The commercial malls’ sector in the capital Damascus has witnessed a marked vividness this year, following the finalization of military operations in Damascus and its surrounding, through the facilitations provided by the Syrian regime’s government to investors, in an attempt to revive economy and re-energize commerce.
The Syrian government’s new economic tendency started with closing malls in Damascus under the pretext of decreased investment in these projects and reopening them with new investments that comply with the government’s plan for developing the management of the State’s possessions and correcting its investments, according to the official narrative of the Ministry of Domestic Trade.
“Qassion Mall,” in Barzeh al-Balad, Damascus, was re-invested in after it was closed by the decision of Abdullah al-Gharbi, the Minister of Commerce and Consumer Protection, on the pretext of its low investment cost. It was reinstated with a new investment done by the Syrian businessman Wassim Qattan, with a value of one billion and 20 million Syrian pounds, (the current exchange rate of the dollar ranges between 440 and 450 pounds).
Qattan, which has recently emerged in the economic arena, also invested in “Massa Plaza” mall in the Malky area, Damascus, at a cost of one billion and 290 million Syrian pounds, according to local economic networks, after two months of his investment to the “Qassion Mall,” in addition to his investment to other government facilities and his appointment as Chairman of the Damascus Chamber of Commerce’s Business Conduct Committee in February.
Earlier this year, the Syrian businessman Mazen al-Tarazi announced his willingness to invest in the central mall in “Marota City” project, which is expected to be built in the area of Basatin al-Mezzeh, according to the “al-Iqtisadi” (the economist), a local website, which reported that the “Cham Holding,” responsible for the organization process, has signed a contract with al-Tarazi to invest 108 billion Syrian pounds in the mall.
The total value of the contract is $ 250 million, according to the website, which confirmed that al-Tarazi’s share of the project is 51 while the share of the public entity is 49%. This is the first time where the investor’s share exceeds that of the public entity. The investment of the central mall will cover an area of 120 thousand square meters, in addition to six buildings with an area of 26 thousand square meters.
The “Marota City” is an urban project announced by the head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad, in 2012, in the random areas behind al-Razi and Basatin al-Mezzeh, which began in 2017 by Damascus Provincial Department and Cham Holding.
In the past few months, the Minister of Commerce Abdullah al-Gharbi has issued several resolutions on the evacuation of hotels, restaurants, offices, warehouses, lounges and retail outlets leased to the private sector owned by the Syrian Trade Corporation., pointing out that this falls under the government’s intention to correct their investment process, protect the state’s properties and develop their management.
Key malls in Damascus:
• The “City Mall,” the first mall to be opened in Damascus in 2001, is located in the area of Western Mazzeh Villas.
- The “Cham City Center” Mall is located in Kafr Sousa area, opened in 2006.
- “Town Center Mall” is located on the Daraa highway in the town of Sahnaya, covering an area of 45,000 square meters, built in 2004.
- “Damasquino Mall” is located in Kafr Sousa area, opened in 2009.
- ” Massa Plaza” is located in the Malky area in Damascus.
- ” Qassion Mall” located in Barzeh al-Balad area.
Government Investment Activity
The Syrian regime is trying to bridge the economic deficit through facilitations offered to attract investors, in order to pour these financial resources into the treasury of the state on the one hand, and to employ the largest segment of available labor force on the other; this is the policy which the government is following today, through investing in new affiliate properties and facilities under new contracts that meet the new plan of the Ministry of Finance.
According to economic researcher Younes al-Karim, “the ministries of government are now offering their support to attract investors in order to fill the state treasury and improve the deteriorating economy, in addition to the Ministry of Finance’s intention to bring funds to the Public Budget and their plan for next year, through reinstating the government properties’ that are not used for investment.”
Al-Karim explained to Enab Baladi that “there are two types of hidden partnerships imposed by the regime’s government, as it gives the mall to the investor who has international connections and a greater liquidity, in order to stimulate the state’s trade activity and create the largest number of jobs,” he said.
Malls in themselves are not of a major economic importance, but they are a part of the media campaign with which the Syrian regime targets its supporters, according to al-Karim.
The regime’s new plan contradicts the hypothesis saying that any investor must pass through the its economic circle, after it used to impose impossible conditions on investors prior to 2011, during the economic dominance of the number one Syrian businessman Rami Makhlouf, the maternal cousin of President Bashar al-Assad.
Concerning the currently invested in facilities and properties, they are owned by the state’s ministry, especially the ministry of finance and economy, which have the authority to implement the contracts according to their advantage. Most of the time, these facilities would be empty or invested in under old contracts and very little prices, such as the Al-Muhandesin Building and the Credit and the Real Estate Bank, which have been proposed for investment in Damascus.
Al-Karim pointed out that these properties and facilities offered for investment are divided into two types, the first is proposed under its current shape, after the inability to complete its construction or investment, such as ” Yalbugha” compound, in Marjeh Square in Damascus, which the Housing Foundations started building in 1990 to supposedly end it in 2004, before its management was directed to the Ministry of Awqaf, which reinstated it for interior and external finishing.
The second type of property offered for investment is ready-made facilities and compounds, which are reinvested in, such as the two malls of “Massa” and ” Qassion” that follow the Ministry of Finance.
Malls Are for the Rich Alone
Unlike malls in other countries, as they provide competitive and suitable prices for all segments of the population, the malls in Damascus are a target only for the reach, referred to as the “velvet class” by society, and there is no place for low income owners due to the high prices of goods inside malls compared to markets and shops outside.
Enab Baladi interviewed people asking for their opinion about the huge gap between the prices inside and outside malls; the majority said that they tend to buy these goods from popular markets and shops, escaping the extravagant prices demanded by malls, though they present the same brands.
The prices at the malls, which the people described as “luxurious,” do not comply with the deteriorating economic situation in Syria, the high rates of inflation and unemployment. Most Syrians today resort to cheap markets, second hand clothes, and rely mainly on buying low-priced goods and commodities. The Investors, however, attributed the rising prices at the malls to the high costs of investment and the massive taxes imposed on them.
According to “Economy2Day” website, the cost of living of a family in Damascus, consisting of five people, reached about 311 thousand Syrian pounds at the end of the first half of this year, which is the double of the per capita income. The employees’ salaries, at the public sector, vary between 30 and 39 thousand Syrian pounds, while the average salary of the private sector’s employees might reach 65 thousand Syrian pounds per month.
According to a report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), addressing the humanitarian needs in Syria for 2018, 69% of the population lives in extreme poverty, which exhausted the adaptability of many people in the most affected local communities in Syria.
In contrast to the propaganda which the Syrian regime’s government’s ministries are advancing about the new investment offers, these offers are not intended for commercial or economic benefit, but they are an attempt by these ministries to overcome the financial deficit. This is in addition to several question, which the people are raising, concerning the commercial history of the new investors and their proximity to the narrow circle of the regime Syrian.