The Eighth Gate of Damascus - Syria Comment

The Eighth Gate of Damascus

Posted by Alex 

Here are some rendered images and a press release from Emaar Syria. They are starting construction on their previously announced Eighth Gate commercial and residencial project.

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 Eighth Gate project builds upon the ancient history of Damascus in its architectural style of ornately decorated buildings influenced by traditional Islamic design and pays homage to the city’s ancient roots. A signature tall gate marks the access to the main plaza.

Dating back to its ancient history, the city walls of Damascus have seven gates as access points. These gates have nurtured the rich culture of its people and were powerful emblems of the people of Damascus. Although only one of these monuments remains intact today, the city remembers how the striking structures have welcomed those who walked through the archways into the city century after century. The people of Damascus will soon be able to experience an Eighth Gate – one that retains the best of the past, but in a modern context.  

The Eighth Gate is strategically segmented into three zones:

The Commercial Center of The Eighth Gate offers a classical style piazza for convergence that encapsulates a myriad of functions. Anchored by the signature 35 storey office tower, the main plaza also embraces low rise commercial buildings and a 450,000sq ft retail mall inspired by the souks of old Damascus.

The next zone, The Waterfront, is characterized by a blend of low-rise furnished apartments development, high street shopping and dining landscape. Against this vibrant backdrop are two luxurious furnished apartments towers overlooking the waterfront and the main plaza.

The more intimate and private Furnished Apartments Zone is nestled in an environment that celebrates the innermost sense of community. This furnished apartments zone is augmented with interconnected courtyards and low-rise buildings inspired by Syrian housing archetypes.

The Eighth Gate builds a picture of striking authenticity and an intimate lifestyle experience. A place of prestige and comfortable living, poised to become the center of New Damascus.

 

Comments (84)


Nour said:

Alex,

As much as I enjoy seeing the sights of attractive buildings and plazas in Damascus, such projects do not interest me as much as industrial and academic projects do. The fact is that building these nice structures will not significantly improve Syria’s economy. Only a focus on industrialization can truly take us to the next level and put us on a par with the advanced nations of the world.

February 7th, 2008, 10:29 pm

 

Alex said:

I agree Nour. But there is nothing to be ashamed of in developing the service sector. These are the kind of jobs that are not easy to lose to China!

In my opinion, all this new luxury in Damascus is reasonable somehow … Syrians under late President Hafez Assad did not have many opportunities to enjoy spending their money.

After few dcades, there was considerable pressure on Bashar to make up for the constrains of the past few decades. Few years ago I heard a few rich Syrians complain “are we going to continue tightening our belts for ever?”

Anyway, most Syrians are very young … education reform is what we need to pay attention to before anything else.

February 7th, 2008, 10:54 pm

 

EHSANI2 said:

Having contacted the above facility:

100 sq meters of office space is priced at $288,000. Note that 22 sq ft of the 100 is a shared common area. In other words:

Gross 1 sq meter sells for US$2,800
Net 1 sq meter sells for US$3,680

Cheap, this is ain’t.

February 7th, 2008, 10:57 pm

 

UZ said:

The idea that Damascus is about to be hit with development of this kind, the same kind that has destroyed every city in the US with its economic, social, and environmental lack of planning, seriously hurts my head.

The rhetoric of this project is almost identical to that of commercial development projects here in the US where “big box” stores and massive strip malls of chain stores promise towns that they will receive untold economic benefits (that never materialize) if they will just give them massive tax breaks and taxpayer-funded public works projects. What usually results is a “bait and switch” that leaves the downtown section of the city a ghost town, increases the need for cars, pollution, sucks money from the public coffers, and destroys the character of the city. They even try to put a “friendly, center of the town” face on the development, trying to give it the look of sidewalks and “downtown” features like fancy lightposts and then give it names like “town center” and “community” to make people feel good about it all while it goes about destroying the true town center and economic life. The stores are all run by large corporations, the profits of which go out of state (or in this case, probably out of Syria) and the whole thing ends up being a big parasite. Before Damascus agrees to such a suburban big-box scheme, somebody should give officials the book “Big Box Swindle” by Stacy Mitchell.

I’d also like to know where all the water for such a development will come from. Or will this “new Damascus” be facing a scenario like that of Atlanta and Phoenix?

February 7th, 2008, 11:10 pm

 

Alex said:

UZ,

Downtown Damascus can not grow. The pollution, the traffic and the lack of parking spaces are not easy to deal with. they need to grow outside the old city.

This Eighth Gate is a small part of a multi billion investment from Emaar in Syria. I find it hard to imagine that such an investment will not bring economic benefits… construction jobs? sales and marketing jobs?

Besides, tax benefits in Syria won’t hurt too much … no one pays taxes anyway.

Projects like these are needed to convince some rich Syrians to come back and live in Damascus. I know a few who were impressed already and are starting to discuss with their wives if they should buy one of these fancy Damascus apartment to spend few month there every year.

February 7th, 2008, 11:19 pm

 

Nour said:

Alex,

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t put any effort into the services sector. I’m merely saying that focusing on services alone will not in the long run translate to true economic prosperity. I agree with you on the part about education reform. I believe it is the most important aspect of it all, as we need to build a generation of innovators and critical thinkers.

February 7th, 2008, 11:20 pm

 

Enlightened said:

Alex given you know what i do for a living, let me give you an opinion on the style of buildings as shown in the pictures.

These styles are great because they mix in the new design concepts while maintaining some of the classical features in Arab architecture.The picture on the river front with the facade of the building is a case in point. The critical question that needs to be answered by the planners, is how to incorporate the old style of Damascus with the new, from these pictures I can tell that they are on the right track. This will be critical as the city expands and needs further development. The critical issue will be how to maintain that old charm of Damascus without giving into the need to demolish everything and build high rise monstrosities.

Building the services sector in Syria is very important. I would estimate that if this issue is not addressed properly now Syria’s intake from Tourism would be severely affected in the long term. Also the Tourism Industry needs to be properly looked at in the future, mainly because there is so much un realised potential there, some Tourism marketing initiatives would be needed, but as you and Nour correctly stated Industrialization and Education are more paramount at this stage.

February 7th, 2008, 11:39 pm

 

Alex said:

Enlightened,

Given that I was very impressed with the very attractive samples of your work that I have seen, I am happy that you also approve of the styles above.

To be honest, I am not happy at all with most of the other designs … architectural, or graphic design. Syria is in transition and … we really need to have an international design school setup a Syrian school of design and architecture. There is a good chance there will be an explosive growth in construction in Syria over the next 5 years … I hope they rush to acquire the proper skills and talents before they build an ugly new Damascus.

On the positive side, I noticed some improvement … the latest examples of graphic designs (like the Fairouz concert posters, and the background for the ministry of Information press room) are very well done …

Most other designs are too busy … too complicated, and simply not attractive.

