The industrial complex for repairing cars in Damascus’s Qadam neighbourhood remains only partly functional, despite claims by the government that it has been rehabilitated. The fate of the complex is unclear in light of the government’s intentions to restrict all car-related occupations to a car expo centre complex under construction in Al-Dweir, northeast of the capital city.
The car repair complex extends over four hectares of land within the Qadam neighbourhood at the southern entrance to Damascus. Construction began in 2000, with the aim of removing car repair shops and associated businesses from the city centre and restricting them to one centralised location. The land used for the complex was expropriated for the state and was rented out for unlimited terms as per Syrian rental laws. This type of rent contract is called “furough” in Arabic There were 450 small and medium facilities within the complex, all focused on various aspects of car repair.
The “furough” contracts allow a tenant to waive his right to invest to others, in exchange for an allowance, with ownership of the property remaining as it was—in the case of the Qadam complex, in the hands of the state. With the issuance of Tenancy Law No. 10 of 2006, the “furough” lost the possibility of automatically extending the lease contract against the owner’s will. However, the right to “furough” still includes stores leased before 2006, and applies to the Qadam complex.
The complex went out of service more than five years ago, after opposition factions took control of it and the area became a frontline between rebels and regime forces. The regime forces recaptured the complex in April 2018. It had suffered large-scale damage, as well as looting on multiple occasions, as various different armed groups captured it.
Former Damascus Governor Bishr Al-Sabban took a tour of the repair complex in 2018, when he announced that facilities would begin to be handed over to their owners on the condition that they pledge to begin work within six months. Otherwise, they would be closed and sealed with red wax. In return, Al-Sabban pledged to rehabilitate the complex as quickly as possible.
Since then, the Qadam municipality has only managed to remove rubble and open roads in the complex, despite more than 50 percent of the facilities and infrastructure having been destroyed, according to a correspondent for The Syria Report in the area. Damascus governorate has linked rehabilitation of the complex, as well as repairs to the infrastructure such as water and electricity, to the return of business to the car repair shops there. Al-Sabban said in his previous visit to the complex that “the state has paid billions [of pounds] to retake industrial zones from the terrorists, and the least that can be done to return the favour is to restart business in them.”
Before 2011, the complex employed around 4,000 workers, but now that number is no more than 500 people. A number of shop owners and workers were forcibly displaced along with the opposition convoys that left the area because they were wanted by regime security forces for participating in anti-regime activities.
Most of the workshop owners have rehabilitated their shops in the complex, fearing that they may lose the right under the “furough” system”. They also fear a fate similar to that of the demolished car market at the northern entrance to Damascus, whose store owners were forced to switch to the Al-Dweir car expo.
A portion of workshop owners from the Qadam complex also moved their businesses in recent years to within Damascus city, setting up shop on sidewalks. The businesses became known as sidewalk workshops. Despite the partial refurbishment of the Qadam complex, some of these sidewalk workshops are still operating, in exchange for bribes paid to governorate police to turn a blind eye. The Damascus governorate, however, has issued an order requiring these workshops to return to Qadam.
But poor services in the complex, almost permanent electricity outages, a scarcity of fuel to run generators and the difficulty of access for cars, has made the complex unattractive for business. All these problems are in addition to the security restrictions on workshop owners in the complex, as removal or entry of machinery requires prior approval from the Military Security Branch in charge of southern Damascus.
The main reason for keeping the Qadam complex in place appears to be aimed at keeping all small car repair businesses in Damascus in one place, owned by the state and monopolised by the lessor model. This means that the state has come to control the car market over the entire city of Damascus, from the Al-Dweir centre to the Qadam complex.
A car repair workshop in the Al-Qadam industrial complex