Issued last June, Zoning Plan No. 106 for the Jobar neighbourhood of Damascus does not allocate any plot to rebuild the Al-Mualameen Tower, which regime forces destroyed in 2015. Record No. 53 in the Land Registry, on which the tower is listed, does not receive any mention in Zoning Plan No. 106.
The 12-storey Al-Mualameen Tower was located on the outskirts of Jobar and overlooked the nearby Al-Abasiyeen Garages, the commercial district, and Al-Abasiyeen Square. The Housing Cooperative Society owns the tower for Teachers and Educators in Damascus, hence the building’s name (“mualameen” means “teachers” in Arabic). The government granted the cooperative a permit on June 17, 1974, and it began constructing the tower in the 1980s, on a plot of land corresponding to the real estate record No. 53. In 2004, the cooperative finally handed the apartments over to applicants per the housing cooperative system. The tower was located in a zoned real estate area and was divided into individual apartments listed within the Land Registry under the names of the apartment owners.
Cooperative housing is linked to social housing programs implemented by Syria’s public authorities. Housing cooperative societies were all previously affiliated with the General Union of Cooperative Housing, which dissolved under Decree No. 37 of 2019, 58 years after it was established. The Ministry of Public Works and Housing took on the union’s roles.
The apartment owners in Al-Mualameen Tower are state employees working in education. For them, subscribing to apartments in the building was the most significant investment in their professional lives, serving as a reward for the end of their service and an asset to pass down to their children, one owner told The Syria Report.
The biggest problem with Al-Mualameen Tower and other housing cooperative projects in general was the more than two-decade delay in receiving the apartments. Applicants for Al-Mualameen didn’t receive their apartments until 2004 after most had already retired and finished paying off their payments for the housing. Worse, the newfound apartment owners immediately had to repair and restore the homes due to poor construction.
The tower’s height and location made it a strategic military point, contested between regime and opposition forces. Rebels seized the building and occupied it between 2013 and 2015. During this time, the regime tried and failed to recapture it despite bombing the tower with airstrikes, artillery shells and rockets. Then, in February 2015, regime forces dug a tunnel under the tower at 16 metres deep and 250 metres long, set up explosives inside, then detonated them, turning the building into a pile of rubble.
In late June 2022, the Damascus governorate issued Detailed Zoning Plan No. 106 for Jobar and fielded objections from relevant rightsholders. The detailed zoning plan did not observe any new plot of land for rights holders in the teachers’ cooperative, which implies classifying the destroyed tower as an unlicensed building within an informal settlement. The Syria Report could not confirm whether any of the rights holders in Al-Mualameen Tower filed any objections to Detailed Zoning Plan No. 106 within the one-month deadline to do so.
The zoning area in Jobar is subject to Planning and Urban Development Law No. 23 of 2015, which gave administrative authorities the choice to employ Law No. 23, the Expropriation Law, or the Real Estate Development and Investment Law when re-zoning areas containing informal housing or rehabilitating areas damaged by natural catastrophes and war.
Law No. 23 stipulates that, as part of the zoning process, an administrative unit forms a compulsory land readjustment committee tasked with giving rights holders their shares of property in the same location as their original properties or nearby. As part of this readjustment process, rights holders within the area undergoing zoning receive plots of land designated for construction within that same area as compensation for losing their original properties. However, the land distributed to the rights holders is often not in the original locations of their properties. Furthermore, up to 40 percent of the surface area of their original properties may be deducted, without compensation, when handing over the new lands.
If rights holders file objections, prove their ownership and obtain new land through compulsory land readjustment, they must then assemble themselves and their allocated plots of land. Rights holders must then build on these properties at their own expense. If a rights holder dies, the inheritance process is carried out in the presence of all their heirs, or at least their legal representatives. Both cases require prior security approval, adding potential complications to proving the existing rights of former Al-Mualameen Tower residents.