Syria, is a country that is still “officially” considered a Socialist country. The socialist policies in Syria date all the way back to 1958, when Egypt and Syria formed the United Arab Republic, under the leadership of Gamal Abd el-Nasser. It was a very short lived republic that ended in 1961 but which marked the turn of Syrian politics and economy into the socialist thinking. That continued after the Baath party took power in the March 8th coup d'etat. But all that is changing now.
After president Bashar Assad was elected in 2000, a lot of changes took place, shifting the economy into more liberal free-market thinking. Damascus is in a process of transformation. A construction boom is in place, and the financial judicial structure is being reformed and revisited. In many ways Syria is going through the Egypt model of transformation from socialist economy to a free market economy. And Damascus, is more and more starting to look like Cairo. That includes the widening gap between the rich and the poor.
Wassim laments the changing face of Damascus and Syria in this post,
There is a lot of Gulf money pouring into Damascus, a lot of investment and much being said about new “malls”, apartments and what not. You get the eyesore which is the Four Seasons hotel charging prices most Syrians would never see in a lifetime of work, I mentioned already the 600 lira cup of coffee. There are the $900 pairs of jeans on sale, the latest mobile phones and cars, the trendy night clubs and restaurants and bars. But if we are disappointed that this isn't really developing the country we miss the point. It's not about ordinary Syrians, it's not even about development. It's about siphoning off the money in Syria and prostituting her ‘real’ wealth gradually. The wealthy elites who made their money through corruption or smuggling might not have had anywhere to spend it but Beirut and abroad in the old days, but today, they can spend their money on anything they fancy right at home in Syria.
One of the many examples of where this new money is going, is the construction boom Syria has been witnessing. But, if you think it is one about infrastructure of affordable housing, then think again. The new construction boom is focused on new shopping malls, luxury housing projects on the outskirts of cities, like Aleppo's Cordoba Hills, or the much talked about, Damascus's Eighth Gate. Alex introduces us to this new project on Joshua Landis’ blog, here:
Emaar Properties and IGO, the offshore investment and property development company, unveiled details of a joint venture that sets in motion plans to develop a mixed use furnished apartments, commercial and retail development in the Yafour area, approximately 15 minutes from the center of Damascus. The US$500 million project will recreate the luxury and style that are features of Emaar’s world-class Dubai developments.
The post has attracted a large amount of comments, many of them question how many Syrians are actually going to be able to enjoy such a luxurious project while others note that the project will help provide job opportunities and lift the Soviet-style architecture that Damascus has suffered from for the last four decades.
This is what Sasa had to say about the Eighth Gate:
Have no doubt, this will change the face of Damascus. Damascus in the wider sense – not the Old City, not even the New City. But Damascus and its environs. I'm not sure I am completely behind this. There seem to be too many penthouses and not enough affordable housing (building a certain proportion of affordable housing was a condition for granting Emaar a licence to build this development).