The Aga Khan foundation can be a great partner in this respect. They have helped Egypt tremendously. Here is an example where they converted an area that was before covered with garbage into … Al-Azhar Park

http://www.madeena360.com/fullscreen/003.html

A beautiful mix of authentic Islamic architecture with modern, practical design.

February 7th, 2008, 11:54 pm

 

EHSANI2 said:

Having contacted the developer for office space:

100 sq meter would cost you US$288,000.

But this is the gross space as 22 sq meter of the office is allocated as common area (bathrooms etc).

This leaves you with 78 sq meter net which translates to US$3690 per sq meter.

Cheap , this ain’t. Yet, demand is reportedly strong

February 8th, 2008, 12:13 am

 

trustquest said:

Ehsani,
New office space sells here in Atlanta, GA for @145 per/sqft
That means about $1450 per sq m.
Why the cost in Syria double the cost in USA.
What is wrong with them?
Do you have a reasoning.

February 8th, 2008, 12:34 am

 

EHSANI2 said:

UZ,

This development is not in the downtown Damascus area. It is on the Beirut-Damascus highway.

Trustquest,

I guess it is demand and supply (isn’t it always?). The developers seem to think that they can charge this high and still get tenants to buy. The competition in Atlanta is more intense to be sure.

February 8th, 2008, 1:07 am

 

majedkhaldoun said:

It is wonderful that Damascus will be much much better than Halap.

Ha,Ha,Ha

February 8th, 2008, 1:28 am

 

trustquest said:

Ehsani, what you saying it is not convincing, because these people are selling on plans not existing. They suppose to sell with profit margin to cost and let investors do their things. If the latter increased prices to that level, you can say at that time supply and demand law is working.

Labor in Syria should be 1/10th the cost in the States, not to mention raw materials.
What in my view is playing in that market is the ugly face of monopoly? To build a high rise outside Damascus, you need water and power, and those essentials only can be attained by people who have monopoly and can make thing happen. As you see, there will never be a free market in that area since there is no healthy ground (laws and competition) to build on.

February 8th, 2008, 2:16 am

 

EHSANI2 said:

The developers will ask for as much as they think they can get. If the prices are indeed too high, they will find out very soon as orders and deposits will disappoint. Were that to happen, I am sure prices will come down till occupancy rates are satisfactory enough to meet financing needs, no?

Incidentally, buying a whole floor overlooking that water view will set you back a cool US$4 million

February 8th, 2008, 2:25 am

 

norman said:

Alex,

These are beautiful pictures and projects but with the prices that Ehsani mentioned i think i will buy in the US , In my opinion the prices are high because Syria lacks modern office space in addition many people buy for speculation not for personal use , These prices will encourage investors to build more projects .then the prices will go down especially if Syria puts some real estate taxes which will force owners to rent or sell to break even on their investments.

February 8th, 2008, 2:27 am

 

Abu Kareem said:

I don’t know Alex, looks too much like Vegas to me. Too perfect, too artificial.

Besides, is this really the type of development that Syria needs? High end residential and commercial space that few in Syria can afford. It will jack up housing prices for everyone and make Damascus unaffordable for the average Syrian. Sure there will be some trickle down…but just that, trickle down. So parts of Damascus will look like the first world and few miles out in the countryside it will look like the third world with little in the way of infrastructure and public services.

This is starting to look like the Lebanese post civil war development model. Concentrate all the money and development in Beirut and neglect rural areas and small towns. Beirut got a facelift but the Lebanese middle class got decimated.

Investment in the private sector is fine as long as it is matched by public sector investment that will benefit all Syrians.

February 8th, 2008, 3:21 am

 

Friend in America said:

I am not an architect nor a city planner, but to this untrained eye the 8th Gate project is astounding in its beauty and creativity. The facade concept on the waterfront draws my eye to a most interesting creative juxtaposition of the “old style” in front of a ” new style.” In the apartment area the tallest building has shapes and lines not seen in Europe or America where office towers are hardly more than elongated boxes.
There are a number of cities in the U.S. where residential and shopping “malls” placed close to the downtown has had the effect of saving the downtown from decline. Hopefully the 8th Gate will serve that need. Is the old town close enough to walk to? In the U.S. look at Minneapolis, Portland and Boston as examples. Congratulations. This project looks very exciting.

February 8th, 2008, 3:24 am

 

Qifa Nabki said:

A piece of advice to those who can afford it:

Buy now.

Members of my family work in real estate in Beirut, and if the shape of the Damascus market will look anything like Beirut’s, you can expect prices to rise very quickly.

$2800/sq meter seems like a lot, but in a couple of years it will look like a bargain.

Prices in Ras Beirut (without a sea view) in new luxury buildings are starting at about $3500-4000 per square meter.

And this is not even the ultra-luxe. For anything built by Kingdom properties, we’re talking $6000-8000 per square meter. And the prices have not come down since 2005… if anything, they have continued to rise.

I hear that Amman is starting to see similar things.

If you’ve ever thought about buying that pied a terre in the bilad, yalla ya shabab. Do it now.

February 8th, 2008, 3:26 am

 

Qifa Nabki said:

Having said that, I agree with Abu Kareem.

February 8th, 2008, 3:28 am

 

annie said:

Where will they find the water ?

February 8th, 2008, 5:15 am

 

Zenobia said:

I think it is attractive.
But, i also agree with Abu Kareem that it looks like it is the Beirut model of development – that has nothing to do with the average people of Damascus.
And the developers can afford to ask their high price because they can afford to have it sit there empty too… just as many apartments and luxury business spaces do in downtown Beirut.. until they get their wealthy buyer or rentor from the Gulf.

Will this benefit Syria? maybe. but for the average person, not much.
I agree that the downtown has no where to grow, and that more growth needs to happen outside the downtown. It will not destroy the downtown in this case, because the downtown is already suffering massively from over population and congestion. So, i think moving out even more is needed. It will lower prices , i believe, because in this case, wealthier buyers and renters will not scoop up the cheaper places and keep the prices so high.

However, truly what is needed is not luxury development, but retail and services for the normal people- for a middle class life that needs to be fostered.

I mean who cares if the gym at the Four Seasons hotel is so nice. It is. but it is pretty small and empty. And i don’t wonder why. If you are not a guest, and you want an outside membership- the price is $3000.00 dollars per year!

There will be no reason to take a taxi to Yafour to walk around the eighth gate if you can’t afford to go into a store or a restaurant there.

February 8th, 2008, 5:43 am

 

Alex said:

How nice to see our Syrian Physicians and successful businesspeople show up to comment on this post : )

Majedkhaldoun

I’m afraid I have bad news for you … Aleppo will get something similar, but less Vegas-like…. Cordoba Hills:

Here are some shots:

http://www.cordobahills.com/pop_gl.htm?img=Images/gallery/0001.jpg

http://www.cordobahills.com/pop_gl.htm?img=Images/gallery/Main-Entrance.jpg

http://www.cordobahills.com/pop_gl.htm?img=Images/gallery/Down1.jpg

Ehsani will tell us if the prices (I’m sure he checked) are more affordable than Damascus.

