

Dubbed the “poverty belts” of Syria, irregular housing officially accommodated a population of 700,000, but there are unofficial figures reporting a staggering 2.5 million population in Damascus countryside ghettos alone.

A regime-issued census in 2007 admitted that 46 percent of the Damascene population lives in illegal units. Figures estimate that the slum inhabitants have doubled in numbers after the breakout of the Syrian Civil War in 2011.

Pre-dating war, poor urban planning, and the outburst of unlicensed construction in Syria was a reality fueled by corrupt local authorities. Municipality workers and public sector employees were notorious for accepting bribes and exploiting influence entrusted to them by their constituents.

Under the property law 10, everyone residing in these zones must move out which spurs fear among onlookers over the regime pursuing long-term demographic change.

Human rights groups, Syrian lawyers and refugees said a previous law pitched by the government as necessary for redevelopment had been applied in opposition areas to force out inhabitants perceived as dissenters.

They said Law 66, approved by Assad in 2012 to redevelop slums in Damascus, was applied in neighborhoods southwest of the capital where anti-Assad protests erupted at the start of the rebellion in 2011.

Local authorities used land there expropriated under Law 66 for a luxury residential project of 12,000 housing units which Assad inaugurated in 2016. Now, some Syrian refugees fear Law 10 will be used in a similar way nationwide.

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