After five years, the 59th Damascus International Fair was opened, in the outskirts of the capital Damascus. This was considered as a signal of “restoring security and stability” that the Syrian regime wants to show to the world, in a country whose citizens “have nothing else to wish for but exhibitions and events”.
The 59th session of the Damascus International Fair began on Thursday, August 17, in the new exhibition city on the Damascus airport road. It will continue until 26th of the same month. 23 countries are officially participating, among which are the “friendly” countries of the Syrian regime, including Russia, Iran, China and South Korea. The fair equally witnessed the presence of private companies from countries that cut off relations with the Syrian regime, including France, Germany and Britain, said the General Organization for Exhibitions.
In order to demonstrate a high quality of life to the participating regional and global companies, with the presence of 1,000 businessmen, there have been major improvements and reforms in the city, which has been burdened by conflict and which no longer has the basic necessities of life like water and electricity for more than five years.
Thus, the government of Imad Khamis started announcing reforms that accompanied the preparations for the exhibition in various sectors of life, which made the people of Damascus wish that the exhibition could last for a lifetime.
“Enjoy the Electricity only during exhibition days”
The Minister of Electricity’s, Mohammad Zuhair Kharboutli, declarations were promising to the Syriansas he revealed last Wednesday that the situation of electricity will improve in all the Syrian provinces during the period of organizing the Damascus International Fair.
On the other hand, the Minister’s statement raised the dissatisfaction of some citizens on social media websites, wondering about the government’s ability to provide electricity and cut off at its will. The Syrians, especially in the summer, suffer from continuing electricity cut offs amid the government’s claims that the power plants were out of service by “vandalism” .
Others expected that the government will compensate the “wasted” electricity during the week of the exhibition, by increasing the standardization immediately after the end of the fair.
Reforms to “the city interface”
As the main interface of the country during the reception of businessmen and international companies, the Damascus International Airport has undergone several reforms, initiated by Prime Minister Imad Khamis’s visit, who said it is a “undeclared” visit to inspect the conditions of the airport and passengers.
Khamis’s visit resulted in the dismissal of the airport manager on Monday, August 14, following the “negligence” he noticed, based on a complaint made by one of the passengers.
Citizens considered that the video, which which features Khamis’ meeting with the passengers, was just a fake “series” to prove that the government was fighting corruption, as the traveler spoke in a “superior” tone with “high” figures in the government.
In the same context, Syrian Transport Minister Ali Hammoud said that the hall is now equipped with surveillance cameras, screens, flight schedules, flight programming, air conditioning equipment and new inspection devices, according to the official website of the Ministry of Transport.
The airport road also witnessed extensive cleaning campaigns, tree planting and lighting of the entire road in preparation for hosting delegations.
The lira is rebounding
The exchange rate of the Syrian Pound against the dollar rose slightly ahead of the Damascus International Fair. According to the website “Lira Today”, the dollar exchange rate reached 519 for buying and 522 for selling, while the Euro exchange rate reached 605 for buying and 611 for selling.
The Damascus Center for Research and Studies attributed the exchange rate improvement to several factors, most notably the launch of the Damascus International Fair, which paves the ground to the return of Syrian exports to world markets.
The Damascus Center for Research and Studies explained that the exhibition raised the occupancy rates in Damascus, as a result of the participants’ hotel reservations, in addition to “the gradual increase in the volume of remittances in foreign currency received from abroad as Eid al-Adha is approaching.”
Re-declaration of “economic victory”
The Syrian regime decided to allocate the reorganization of the Damascus International Fair to the General Organization of Exhibitions in late summer.
“The reorganization of the exhibition will contribute to the continuation of Syrian industry and the restoration of economic activity,” the Baath Party newspaper said on February 9. The newspaper also noticed that “the improvement in the security situation and the increase in production contributed to the reorganization of the exhibition.”
The Damascus International Fair is one of the oldest exhibitions in the Middle East. The first session was held in 1954. Before 2004, the fair used to be held in the old Exhibition City near the Umayyad Square in the center of Damascus.
The exhibition was suspended a year after the Syrian revolution began as a result of the security situation, and the Free Army fighters managed to control large areas surrounding the exhibition city, especially the Shami Village in July 2013.
The Damascus Fair art events have been widely attended by leading Arab artists such as Fairuz, Umm Kulthum, Abdel Halim Hafez, Majida El Roumi and others. However, a clear ambiguity was evident during this session as Fairuz, Julia Boutros and other artists declined invitations to participate in the exhibition.
Scandals and Pitfalls
The opening of the exhibition included several errors at the level of organization and performance, which did not meet the expectation that the opening will be more modern and organized after years of absence. However, the audience was surprised by a dully repetetive opening, reminiscent of black and white era.
Opening Speech “befitting a Primary School Student”
During the opening of the exhibition, the Syrian regime’s Prime Minister, Imad Khamis’ speech provoked media uproar because of spelling, grammar and pronunciation mistakes that went out of his control within a quarter of an hour of standing behind the platform and in the presence of Arab and international delegations.
Social media users criticized the method of speech-giving that seemed inappropriate for his position as a prime minister, or for such an international exhibition.Boredom was evident on the faces of the audience, who were preoccupied with side talks. Meanwhile, the cameras caught the Lebanese Minister of Industry, Hussein al-Hajj Hassan, the deputy of Hezbollah, yawning at the opening speech, during which Khamis’ appeared to be clearly nervous.
Media Coverage with no Journalists
Local media outlets have complained because they were not allowed to cover the opening of Damascus International Fair, despite the promotion and marketing campaigns they organized before the opening of the exhibition.
B2B-SY economic website stated that its team was banned from accessing the exhibition and covering the events after they waited four hours outside, pointing out that most journalists had been banned from entry despite introducing themselves as journalists.
The website posted on its facebook page the following statement “We thank the media committee and the reception committee for this treatment. Is this what media professionals and journalists deserve?”
Call for “Seizing” Investors’ Money
Syrian economist and professor at the Faculty of Administrative Development at the University of Damascus, Ayman Dayoub, called for “seizing” the money of foreign businessmen, who are participating in Damascus International Fair through investments.
He said that 1500 businessmen had come to Syria “not for tourism for they have money and investments.”
In an interview with the Syrian news channel al-Ikhbaria on Thursday 17 August, he stated that it is necessary to think about a way to take money from these businessmen, through investments.
Dayoub’s statements provoked mockery among activists who argued that this method led many investors to flee Syria.
The Visitors returned by Truck
A truck took home dozens of citizens of the exhibition visitors who said that they had waited for buses, which were dedicated to transporting them, but they did not show up.
Radio al-Madina FM published exclusive pictures of the truck carrying dozens of visitors, some of whom accused the exhibition administration of poor organization after advertising and marketing campaigns it promoted for months.
After the uproar caused by the pictures, the director of the General Exhibition Corporation Fares Al-Kartli, told “Dimashq Now” website that his administration has increased the number of buses dedicated to transporting visitors to the exhibition. He stated that “120 buses have been allocated and new roads and traffic facilities have been provided.”
Al-Kartli’s statement increased the criticism of citizens who considered that it was too late to repair the damage, after all what the visitors of the exhibition had encountered.