Abu Kareem,

Please keep in mind that these are 3D models, rendered with color retouching … so they will obviously look too perfect. In real life you need to visualize things like:

1) Everyone in that Cafe in the Mall is smoking Argeeleh … smoke everywhere.

2) there is a Shawarma place.

3) Instead of the neat Louis Vuitton store sign, imagine a badly designed sign for “Abu Kareem lil-malboosat alnisa2iyeh”

4) and remember … the project is in Syria … imagine all kinds of small imperfections that are bound to give it some authentic Syrian character.

YOU WILL LOVE IT!

Annie,

Emaar is building this project with the help of the Saudi Bin Laden Group (yes, the magic name). Emaar built half of Dubai … they can bring water, sand, trees, or snow if needed.

February 8th, 2008, 5:45 am

 

AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

It is a beautiful project.

But then, Asad is becoming like Hariri. There is a slight contradiction that people will soon see. You cannot support resistance and these kinds of projects at the same time. Investors and tennants in these projects are people that expect peace and quiet and Asad must be promising them this in order for the investors to come. They also expect the electricity to always work and the airport to be open all the time.

If this is the direction Syria is going, its tolerance for war and risk for war is going to go down significantly and I think its foreign policies will have to change significantly. I think it is very good for Israel and the middle east that Syria is going down this path. The Hariri ideology has conquered Syria. Quite fascinating.

February 8th, 2008, 5:51 am

 

AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

The cordoba hills looks too much like the Moroccan Pavillion at Epcot and not enough like Cordoba. I suggest a redesign there.

February 8th, 2008, 5:57 am

 

qunfuz said:

I know you’re joking Alex, but there is only so much water. When they bring water, they’ll be bringing it from an area that needs it more. When I stayed in a suburb of Damascus a few weeks ago we worried about when the water man would come round to fill up the tank. I remember all the days when I lived there that nothing came out of the tap. It is this basic problem which affects ordinary people and industry alike which needsd to be solved first. I agree absolutely with Abu Kareem: this is the wrong development model.By the way, has anyone actually enjoyed being in Dubai recently? Personally, I’m not obsessed with the kind of shopping that I could do in any globalised mall anywhere in the world, and I don’t enjoy spending hours in taxis breathing exhaust fumes. Another question: what is the percentage of Emiratis living in Dubai? Somebody asked a question above about monopolies which needs to be answered.
Here in Oman they are building a gated residential complex for the international rich, including a golf course – in a desert country – and they have taken 6 km of beachfront in the country’s most important urban area, beachfront that was previously much used by the people for football, walks, swimming, barbecues. The people who live in this project will not spend their money in Omani-owned small businesses. They’ll go to French-owned Carrefour and buy international brands. Most of their money will leave the country. Apart from the shaikh that decided the beachfront belonged to him, Oman will not profit from this. In fact, it will cause huge social damage.
http://www.qunfuz.blogspot.com

February 8th, 2008, 6:08 am

 

Alex said:

AIG,

You are right. Actually even the Damascus one is not quite “Syrian”, but “Arab” ..as in “A thousand and one Arabian nights” type of Arab architecture. The curves on top of the windows in that shopping center are more Baghdad than Damascus.

But why not … they are still nice.

Qunfuz,

The question of the water source is significant, I agree.

But this project is really outside Damascus .. there is no Syrian money “wasted” here … this is direct outside investment that will generate lots of jobs for Syrian construction workers and those in Sales, hospitality management …etc.

There is also no limited beachfront lost to this project … this is along the Damascus Beirut desert road … it is an area that already is full of palaces with double tennis courts and huge marble swimming pools.

Here is an existing Ya3for house to give you an idea.

February 8th, 2008, 6:22 am

 

Alex said:

AND … please keep in mind that this Eighth Gate project is indeed an inexpensive (to develop) project … half a billion, which is honestly nothing compared to the 15 billions Prince Waleed will pay to build his mile high skyscraper in Saudi Arabia.

BUT … there are much bigger projects that are planned over the next ten years in Syria:

1) Damascus Hill:

The project will offfer residential apartmnets and villas, and feature a specilaized information technology zone, prime office space and retail outlets

Estimated cost 3.5 Billion dollars.

2)Damascus Financial District

Aref Investment group told Reuters that eight Kuwaiti firms are finalizing an agreement with Syria to launch a $2bn real estate project in Damascus. The first stage comprises the building of a $500m financial district and bourse by the end of 2007, with the full mixed-use scheme completed by 2010. (AMEInfo)

3) Syria Bonyan City

Located 40km west of Damascus, the project will include business centres, hotels, entertainment parks, residential areas, sport clubs, hospitals, skiing centers, internet and education centers and a free trade zone over an estimated 70,000-square-metre-area. Project is scheduled to be completed in 12 years. Bonyan City is a mega project that will include tourist, commercial, residential, and entertainment facilities including a ski area, specialized hospitals and many other services

The estimated cost of this one is …. 15 billion Dollars.

http://www.bi-me.com/main.php?id=3191&t=1&c=34&cg=

And this last project, AIG, is after assuming that peace between Syria and Israel is a done deal … for next year or two max.

February 8th, 2008, 6:27 am

 

MSK said:

Ya Alex,

Apart from sharing the concerns of some of the commentators – where will the water & electricity come from, which kind of Syrians will able to actually enjoy “ultra-luxurious” malls, etc. – there are a few other things to consider when looking at these mega projects.

(1) Syria’s service sector needs, above all, staff training. When the guy who welcomes all visitors @ the Four Seasons speaks very bad English, you know something’s not right … For a good tourism industry, you need to establish a school to train hotel, restaurant, touristic sites staff.

(2) Construction jobs are good, but they are not well paid & only provide jobs temporarily – at some point the projects are finished and where do the workers go then? It’s key to develop the middle class sector – and above all that means education. The new private universities are a good first step, but the state education sector needs to follow or you’ll end up with a situation like Egypt had in the 80s/90s, where the rich went to AUC and the others got a shitty education in the state schools. (That has now changed.)

(3) The “housing for the people” issue has to be addressed. Only the very rich will be able to afford 8th Gate and Cordoba Hills – where are the other 95-98% Syrians going to live? If Syria were to develop into a crass class society, like Egypt has, I highly doubt that the Syrian masses, including the middle class, will take it as passively as the Egyptians. (And even they are only controlled by massive force.)

(4) What is happening with development in rural areas? One of the genial ideas of the Old Man was to make sure that there was not too much difference in living standards between towns and villages, that doctors were sent out in the countryside, etc. and thus ensured the support of the peasantry. Has this changed?

