Douma is a city in East Ghouta and serves as the administrative centre of the Rural Damascus governorate and the Douma district, which contains seven districts. The 2010 census estimated that 300,000 people live in the 3,000-hectare city.
The Douma Department of Real Estate has 68 real estate zones covering the entire Douma district. The city is composed of nine real estate zones: Sahat wa Arab, Annatar, Qasareen Shams, Al-Dweir, Al-Rumman, Al-Qusayr, Al-Mazraaeh, Betwaneh, and Al-Ab. Sahat wa Arab and Qasareen Shams form the main historic centre of Douma, which hosts the Great Mosque, Al-Ghanem Square, Al-Hal Souk, and Khorshid Street.
The importance of Douma increased in the 1980s, making the city a popular destination for newcomers from other parts of the country. The new arrivals increased the demand for housing in the area. Thus, the city began to expand informally at the expense of local farmland, especially in the north and south. By 2010, these informally built areas comprised 70 percent of the total area of Douma.
One group of informal housing projects, dubbed Al-Hajjarieh, sprouted at the city’s northern end, extending over the Antar, Al-Rumman, and Qasareen Shams real estate zones. Another one, Haret Al-Deirieh, was also established in the Betwaneh real estate zone. A third informal housing project took shape on an area legally classified as agricultural land in the Annatar and Al-Rumman, extending to the Damascus-Homs highway. Some informal housing projects were also constructed in Al-Qusayr real estate zone, eventually reaching the Al-Hajjarieh informal housing project from the west.
On top of that, Al-Mazraaeh and Al-Ab zones south of Douma, which were previously classified as agricultural land, became informal housing areas. The informal housing project in Al-Mazraaeh expanded until it reached the nearby town of Al-Shayfounieh, while the informal housing in Al-Ab reached the city of Misraba.
Similar housing projects made their way to the Al-Dweir real estate zone, which contains the Adra Prison and the Ibn Sinna Hospital for Psychiatric Illnesses.
It is worth noting that Douma’s informal housing projects sprouted, for the most part, on private agricultural lands that were not previously zoned rather than on public property. The owners of these unlicensed homes also pay a roof tax to the Rural Damascus governorate’s Department of Finance. In other words, these properties are noted in the governorate’s financial records as houses although they are unlicensed. That said, these homes are not listed in the Land Registry and are still considered legally considered to be commonly owned shares of properties.
Douma has an old zoning plan issued in 1966. In 2003, however, the municipality expanded its zoning plan to include new areas such as the Haret Al-Joureh neighbourhood and new housing cooperative homes in the Annatar real estate zone. This expansion also included previously unzoned areas of Annatar, Al-Ab, and Al-Mazraaeh. The zoning plan’s total surface area after the 2003 expansion reached 560 hectares and was approved in 2005.
Compulsory land readjustment
The 2003 expansion also zoned a 250-hectare area of Douma according to the principle of compulsory land readjustment. The readjustment occurs when a site is being zoned by distributing property shares to rights holders, often not in the original locations of those properties, and after deducting a certain percentage of those properties without compensation. The decision to undertake this zoning process was made per Law No. 9 of 1974, which concerns the division, zoning, and construction of cities. The law prohibits transactions that subdivide or consolidate real estate and grant construction permits before completing the compulsory land readjustment process.
In Douma’s case, the compulsory land readjustment included parts of the Annatar, Al-Rumman, Betwaneh, Al-Mazraaeh, and Al-Ab real estate zones. For example, the newly zoned portion of Betwaneh, which was previously classified as agricultural land, was renamed the “Tantheem Khalaf Al-Baladieh” and has become known as among the nicest and most expensive parts of Douma due to its modern urban planning and green spaces.
On the other hand, compulsory land readjustment was not implemented in other parts of Douma, where dense informal housing remain in place. In 2005, Douma’s city council decided to make the compulsory land readjustment areas subject to rezoning under Law No. 46 of 2004, an amendment of Law No. 9 of 1974. This amendment allowed compulsory land readjustment areas to be considered areas of collective unlicensed construction. The measure made it easier to grant construction permits, carry out real estate subdivisions, and consolidate transactions under certain conditions within such areas. The Rural Damascus governorate approved the city council’s decision in 2010, but it has yet to be implemented.
During the 2011 uprising, protests reached Douma, and the government tried to control the situation by requesting that a committee of residents be formed so that they could communicate their demands. This committee then submitted its demands, which, most notably, included expanding Douma’s zoning plan.
In June 2011, the Rural Damascus governor said that the residents’ demands were being implemented and affirmed the need to enact the new zoning plan as quickly as possible. He gave Douma’s Directorate of Cadastral Affairs a one-month deadline to complete lists of common property owners and form a committee to follow up on implementation and overcome any roadblocks.
Then, in June 2011, the government issued five decrees for the Douma district, Decrees No. 195-199, which allowed the city council to implement compulsory land redistribution under Law No. 9 of 1974 for the following real estate zones: Al-Ab, Annatar, Al-Sindyaneh, Betwaneh, Al-Gharbieh, and Al-Rumman. The five decrees deemed the implementation of such work in these areas to be in the public interest.
Furthermore, implementing the decrees was supposed to speed up the compulsory land redistribution process and solve the problem of informal housing and common ownership. However, deteriorating security and political conditions prevented the decrees from being carried out. Meanwhile, during the regime’s siege of East Ghouta between 2013 and 2018, regime forces bombed Douma heavily with artillery fire and rockets, leading to widespread damage in residential neighbourhoods, whether zoned or informal.
The information in this article draws on a wide-ranging interview The Syria Report conducted with Adnan Taha, a former official at the Office of Documentation in Douma.