The Dweir Car Expo: A Forced Subscription

Prime Minister Hussein Arnous approved a contract in November between the Damascus Countryside Governorate and the General Company for Building and Construction— part of the Ministry of Public Works and Housing—to implement the road networks into a car expo centre outside Damascus two years after his predecessor laid the foundation stone for the complex.

The complex will be located 15 kilometres from the Damascus city centre, in Al-Dweir, which belongs administratively to the Douma district. Spreading over an area of 200 hectares, the land is originally owned by the Douma City Council and sits adjacent to the M5 Damascus-Aleppo International Highway. According to official statements, the aim of building the expo centre is to regulate the car trade in Damascus and Damascus Countryside governorates and prevent car trading outside the new centre. The two governorates are working to limit all activity related to car sales and manufacturing to one location.

Former Prime Minister Imad Khamis laid the foundation stone for the project at the end of 2018, after a joint administration was created by the Damascus and Damascus Countryside Governorates. The plan for the expo centre includes a government administrative office for car ownership registration, a test track, a driving education track, maintenance centres, a traffic police department, a single-window centre for sales and an official office for the Transportation Department.

The two governorates also agreed in 2018 on a joint administration to rehabilitate the northern entrance to Damascus, as well as to demolish areas containing informal settlements and tear down the old car market in Harasta. Until 2011, the market, which sat within Harasta along the Damascus-Aleppo Highway, was under the tutelage and protection of Assad’s cousin, Zulhima Shalish, who appears to have lost his influence in recent years. The Harasta market was destroyed during battles and bombardment while the area was under opposition control from 2013 to 2018.

According to a correspondent for The Syria Report in the area, the expo centre’s joint administration forced car dealership owners in Harasta to pledge not to request any compensation for their demolished show rooms, and to subscribe at the Dweir expo centre if they want to continue working in the car trade. A warning was also sent to all car dealership owners in the areas slated for demolition along the northern entrance to Damascus, informing them that they must register at the new expo centre.

To encourage car dealership owners to subscribe at Al-Dweir, Damascus and Damascus Countryside Governorates have spent the past two years running campaigns against local car dealership offices, formally closing many of them with red wax. The governorates also informed owners of car-related businesses that they must immediately close down shops, or switch to a different industry altogether.

The director of the new car expo centre indicated last August that the zoning plans for the complex had been completed in accordance with Urban Zoning Decree No. 5 of 1982 and its amendments, and that infrastructure was underway and work had begun on the first stage, to be built over 80 hectares of the land slated for the project. He added that an order to build infrastructure, including water and sewage networks, had been granted to the General Company for Building and Construction.

The expo centre’s joint administration opened its doors to subscription from May 19 to June 27, 2019, but it then extended registration to August 2019, and then to October 2020, and finally to the end of 2020. The joint administration was forced to reduce the price per square meter from SYP 215,000 to 135,000 due to the low number of subscribers.