–MSK*

February 8th, 2008, 7:39 am

 

offended said:

Okay, a few points:
– From my experience with Emaar announcements here in Dubai, the 15 minutes drive from the city center is usually measured against no traffic at all; ya3ni when all the streets are empty!.
– The project might not turn out to be what it is like on the rendered images and the artistic impressions eventually. In other words, the real estate investor or an interested owner will only get what is written in his contract with the developer. He can not protest if the shopping mall or the recreation center next door turned out to be something else.
– The Eighth Gate project is great in one aspect: it is designed according to the Meed golden standards. In a laymen terms that means it is designed with environmental considerations in mind; generous landscape, more-than-sufficient setbacks between the buildings, and the overall look of the master-plan is relaxed and not so dense.

February 8th, 2008, 8:37 am

 

offended said:

Oh yeah the question on the water; this reminds me of one of Emaar projects (called Jumairah lakes) where they sold plots on the map for residential development. The plots were all arrayed around this huge man-dug lake. Or so it appeared on the colored master plan and the rendered images. The water was purportedly going to be brought from the sea couple of miles away.
Eventually, when the plots were ready for hand-over, the owners were astonished/amazed/shocked/appalled to see that the lake is much smaller than they had expected.

So I guess what I am trying to say is that the water feature in the eighth gate might be a bit smaller in reality than it is on the papers.

Usually in such projects where permanent water body is needed, the ‘hull’ of the water body will get an extensive water proofing treatment. Making it impossible for the water to seep through the bottom or the sides. Also, there will be chemicals added to the water to make it harder to evaporate. Thus, even if the water must be transported by water tankers (which is not the case usually), it will be a one-time off thing and then they will only need to compensate for a little water lost every now and then.

Astonishingly, I find myself in agreement with MSK on the qualified staff thing. I wonder when this project is finished, and when it is time for a property management company to take over and run the whole show; will they bring staff from India and Philippines? …it will be a shame if they do…

February 8th, 2008, 9:23 am

 

Dr Adham attasi said:

Dear Joshua
i paid a good amount of money to reserve an ofice in this area but i just red ( here is the link)
http://www.transparentsyria.com/article_view.aspx?article=116
that the syrian government confiscated the land of the owner of the project Mr Mouafak kaddah is this true ? and does it mean our property also are gone with wind ?

February 8th, 2008, 9:35 am

 

offended said:

Majedkhaldoun
Bragging about it already, heh?

Basita.

But don’t do that too often, because otherwise a word will get to the Halabi merchants, then they might buy your entire eighth gate and name it something like: Mamooniah.

: )

February 8th, 2008, 9:36 am

 

Enlightened said:

AIG Said:

“I think it is very good for Israel and the middle east that Syria is going down this path. The Hariri ideology has conquered Syria. Quite fascinating.”

AIG i am most impressed with your insightfull analysis that the Harriri school of politics and economic management are being finally realised across the border, consider the irony what he failed to conquer in life , he is conquering after death,but then again using your mentality he just might be considered a jihadi?(lol)

Alex; I want to ask a pertinent question are these devlopments being regulated through any planning body within the government? If not why not? Can you find out?

Secondly annie asks a valid question, given the scarcity of water within damascus! ( I know that we have had unbelievable snow storms this year, but this is temporary) Are these developments proceeding with the necessary infrastructure or services in place ie water electricity , sanitation etc? or is this wishful thinking. Some of the replies to the post raise some very interesting questions, and in the back of my mind these developments seem to be haphazard in their approach if no major plan exists for the city?

A lot to answer but you must know someone who knows?

February 8th, 2008, 10:52 am

 

ugarit said:

Are there plans for public transportation between this development and downtown damascus?

February 8th, 2008, 2:06 pm

 

Torstein said:

This project looks like it fits perfectly in Dubai, but is very far from the Damascus I know and enjoy. Like it or not, what makes Syria stand out in the Middle East is the relative egalitarianism that has followed socialist ideas. No one gets too rich and no one (at least in theory) gets too poor and we all learn to get along and live in the same areas.

Developments like these are an indication of where Syria is headed, where the rich live increasingly segregated lives in gated communities and are never exposed to anyone but their own class. When the differences become big enough the fear of ‘the others’ – those who have nothing and therefore want our money – becomes an important social force in society. This increases the rate of segregation and the different social classes loose their shared social arenas where they previously learned how ‘the others’ live and that they are normal and good people and not a threat.

Look at the differences between the US and Europe for example. The huge wealth gap between rich and poor is also reflected in geography. The rich moved out of the central areas to suburbia to get away and the poor stayed behind. Although similar trends take place in Europe, city centres still form a social arena that people from all social backgrounds use and in most countries the rich still haven’t taken their kids out of public schools.

This is what I enjoy about Damascus, the vibrant city centre that everybody uses and enjoys regardless of background. And despite the bulky communist architecture found all over the city, the run-down and ‘popular’ state of Damascus is what gives it its charm and unique character. Going the way of Dubai will attract the wealthy and bring in money; but this fake, exclusive, and introverted world gives very little back to the city and its people. There are alternative ways to develop housing, including for the rich.

February 8th, 2008, 2:17 pm

 

T said:

Will the high end chain stores filling this mall leak business away from the souks? Low wage service sector jobs are not ideal. I agree that factories would make far more solid investments.

For those who want to build travel industry- I ask again – why not reactivate excavation of palmyra, mari etc? This would be long term thinking. The world would flock to see Syrian/regional tours of the ancient world. Alot more jobs for the average citizen and of lasting duration.

February 8th, 2008, 3:04 pm

 

Friend in America said:

Alex –
When I read this development was 15 minutes from the old city, I thought of walking. I have learned from the above comments that walking is out of the question. The question of drawing wealth from the old city, if valid, needs to be addressed.
Another concern is this project does nothing for those who are poor or even those of moderate means. Consider three ways of addressing this valid concern:
1. Require a percentage of the apartments be sold to families of low income, and their resale must be to low income buyers. Maybe 5%?Provide financing. This would be a boon to those in service jobs in the area
2. Require the developers to finance an apartment project or projects outside 8th Gate for low or moderate income families, including a new school building. Also, is there a school building in the 8th Gate project?
3. Put a tax on sales with the tax money going into a non governmental fund for development of low income housing.
The comments here that the poor and moderate income people are being neglected need to be considered seriously. They can be included. The challenge is to keep government regulation and corruption from diverting this money from its intended purpose. Regards

February 8th, 2008, 3:20 pm

 

Nour said:

Alex,

Do you know anything about the new city plan for Damascus? I heard that Syria has contracted with a Japanese company to build new roads and revamp its transportation system. Do you know of any link that elaborates on this topic?

February 8th, 2008, 3:44 pm

 

Alex said:

Nour,

I don’t. But I will ask.

MSK, TORSTEIN, Enlightened, and FIM

You made many good points, but I would answer you in generalities:

1) This is not the only development project in Syria …. it is a half billion project, compared to others announced costing over 20 billion dollars.

