The Syrian regime, through its attempts to gain control over Eastern Ghouta, awaits various economic benefits, the first of which is supplying Damascus, the capital, with agricultural and livestock productions and the reactivation of the industrial process which Damascus missed during the years of war, in addition to vital economic roads to open the capital onto Northern Syria.
Eastern Ghouta is yet suffering from a siege that started in August 2013, to witness escalation with successive attacks aiming to control it, the last of which started on the 18th of last February and are continuing to the day, causing the death of more than a thousand people, according to UN and local numbers.
Ghouta turned from “running penetrative rivers and wandering welling springs, which had no resemblance on earth,” as described by Siraj al-Din Ibn al-Wardi in his book The Wonders of the World into a living “hell on earth” as described by António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, last February, due to intensified shelling and battles.
Despite this critical change, the government of the Syrian regime desires novel gains, in addition to its political and military objectives of expelling the opposition of its last strongholds near Damascus.
A Food Basket with 85% of its Content Lost
Ghouta was actually considered as a food basket for the city of Damascus due to its large agricultural areas, for the area of the invested agricultural lands reached more than 5665 hectares in 2008, according the statistics issued by the Ministry of Agriculture.
The area is also known for its livestock, for in 2011, there were 120 thousand of dairy cows and 200 thousand of sheep heads; however, and because of the siege, these numbers registered a collapse of 85%. In 2016, only seven thousand cow heads and 40 thousand sheep heads survived, according to statistics issued by the opposition affiliate Veterinarians Syndicates in Ghouta.
The Largest Industrial City, Would It Recover?
The shortage of industrial areas in the city of Damascus triggered industrialists to establish their projects in Damascus’ nearby countryside, especially Ghouta, which had qualities needed for the success of these projects.
The economic researcher, Younes al-karim, confirmed the details mentioned above, explaining that all the traditional industries which Syria in general and Damascus in particular were famous for exist in Ghouta, such as wood industry, furniture, food production and canneries, pointing out to the importance of the industrial area in Adraa (Tal Kurdi) in terms of industry and trade.
The Syrian regime’s government, after it controlled the areas in the surrounding of Damascus last year, did actually take further steps to reactivate economy through industrial facilities to support the treasury once more and called Russian companies to support and invest in them.
As for the surrounding of the industrial area, where the majority of the factories have been destroyed and only a few survived to be transported to the opposition-held areas, the owners of the industrial facilities sought to prove their ownership by getting official property documents from Damascus Chamber of Industry and moved their factories into the industrial area, the number of which was 437 at the end of 2013, according to the Administration of the Industrial Area.
The industrial area in Adraa is viewed as a fundamental industrial center, for it is the largest of the industrial cities in Syria, with an area of about three thousand hectares.
It includes six thousand sites for different types of industrial facilities ــــ engineering, textile, chemical, food related, building materials, tanning facilities, casting metal and crafts ــــ with an estimated cost that reaches 30 billion Syrian pounds, according to the Investment Committee in Syria.
Al-Karim also pointed out that the Syrian regime’s government started to call on the merchants to return to the closed factories in the industrial area, considering that “this will show that economy started to recover, and the opposition has been defeated and everything is settled down, a motivation to launch reconstruction projects in the area and to invite foreign companies to [participate].”
A Life Nerve in the Northern Damascus
Seizing Ghouta has both political and military importance for the Syrian regime and its allies, even more than the economic face to it, especially after the deterioration of livestock and the agricultural area’s loss of their arability in the meantime, due to the intensified shelling policy (scorched land) followed by the regime.
The regime’s control over Ghouta, however, will reactivate Harasta Highway, considered as northern Damascus’ lung and its main gateway to Homs and the governorates in Northern Syria, which means that it will facilitate movement out and into the center of Damascus, especially for the merchants and farmers who seek to reach al-Hal market, after they turned to to take secondary routes (Baghdad Bridge turn) near the city of al-Tal in the past a few years.
Closing Harasta Highway led to losses, the value of which, to Dec. 13.2012, reached about 20 million Syrian pounds, the stoppage of 1577 out of 1778 facilities that were being built in the Adraa Industrial city and other 436 productive facilities. In addition to this, 39976 out of 4722 workers lost their jobs, according to the records of the Ministry of Local Administration under the Syrian Regime’s government.
Fearing the Regime’s Appropriation of Agricultural Lands
According to al-Karim, what is at a stake in the regime’s control over Ghouta is the possible attempt at seizing the displaced people’s properties and the bargaining process that will ensue, as to launch the process of reconstruction through issuing legislation that allows it to do so in the future. He also explained that there are lands in Ghouta, the possession of which goes back to a number of entities and ministries, such as Ministry of Awqaf and the Ministry of Agriculture, in addition to the agricultural areas that are unearmarked for construction purposes, which will be controlled by economic mafias supported by the Economic Chamber of the Republican Place, under many allegations that only aim to launch large projects on them.
Due to this, the economic researcher believes that the government might issue legislative decrees, which give it the right to appropriate large areas of lands on the pretext of regulating them, similar to what happened in parts of the city of Darayya, when the Associate Minster of the Local Administration in the Syrian regime’s government, Leeway Kharita, announced the formation of a committee to regulate the city and to include it within Damascus’ regulatory areas, this scenario, to a certain degree, resembles what has been applied to the areas behind al-Razi, under “Decree 66.”
Expected but Temporary Revival of the Syrian Pound
Local media outlets started tackling the post-Ghouta phase and its economic effects on Damascus.
“Syriandays,” a news website, quoted a university professor, whose name they did not mention, as saying that “controlling the area will guarantee opening a strategic route to facilitate the process of transportation and trade, in addition to the reactivation of professions within Ghouta’s areas, as well as the furniture, marble and tile cutting factories, and other vital facilities, in addition to the homes’ restoration process.”
The website indicated that this will spur the frozen money in houses and banks; it will also trigger the demand on working force, which means pumping a monetary mass in the Syrian market, that would reflect on the Syrian pound’s exchange rates.
Nevertheless, al-Karim considers that the regime’s control over Ghouta would improve the Syrian pound’s exchange rates for a short period only, attributing that to a varing set of reasons, such as the cut on humanitarian aid used to be given to the besieged people of Ghouta and the absence of a stable production to support the Syrian pound, pointing out that Syria is forced to import needs and commodities, thus, increasing demand on dollar, not to forget that the currency exchange rates are usually linked to the State’s presence and its establishments, wondering: “Is it a central State that is managing the market or mafias that are in control of the Syrian pound’s fate?”