On February 15, the Damascus governorate called on tenants in the Central Meat Souq (Market), located in the Zablatani neighbourhood, to visit the Directorate of Property Affairs within one month to submit their personal documents and leases or investment contracts. The governorate will consider any failure to visit by merchants the directorate as a surrender of their lease or investment contracts.
A member of the governorate’s executive office told the state-run news outlet SANA that the governorate was continuing to rehabilitate and maintain infrastructure within the market, and that it had removed more than 25,000 square metres of dirt and rubble. The official added that the governorate was providing facilities for merchants to begin restoring their shops, so that the market could reopen as soon as possible.
The Central Meat Souq is part of the larger Al-Hal Souq, also known as the Fruit and Vegetable Souq, in Damascus. It consists of three long hangars, each of which specialises in selling a certain type of meat. Within these three hangars are 138 shops, of which 85 are leased to merchants through permanent lease contracts and 53 are leased through fixed-term investment contracts.
Permanent lease contracts, known as furoogh contracts in Arabic, have no fixed duration. These contracts were signed before the issuance of Tenancy Law No. 10 of 2006 and are subject to a compulsory lease extension. Compulsory extension is an extension of a lease contract regardless of the will of the leasor, which in the case of the Al-Hal Souq is the Damascus governorate.
Under the furoogh system, shop tenants pay rent to the Damascus governorate, usually at a low price that cannot be increased. The tenant is entitled to hand over the shop, with all its materials and contents, to another tenant in exchange for what is known as a furoogh payment, which is equivalent to the shop’s real market value. The new tenant then takes over paying rent to the governorate.
As for fixed-term investment leasing, the governorate grants such contracts after conducting a public auction. The winner is the investor who offers to pay the highest amount in monthly rent. This system applies to contracts that were signed in accordance with Tenancy Law No. 10 of 2006, which are subject to the will of the contracting parties and last for a fixed and revocable term.
The Al-Hal Souq was established in the Zablatani neighbourhood of Damascus in 1987. The Central Meat Souq was added in 1999, on the side of the market that borders the Jobar neighbourhood of Damascus. Land for the souq was expropriated from private properties formerly owned by Jobar and Damascus residents for the benefit of the state. Prior to that, there were smaller, scattered meat markets in different parts of the city. Most merchants working in the Central Meat Souq are from Douma, and the Damascus neighbourhoods of Shaghour and Midan. The most popular shops in the souq are the Al-Haytham Butcher, the Al-Shalat Butcher, the Bakeer Butcher, and the Al-Ajami Butcher.
In October 2014, opposition forces stationed in East Ghouta attacked the Masharqa Military Barrack near the Central Meat Souq from the Jobar side. Opposition fighters managed to seize control of several points before later withdrawing. Afterwards, regime forces converted the Central Meat Souq into a military zone, fearing another attack by the opposition. This led tenants to move their businesses to other souqs in Damascus. Some of them left Syria altogether.
After regime forces regained control of East Ghouta in 2018, some merchants opened shops in the Central Meat Souq, albeit on an individual basis. The Damascus governorate at the time could not afford the costs of rehabilitating the souq, which would entail repairing infrastructure such as water and electrical networks, and removing rubble and garbage. This caused meat byproducts to build up within the souq and its outskirts, and foul smells to spread. A potential health crisis loomed as merchants were said to be selling spoiled and dirty meat.
According to an informed source who spoke with The Syria Report, the governorate’s request that Central Meat Souq merchants present their documents could have security-related motivations despite appearing to be an administrative matter. Some of the merchants had affiliations with the opposition, while others fled to opposition-held northern Syria or became refugees abroad. These merchants’ shops within the Central Meat Souq remained under their names in accordance with the furoogh lease contracts.
The source added that, according to the governorate’s announcement, the one-month deadline for merchants to present their documents means that they will lose their rights to their shops and be considered to have abandoned their lease contracts.
The Damascus governorate has also recently circulated an announcement requesting similar documents from all merchants in the Al-Hal Souq, the source said.
The entirety of the Zablatani neighbourhood is under the control of the Air Force Intelligence Division, which monitors the Central Meat Souq through its contingent within the market. Zablatani also features several checkpoints belonging to other security groups, including a checkpoint near the entrance of the Al-Hal Souq known as the “Million Checkpoint” for the fees its personnel impose on merchants wishing to bring their goods into the market.
There could also be economic motives behind the governorate’s rehabilitation of the Central Meat Souq. State media quoted a member of the governorate council as having said that rehabilitation of the souq would lower costs for merchants, eventually lowering the price of meat for consumers. Merchants in the Central Meat Souq purchase their goods from government slaughterhouses then sell them for less than retail price. Rehabilitation of the market is also expected to reign in sales of spoiled meat.