2) “luckily” : ) the Baath party is still there … there are people who have full time jobs reminding every minister and every administrator of the socialist values of the party. The countryside will be helped I’m sure in different ways. This is not a revolution against Hafez Assad’s balanced (City/countryside) attention. But as I mentioned above, for decades I have heard complaints from the Rich Damascenes (and the ones in Aleppo too) that the state is too socialist … that nothing fancy is being developed … that the only thing the government cares about is schools and paved roads to every village …etc. I think Bashar needed to show something to the millions who live in Damascus and visit Damascus.

I remember Tareq zeft, the editor of Asharq Alawsat wrote earlier this year that he feels sad for the poor Syrians who live in this backward country that lacks the fancy development projects and skyscrapers that one sees in Dubai, Qatar, Cairo …

So many other western reporters wrote within their 800-word opinion pieces a paragraph about Damascus and how it is full of ugly communist era gray buildings.

3) MSK … I fully agree. I assume by the time this and other similar projects are finalized (5 to 10 years) we will have graduates from Hotel management and hospitality schools. If Damascus does not have such a school then they better start thinking of building one!

Ehsani … that would be a good investment, go for it.

4) Existing Damascus is saturated. Instead of thinking of desperate measures to deal with traffic and pollution, the city needs to expand outside. This does not mean that Damascus itself will be abandoned. Real estate prices will continue to be the highest in Damascus itself. I visited Detroit and realized how depressing that city looked like after business hours …. all the rich lived in the suburbs and only the poor lived in the city. But Damascus is not Detroit … it is “the oldest continuously inhabited city on earth” … real estate in Damascus will continue to be very exclusive… And there will always be life in old Damascus.

February 8th, 2008, 4:17 pm

 

majedkhaldoun said:

where the water will come from? the answer is from LEBANON.

in my previous comment I was not serious,I said it in joking spirit,I like Halap ,and like AL_HALAPIYEHs.

to be serious, I agree that the project is far from common people,and the poor, and the prices are too high, what I saw in the pictures, they fit Las Vegas, may be there will be gambling centers, or may be Disney will be interested in it, it is ALF LAYLA AND LAYLA story.

February 8th, 2008, 4:30 pm

 

EHSANI2 said:

It is amazing to read the number of people who seem critical of this project or ones like it. Let us put things in perspective:

We are talking about the capital of a country of 20 million people. We have entered the 21st century with globalization and competition in full swing. The government does not finance this project. The developer is a world-class company. It decided to take a bet on our country and commit its resources hoping to get a decent return on its investment. We ought to thank them and welcome them with open arms. When Syrian expatriates could not stomach the risk of such an investment, this company did. Instead of encouraging them to succeed all one reads is complaints about its look, design, distance, ability to get water and electricity. Some even worry about the old souk and what this may mean to the agrarian nature of the country.

Wake up people.

This is THE ONLY proper office building in a city those houses as many people as New York does. We are in 2008 and so many of you think that it is too much?

I say it is about time that our country joins globalization and start to look and behave like the other 99% of countries in the world. Our people deserve no less. Oh I know what the response to this statement will be:

EHSANI, what about the poor? How would they afford this project?

People get jobs when the owners of capital create them. Jobs don’t fall down from the sky. Governments need to create an environment where entrepreneurs feel safe in taking risks and committing capital to earn a return. It is this dynamic that ends up creating jobs and lifting people out of poverty. Projects like this have a multiplier effect in the country. They attract more foreign investors and that virtuous circle of higher investments and stronger economic growth will take hold. In the beginning, the rich will get richer and the poor will not see much of the benefits. In time, and as growth accelerates when the governments liberalizes further the benefits will trickle to the lower income groups as well. This is how every country pulls itself out of low growth and low standards of living. Socialism has held back our people for too long. It is time we make a decisive turn in the other direction.

February 8th, 2008, 4:48 pm

 

Joshua said:

Everyone should read Qunfuz’s “Visiting Syria,” before they get too excited about buying that canal front property at Eighth Gate.

February 8th, 2008, 4:55 pm

 

kamali said:

the whole story about what is going on in syria is only related to the fact that the huge amounts that are used to be exported to Lebanon and then to europe and the US is being redirected back home because of the US sanctions and the european actions that will follow sooner or later. SO, every general in the army or high official instead of taking the money abroad will find a partner in UAE or alike and will do create a company and start a business in estates as it is the only thing that can clean their monies. can you see hope in these projects when most syrians cannot buy 1500g of cheese after 15th of each month? syria is not china and will never be because of the governors mentality and their everlasting struggle with Israel.

February 8th, 2008, 5:12 pm

 

AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

“I say it is about time that our country joins globalization and start to look and behave like the other 99% of countries in the world. Our people deserve no less.”

I totally agree. But this means of course accepting “American hegemony”. Globalization and funding terrorism do not go hand in hand.

February 8th, 2008, 5:15 pm

 

EHSANI2 said:

Does globalization and funding “freedom fighters” go hand in hand?

February 8th, 2008, 5:25 pm

 

offended said:

They sure do Ehsani; the ultimate power of globalization used to train, fund and arm the freedom fighters of the Mujahdeen in the eighties.

February 8th, 2008, 5:50 pm

 

Alex said:

AIG,

As I always tried to explain, Syria is counting on a peace treaty with Israel within a year to two years… There is, and there will continue to be, a slow transition towards less state-of-war and more economic growth focus.

Of course we might instead face some developments that might slow down or even reverse this process.

Kamali,

What you mentioned is partially true, but the 20 billions in announced (potential) projects are mostly financed by UAE, Qatari, and Kuwaiti investors who have been doing the same … investing in Cairo, Amman, Beirut …

February 8th, 2008, 6:06 pm

 

offended said:

Alex, I’d expect the figures of investment to triple in case a peace treaty got signed between Syria and Israel. I know of myriads of local and international investors here in the UAE who’ve got their eyes on Syria but waiting for the right moment.

February 8th, 2008, 6:35 pm

 

AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

The Mujahedeen fought the Russian army.
I have no problem with Hamas fighting the Israeli army. If they would, I would understand calling them “freedom fighters”. But when they target a 70 year old couple shopping in Dimona or shoot rockets at purely civillian targets they are terrorist. You do not have to accept my point of view, but it is supported by a vast majority of people. And it is them that you have to convince in order for Syria to be part of globalization.

One day you will understand Ehsani that funding and supporting Hamas is hurting Syria economically in a very serious manner and then you will change your mind.

February 8th, 2008, 7:13 pm

 

Alex said:

AIG (and Akbar)

Yes believe me we know, and this is partially why we want to get over the conflict with Israel, but … can’t do it at the expense of the Palestinians.

Akbar wanted to know what price Syria paid for suporting the Palestinians … I think you answered him.

If Hafez Assad accepted to settle few decades ago … Syria would have accumulated tens of billions in investments and grants and ….

