Five Decades After Expropriation, Amrit Area Yet to Host Tourism Project

Tartous's Municipal Council announced in August that it was preparing to field investments in the area known as the "Tourism Area" just south of the coastal city, nearly five decades after the government expropriated the land.

It will not be the first time that the land has been opened for investment. Since 1975, when the area was acquired by government decree, virtually none of the handful of planned seaside resorts and public beaches have come to fruition. In the meantime, the land has suffered from neglect, with cow stables built on parts of the properties once slated for construction.

The Municipal Council last month contracted the General Company for Engineering Studies (GCES), a company affiliated with the Ministry of Public Works and Housing, to draft financial, technical, and legal conditions for studying the Tourism Area. The land expropriated for the benefit of the Ministry of Tourism extends south of Tartous’s coastal strip and takes up 480 hectares. The expropriation, carried out under Decree No. 2197 of 1975, includes 336 hectares dedicated to investment in the tourism sector, and an additional 144 hectares for constructing public housing.

Since around a year ago, demand for purchasing real estate around the area has grown, especially at the southern entrance of Tartous, according to The Syria Report correspondent. Brokers handling the land purchases are said to be working for parties in the city tied to influential government figures, although The Syria Report cannot confirm these claims.

The Ministry of Tourism has divided the expropriated land into six sectors to facilitate investment. However, one major obstacle preventing investment is that the area is considered an archaeological site and is therefore under the purview of the Ministry of Culture’s Directorate-General for Antiquities and Museums (DGAM).

The first sector of the site is home to the ancient ruins of Amrit, a Phoenician port city dating back to the third millennium BC. The ruins sit across from the Al-Ahlam beach (Dreams beach) some seven kilometres south of Tartous. The area extends over 27.8 hectares and runs along 920 metres of seafront.

The DGAM has allowed tourism investment in this sector, within certain conditions. The Ministry of Tourism, the Tartous Governorate, the Municipal Council and the GCES are reportedly preparing a zoning plan for that sector with the objective of attracting investment.

A contract was signed in 2011 to develop a project called Amrit Tourist Resort. Investment was to be conducted by Cham Holding, whose board of directors is chaired by Syrian businessman Rami Makhlouf, a figure close to the regime’s inner circle until recently. The project was to be built over an area of 35 hectares but stalled despite the completion of the engineering studies. In 2017, the project was revived; zoning plans were drafted and fees paid by Cham Holding. However, construction has yet to begin.

The Amrit Tourist Resort has been planned since at least the mid-1980s. Initially the project was a joint venture between the Ministry of Tourism; Transtour, a company owned by local businessman Saeb Nahas; and Shuaa Capital of Dubai. However, the project never materialised for various reasons, including a dispute between the partners over a capital increase. Shuaa and Transtour eventually divested from the company, which is now majority owned by Cham Holding (69.4 percent), while the Ministry still holds a stake of 25 percent.