To Demolish or not to Demolish: Unclear Prospects for the Qaboun Industrial Zone

The future of the Qaboun industrial zone, which sits on a strategic location at the northern entrance of Damascus, looks increasingly confusing after a series of contradictory statements from Syrian officials. For now, the government has allowed manufacturers to take back control of their factories, although its commitment has only been made orally.

In January, the Damascus governorate issued a circular saying that 750 factories in the Qaboun industrial zone must be transferred to the Adra Industrial City immediately, located outside the capital city limits, along the Damascus-Baghdad highway. Factories that had been repaired and reopened for manufacturing would be closed and officially sealed with red wax. 

However, on February 2, Ibrahim Diab, the governorate’s director of urban planning, said during a radio interview that Qaboun industrialists could continue work in their facilities until an alternative was secured. Two days later, on February 4, the Damascus Chamber of Industry announced that the governorate had approved a request allowing Qaboun industrialists to return to their factories. However, only a few hours later, the governorate denied this, stressing that the area was under the purview of zoning plan No. 104, which had itself been approved by the Ministry of Public Works and Housing under Decree No. 2717 in September 2019.

Then, on February 6, Faysal Sorour, a member of the Damascus governorate’s executive office, confirmed that the governorate was not preventing Qaboun industrialists from returning to their factories. However, he said, “the governorate is not obliged to provide services such as electricity and water, which cost millions,” adding that adhering to zoning plans “is financially more effective”.

The Qaboun industrial zone has been partially destroyed and is awaiting demolition under zoning plan No. 104, issued in June 2019 as part of the provisions listed in Law No. 10 of 2018. The 2018 law enables the establishment of one or more development zones within an administrative unit’s general zoning plans. The plan covering the Qaboun industrial zone extends over 215 hectares of land, after the area’s zoning designation was changed from industrial and agricultural to residential and commercial.

Sorour emphasised that repair work in the industrial zone is allowed for buildings that can actually be fixed, not for those that are heavily destroyed. Building owners themselves are responsible for restoration, and must pledge that they will not request additional, subsequent compensation from the governorate for such work. Those wishing to make repairs on their buildings within the Qaboun industrial zone must obtain a restoration permit from the governorate.

Just one day after Sorour’s remarks, 500 of 750 Qaboun factory owners—that is, two thirds of them—submitted restoration permit requests to the Damascus governorate.

What makes the matter worrying for factory owners is that the permission to return so far has been limited to verbal statements by governorate officials. That is, while requests to restore factories are made in writing, permission to return to the Qaboun industrial zone is given verbally.

The situation therefore remains very unstable and there are no assurances that it will be a happy ending for factory owners.

It is the second time over the past three years that the governorate has allowed industrialists to return to their factories. In June 2018, after fighting stopped in the area and opposition fighters left, the industrialists returned to reopen and repair their factories, receiving promises from the government that the area’s infrastructure would be rehabilitated and supplied with water and electricity.

One month later, in July 2018, the prime minister issued a recommendation during session No. 9714/1, mandating that the Damascus governorate halt restoration work on infrastructure in the Qaboun industrial zone and stop granting restoration permits. Book No. M.S/Y/3226, issued by the Ministry of Local Administration and directed to the government in December 2018, requested cancellation of all restoration work in the industrial zone and evacuation of all its factories.

A restoration request form

Source: Factory owner Atef Tayfour’s Facebook page.