Offended,

I agree … and that’s not counting Saudi Arabia … when there is a settlement, the United States and Saudi Arabia would also reach an understanding with Syria and between them (plus Europe) Syria can expect many other multiples of those numbers in investments and grants (for Syria’s infrastructure and human resources training …etc)

February 8th, 2008, 7:20 pm

 

AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Alex,
You mean can’t do it at the expense of the Asad regime collapsing.
The Asad regime does what is good for the Asads, not what is good for the Palestinians. Need I remind you of the deep hatered between Arafat and Hafez?

Asad is worried about the regime and that is why all the liberalization methods are half measures. He has to juggle manipulating the “resistance” motive with developing the economy. I don’t think it is possible but let’s wait and see. Hafez chose “resistance” but Asad is trying to eat his cake and have it too.

I can promise you that Israel will work hard to make it clear to Asad that his 2 goals cannot go together.

February 8th, 2008, 7:45 pm

 

Seeking the Truth said:

AIG,

Do you see a way, the Asad regime could reach a peace treaty with Israel; and if so, would it mean more or less likelihood of its survival?

February 8th, 2008, 8:39 pm

 

Qifa Nabki said:

Ehsani,

Thank you for your comment. Prescient and to the point (and right!) as always.

Alex et al,

I can’t tell you how satisfying this post has been, for me, a humble American lackey from across the border.

Suddenly, like a bolt from the blue…. OPTIMISM from the healing power of capitalism.

Money, development, Gulfi billions… it’s intoxicating, as Damascus is discovering. It’s better than getting religion. All of a sudden, there is talk of peace, solutions, and beautiful Swedish tourists. I can’t wait for Damascenes to get a real taste of it, so that they can finally sympathize with what so many Lebanese are feeling right now… when it all comes crashing down again as a result of that irascible and perennial problem, the Arab-Israeli conflict.

I can’t wait for Syrians to begin speculating on the price they are really willing to pay for supporting the divine resistance, the Arab nationalism, the umma, solidarity in the face of al-3adu al-akbar, al-kiyaan al-ghaasib, etc. … if it means giving up Starbucks, poncy organic markets, sweetheart pieces about Damascus in Vogue magazine, money from rich Kuwaitis lining the streets during the summers, etc.

On the day that Syria signs a peace treaty with Israel, don’t imagine that the political and religious movements across the region that have staked their existence on eliminating America’s presence and that of its proxies will simply disappear. A peace treaty may be only a couple of years away, but true reconcilliation is a generation or two away, at least. And during the “healing” period, I expect Syria’s good people to taste a little bit of the bitterness that the Lebanese have tasted in a systematic fashion over the past three years.

Bitterness over progress thwarted, over hopes dashed, over prospects spurned. Bitterness over being ridiculed for “ties to the West,” for getting too big for your britches, for thinking in ambitious ways how to improve your society. Once you’ve had a taste of that kind of optimism, it’ll sting more than you’d like, once it’s taken away by a party who thrives on perpetuating instability and chaos.

Bring on the revolution!

February 8th, 2008, 9:07 pm

 

Qifa Nabki said:

In the meantime, though… let’s all laugh at this ridiculous woman. I wish they’d confiscate her Lebanese passport.

Violence Won’t Stop Lebanese from Getting Married
Naharnet

Riots, assassinations and ominous warnings of impending civil war won’t deter Yasmine Tohme from spending almost half a million dollars for a fairy-tale wedding in Lebanon this summer.
The 600-strong guest list has been drawn up, the wedding venue overlooking the Mediterranean Sea is booked and the 50,000-dollar (35,000-euro) wedding dress chosen.

“There will be an international as well as a local band and a Zaffe, or Arabic folklore dance group,” Tohme, 30, told AFP. “I want it to be glamorous, to glitter.”

Tohme and her fiancé are among thousands of starry-eyed couples who are pushing ahead with plans to tie the knot this summer in a country undergoing its worst political crisis since the end of the 1975-1990 civil war.

No car bombs, failed presidential elections or a worsening economy will stop them from going to the altar and organizing a reception they hope will be the talk of the town.

Hotels and reception halls are already almost fully booked for the summer season while wedding organizers are busy trying to fulfill the fantasies of clients whose demands can range from wanting to recreate the setting of a favored opera to a wedding on the farm.

These extravagant plans are in a country where the minimum monthly wage is just 300,000 Lebanese pounds (200 dollars, 134 euros) and where protests have multiplied in recent weeks over mounting prices.

“Our customers spend on average 200,000 dollars for a wedding of about 1,000 people,” said Chayban Sakr, of Platinum Comet, an event planner. “For sure, this is a country where appearance is paramount and we are here to help our customers realize their dreams.

“Those getting married are not thinking about the bill since it’s their wedding and, after all, this is Lebanon,” he added. “Many ask for really odd themes such as a Louis XIV theme and we have to go out and find chairs and other items from that period.”

One customer, for example, recently asked his company to organize a wedding where the 400 guests could feel as though they were on a farm.

“I rented goats, sheep, pigs, hens and cows from the Bekaa valley and the reception was an open-air event,” he said. “The bride arrived on a donkey.”

Another bride asked a different event planner for a Venetian setting complete with a canal built inside the reception hall and a gondola she boarded to arrive in style. All for a mere one million dollars.

At the luxury Phoenicia Hotel in Beirut, the banquet rooms are already fully booked for July and August, with couples wishing to organize a wedding reception between Thursday and Sunday required to invite a minimum 450 guests at a starting price of 45 dollars a person, a spokesman said.

Many of the future grooms and brides work in Arab countries in the Gulf and return home for the big event before leaving again.

Karen Choueiri, spokeswoman for “Wedding Follies 2008”, an annual event that gathers more than 200 exhibitors specializing in weddings, said the fair was gaining in popularity since it started five years ago.

“It has become a challenge to hold the event with bombs going off here and there and the political and economic situation being so uncertain,” Choueiri said.

“But if there is one sector that is a sure value in Lebanon, it’s the wedding sector.”(AFP)

February 8th, 2008, 9:14 pm

 

AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Seeking,
If Syria flips (cuts ties to Hamas, Hizballah and Iran) there is a chance that most Israelis would support peace with Syria. I don’t think the regime can survive such peace especially after leading the “resistance” since Egypt signed a peace treaty. So I don’t think a peace agreement with Israel is near.

I think Bashar is in a bind. He needs economic development because he needs to create jobs for the 50% of Syrians under twenty but he can’t get economic growth without “globalization” and that means letting go of the “resistance” policy and giving in to “American hegemony”. In the end, I beleive Asad will do what is best for the regime and that means favoring “resistance” over economic growth. That will buy him a few extra years until finally the demographic barrel of dynamite on which he is sitting will explode.

February 8th, 2008, 9:53 pm

 

offended said:

That’s one great misleading assumption AIG, why do you think the economical reforms and globalization will harm the regime??

February 8th, 2008, 10:16 pm

 

AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Because in order to get real economic reform and globalization the regime will have to shed the mantle of “resistance”. In my opinion the two cannot go together. You cannot both be on the list of terror supporting countries and also hope to have economic growth (the growth required to create 10 million jobs over the next 20 years). And without the “resistance” schtick, the regime is fragile.

