The Qaboun industrial zone, a rare manufacturing zone within the capital’s administrative boundaries, will be demolished and redeveloped as a residential and commercial district under Law No. 10.
Qaboun, located at the northern entrance to Damascus, is divided into a residential and an industrial area. In the recent years, the entire area has been severely damaged, as it was located along a battle line between regime forces and the opposition. It was previously held by opposition forces and faced large-scale destruction by aerial and artillery bombing, as well as a crippling siege, before its recapture by regime forces in May 2017. The Qaboun industrial zone’s entire population was evacuated under a reconciliation agreement with the regime forces.
While a zoning plan, No. 105, was issued last month to rebuild its residential area, another plan, No. 104, was issued a year earlier, in June 2019 in accordance with the provisions of Law No. 10 of 2018. Law No. 10 stipulates the establishment of development zones within administrative units.
The industrial zone spans more than 215 hectares of land and is divided into three areas based on the amount of damage each sustained. The scale of damage was determined by estimates from specialised committees within the Damascus governorate.
The first section, with an area of 23.7 hectares, has an officially estimated damage rate of approximately 70 percent. The second, 116.1 hectares, was estimated to be 30 percent damaged. The third sector spans 75 hectares of land, added to Qaboun from neighboring Harasta, but authorities did not specify the amount of damage there.
Zoning Plan No. 104, which amends the industrial designation of the area to transform it into a residential and commercial area, includes 72 plots for the commercial area, and 102 residential plots.
Since it was announced last year, Zoning Plan No. 104 has faced 750 official objections, which were registered with the Damascus governorate. Most came from industrialists, factory owners, and people belonging to professions and trades found within the Qaboun industrial zone.
The objections focused on the supposed legal violations of the new zoning plan. Those opposed to the plan launched a campaign on official local media, as well as on social media. The government was then forced to negotiate with campaigners multiple times through intermediaries and businessmen, although with no clear result.
One legal objection brought up by those opposed to Zoning Plan No. 104 is that it was drawn up in 2018 as part of government efforts to regulate informally-built areas, known in Arabic as ashwa’iyat. Such efforts, protestors argue, do not apply to the Qaboun industrial zone because it is already legally regulated, and not an informal ashwa’iya.
Industrialists also objected to the official committee’s estimates of the percentage of damage to parts of the Qaboun industrial zone and the large-scale demolitions of damaged buildings that will result. The governorate’s estimates clash with those of the Engineers Union, which said that more than 95 percent of facilities were safe to a large degree.
The Damascus governorate is insisting that industrialists in Qaboun move their facilities to the Adra Industrial City just outside of Damascus, along the Damascus-Baghdad highway. Samer Al-Dibs, head of the Damascus Chamber of Industry, indicated in January 2020 that Qaboun industrialists would be compensated with land in the Adra Industrial City, and provided various “facilities for a period of 10 years, so that they can set up their factories again.” The land promised to them in Adra would be 20 percent larger than their original properties in Qaboun, although industrialists will have to rebuild their factories from scratch.
The Qaboun industrial zone was established by presidential decree in 1948. New zoning plans were adopted twice: first in 1972, then in 1984. These zoning plans were accompanied by land expropriations to build public services, roads, and electricity and water networks.
Zoning Plan No. 104 also gives the government-affiliated Damascus Cham Holding Company the right to assign an associated management company the task of handling the new zoning area, as well as to implement, supervise and conclude all necessary contracts. In practical terms, this means that the Damascus governorate will acquire 20 percent of the area of the Qaboun industrial zone through the Damascus Cham Holding Company.
Industrialists had been initially allowed to re-enter Qaboun in June 2018. They received promises from the prime minister that infrastructure in the area would be rehabilitated and that they would be provided with water and electricity. This allowed them to begin work repairing their facilities with the goal of reopening the industrial zone.
But just over a month later, Damascus governorate officials issued a directive to evacuate the area, preventing industrialists from visiting their facilities. The electricity transformers were also removed. A member of the governorate’s executive council meanwhile said in June 2018 that “Damascus is not an industrial or agricultural city,” which became something of a mantra later repeated by city officials.
Governorate officials had already demolished buildings and factories belonging to public sector companies and institutions before the zoning plan was issued. It afterwards became clear that the zoning plan gave authorities the right to expropriate facilities if they had been destroyed. Unlike for real estate and private industrial facilities in the industrial zone, there appears to have been little interest in defending public facilities despite those facilities spanning large areas and employing many workers. They include the United Commercial Industrial Corporation, also known as Khomassia, the Spinning and Weaving Corporation in Damascus, the Modern Company for Conserves and Agricultural Industries, the Metallic Construction and Mechanical Industries Company, the Al-Ahlia Company for Rubber and Plastic Industry and the Technical Institute for Chemical Industries.