February 8th, 2008, 11:12 pm

 

offended said:

Beating around the bushes again heh?

And without the “resistance” schtick, the regime is fragile.

Can you explain why?

February 9th, 2008, 12:02 am

 

Alex said:

AIG,

I will tell you about MY two incompatibles:

Those who hate the Assad regime (You, some “Syrian opposition”, “Arab Moderate” journalists …etc) very often made one of these two arguments:

1) Assad does not really want peace because once he recovers his Golan his people will start asking: “Why do you want to continue to rule us? … now that we recovered our occupied lands, the next thing we need is democracy”

2) Israel should not give Assad his Golan .. if Israel did, then Assad will become a hero in Syria … one of the reasons his father got empowered enough to rule for decades was his perceived victory in the 1973 war … if Bashar is allowed to get the credit for getting the Golan back then he is empowered for the next decade at least.

The fact is, almost ALL the high ranking American officials who negotiated with Hafez Assad over the Golan had no doubt that he tried his best to negotiate the best terms for Syria and that he genuinely worked hard for his country’s best interest (as he could see them) … and that he wanted to sign that peace treaty.

Few weeks before he died, Clinton’s call to Geneva got him to fly there immediately …. to finalize the agreement, not to reject it. But Barak called and told Clinton that he is not sure anymore if he can respect his offer to Assad.

So … this on and off conflicting argument that “Assad does not want the Golan because it is his automatic end / Assad wants it so bad in order to become a hero in Syria” … does not work.

If you are claiming that he wants the Golan, but he wants to continue fighting Israel through supporting Hamas and Hizbollah and continuing to ask Iran for help to help him fine tune his long range missiles … then you are wrong as well.

Syria has an offer to Israel that is quite reasonable … If Israel turns into a good member of the Mideast club (accepting UN resolutions 242 and 338, or accepting the Arab peace plan) … Syria will not support anyone working against Israel.

If Israel continues to kill and punish Palestinians without serious steps to reach a settlement with the help of Damascus, Riyadh, Cairo, and Washington … then Bashar, or ANY president of Syria will have no choice but to continue supporting (politically and diplomatically) the Palestinian people … not “Hamas”.

So most likely there will be no Hizbolah problem anymore (they will turn to politics only) and Mashal will voluntarily leave Damascus to Qatar or elsewhere … and Syria won’t work with Iran on military projects … but settling with Syria will not be at the expense of the Palestinian people … and this brings me to Qifa Nabki’s excellent comment:

QN … what you are saying is true to some extent … many people will be busy with their new small business, or busy following the current value of their stock portfolio … but, look at the rich Syrians on this forum … while Ehsani loves these new residential projects (for the rich) … most others still felt uncomfortable that Syria would dare have even ONE residential project for the ultra-rich … the majority of Syrians are strongly socialist and nationalistic … they won’t change much after they become rich .. look at Norman for example … he is worth over $100 millions yet he is very passionate about the Palestinian cause and he is accused by many here of being a Baathist …

I’m joking Norman .. but you are quite rich, I know : )

You know the difference between Syrian and Lebanese QN?

Many Syrians feel that the Lebanese and Palestinians are just like any other Syrians … they might say they don’t believe in Greater Syria, but … to some extent it is still subconsciously in their mind or heart.

But .. younger Syrians were exposed to a different basket of influences and ideologies … I am more inclined to believe your prediction in the case of young Syrians.

February 9th, 2008, 12:05 am

 

Qifa Nabki said:

Alex,

I would add another group to those who will be less than enamoured of resistance, qawmiyya, etc.: the Syrians of the diaspora who decide to repatriate.

Lebanon held a major conference for the mughtaribiin back in 2000, to attract Lebanese back to the country. They toured people around who hadn’t been back to their country for many years, introduced them to Lahoud, showed them the beautifully restored central district, etc. And, it seems, it was quite a successful publicity job. Many people returned, seeking to parlay their professional experiences in the West into a significant edge in the Lebanese economy, and many were very successful. We saw new franchises opening every month (Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, Mcdonalds, Burker King, KFC, etc.), Lebanese versions of western corporate concepts (Doculand = Kinko’s, etc.), small businesses of all kinds.

Syria will attract some percentage of its diaspora, if/when it opens up its economy. And these people, like their Lebanese compatriots (for the most part), will not look kindly upon the “old” ways.

My two cents.

February 9th, 2008, 1:19 am

 

norman said:

Alex,
I just noticed how much i am worth ,I wish !, about being passionate about a fair settlement for the Palestinians , you are right ,
One time you asked about greater Syria and the relation between the Syrians and other Arabs in Algeria and Eritrea and other places , I remember during the sixties when Syrians donated their jewelry for the Algerian revolution for independence ,
Recently i met an Eritrean DR who was so happy to see me praising Syria for all the help she provided for their independence , he even added that he was impressed with the way that Bashar Assad managed to deny the west the chance to destroy Syria by leaving Lebanon in 2005 ,

Alex , i look at greater Syria as i look at New England in the US the states in that region are close in many ways , the people are the same and certainly different than the people in louisiana , they probably know more about Darfur than about luisiana but they are still part of one nation , the American nation so do the people of greater Syria , they are part of the Arab nation.

February 9th, 2008, 2:48 am

 

AusLeb84 said:

This looks fantastic, it will create much needed jobs and productivity for the Syrian Economy.

Whilst industrial and educational investment is more important, Syria does need to start somewhere. I remember reading a piece (on SyriaComment I think) about the private Universities opening up in Syria, so there is investment in other areas of importance.

February 9th, 2008, 3:05 am

 

AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

My point is simple. For example, Syria needs more electricity generation plants to develop. There is no argument about that. It is not building more plants because it cannot get European and American companies to bid on such plants. The Syrian minister on energy said so himself. The reason European and American companies won’t bid is the “resistance” issue.

China and India have grown by exporting heavily to the West. Syria cannot have significant growth without good relations with the West. It will not have such relations until it abandons the “resistance” stance.

Asad is smart enough to know that he cannot abandon the “resistance” motif without endangering his regime. That is because in every transition to a capitalistic economy huge differences emerge between the rich and the poor and there are strong social tensions. He needs the “resistance” motif as an excuse for why the poor are suffering now and for why they suffered in the past. I don’t think he can juggle these two contradictory agendas.

The Chinese and Indian models are based on good relations with the West but to in order to get this Asad will have to give up on Syria’s trademark foreign policy of destabilzation. Asad will never do that.

February 9th, 2008, 5:22 am

 

AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Alex,
Asad is specifically supporting Hamas and not Fatah. It is just not true that he is supporting the Palestinian people.

In the same way that Asad does not support the Lebanese but some parties in Lebanon.

This is part and parcel of Asad’s destabilization startegy.

If Israel would give arms and money to the Muslim Brotherhood or the Kurds, you would not say that Israel is helping Syria. About 50% of the Palestinians and most of the Lebanese do not think that Asad is helping them.

February 9th, 2008, 5:27 am

 

Alex said:

The Jordanian and Egyptian rulers are still governing years and years after they abandoned “the struggle”.

“Assad is smart enough to know” that when he gets the Golan and shift to a new approach in helping the Palestinians while addressing the military ties with Iran and Hizbollah’s role in Lebanon concerns of Washington, he will be:

1) a hero in Syria
2) able to get much more western support for his very effective intervention in the different conflicts in the Middle East.

And while you are right about attitudes in Lebanon (many unhappy with Syria’s allies in that country) in Palestine most of Fatah supporters admire Syria’s ability to stick to its own course without being bullied by the Americans … When Arafat was alive they believed in him and they were upset that syria is trying to weaken him … but now they don’t believe in anyone from Fatah even if they prefer Ftah to Hamas for practical reasons … but Syria fares better than all the other Arab countries… and they are not upset that Syria is weakening Abbas … they know that Abbas is very weak anyway.

February 9th, 2008, 5:35 am

 

MNA said:

QN SAID:
I can’t wait for Damascenes to get a real taste of it, so that they can finally sympathize with what so many Lebanese are feeling right now… when it all comes crashing down again as a result of that irascible and perennial problem, the Arab-Israeli conflict.
I can’t wait for Syrians to begin speculating on the price they are really willing to pay for supporting the divine resistance, the Arab nationalism, the umma, solidarity in the face of al-3adu al-akbar, al-kiyaan al-ghaasib, etc. … if it means giving up Starbucks, poncy organic markets, sweetheart pieces about Damascus in Vogue magazine, money from rich Kuwaitis lining the streets during the summers, etc. I expect Syria’s good people to taste a little bit of the bitterness that the Lebanese have tasted in a systematic fashion over the past three years.

Syrians have been witnessing economical developments all aoround them in Lebanon, Jordan, Cairo, Dubai etc…and feeling that they are being bypased by it. syrian people and I emphsize people sacrified more than 10,000 soldiers in lebanon, hosted over 1.5 million Iraqis, despite the hardship it is causing the regular syrian, hosted tousands of Lebanese during the civil war and about 300,000 lebanese during the war of 2006. During the 80’s basic hosehold foods and supplies such as toilet papers, bread, fruits etc were scarce. Now days you can’t even get and legally register an anti-virus software b/c of american santions, and the list goes on and on. Syrians have accepted all of that for what you sarcastically mentioned above “the divine resistance, the Arab nationalism, the umma, solidarity in the face of al-3adu al-akbar, al-kiyaan al-ghaasib, etc. …

February 9th, 2008, 5:37 am

 

offended said:

MNA, we are feeling for the Lebanese already. We don’t have to ‘get taste of it’ to know how it feels. You’ve got a problem with the Syrian regime, then direct your comment at it not at the people. This is just despicable..

February 9th, 2008, 12:17 pm

 

Qifa Nabki said:

Offended,

The comments you are citing as despicable are mine and not MNA’s.

Go back and read the original post, and you’ll understand my point, which is that the Lebanese have been routinely criticized, largely by Syrians (and the participants on this blog are no exception) of being insufficiently attached to “the region and its problems.” I remember many accusations on these pages in the past, where Syrians repeatedly made the point that the Lebanese have to stop thinking that they can extricate themselves from their environment, for wanting to be “a part of Europe and the West”… simply because many Lebanese have tried to pursue a path of progress, economic development, and questioned the propoganda of resistance, the ideology of Arab nationalism, etc.

Now I see similar sentiments being expressed on this thread, and I’m merely reminding everyone of the treatment of these issues (in the Lebanese context) in the past.

February 9th, 2008, 2:52 pm

 

idaf said:

Qifa Nabki,

There is a big difference in the way Lebanese and Syria psyche works today, and it is not because of the Baath, socialism or Arabism. This reason behind this difference between Syrians and many Lebanese is largely because of the concept behind Lebanon’s creation in the first place. Lebanon was created based on a separatist and exclusionist ideas (as well as racist and chauvinistic ideas in the case of many) put forward by its founders (the French and few Lebanese politicians as well the Maronite patriarchy back in first half of last century).

The culture that had been nurtured in Lebanon has been largely isolationist (with some exceptions like the SSNP and more recently HA). This unrealistic isolationist culture which entailed political, economic and racial ideas (for example the economic one that you are stating in your comment) created many actuality gaps between what the politicians and the sectarian Zu’ama in Lebanon kept promising their constituencies and the realities on the ground (where Lebanon’s internal economy and political atmosphere is very much related to what’s taking place in the region.. mainly Syria for geopolitical reasons). This isolationist culture was entrenched in the history of many minorities in Lebanon that decided (or were forced) throughout the past centuries to isolate themselves in mountains and hard-to-reach places. The same patrons of such isolationist culture governed Lebanon since its creation up to the civil war. This is still prevalent in the speeches of many Lebanese Zu’ama today and in the myth that prevails among the Lebanese public today that claims that “if only we were to be left alone, our life and economy would flourish”.

It’s important to note that this isolationist culture was not the norm among most Lebanese when the country was created, but was enforced because of the sectarian grievances throughout the decades. For the record, most of the ancestors of those living in Lebanon today were part of this history which was mainly part of the Al-Cham outgoing history (rather than isolationist), but were subjected to the separatist, exclusionist and isolationist brainwashing by the Z’uama for decades since the creation of the country and up to the civil war.

On the other hand, the overwhelming majority of Syrians did not have to adopt such an isolationist culture throughout their history (except the Ismailis and maybe the Alawites to a lesser extent which adopted the mainstream more internationalist culture in modern day Syria). On the contrary, Syria’s history (which is very similar to Egypt’s history on this respect) was very “internationalist” and all about influencing the world beyond (from Rome, to Spain to China), reaching out with trade and diplomacy, conquering other civilizations, and most importantly exporting knowledge, science and ideas. This proud history is what every Syrian child is taught in school from early childhood and seeded in Syrian children by their parents even outside Syria. It is part of the psyche of every Syrian today.

So my conclusion is the following: Even if Syria was to flourish economically as far as Dubai today, Syrians (rich and poor, well-educated and the les-educated) cannot not adopt the isolationist ideas you are trying to argue for, even if it means less financial returns. It would take decades of systematic isolationist brainwashing from the top (a la Sadat/Mubarak in Egypt and the Zu’ama in Lebanon) to eliminate or even alter such internationalist culture or at least the more realistic regional one that fits the Syria of the last 60+ years rather than Al-Cham of the 7000 years before that. This historical reasoning can also explain your average Syrian’s unequivocal support for Palestinian, Iraqis, Lebanese causes even if in many cases it means tolerating damages to the economy. It’s not the Baath, Arabism or socialism, it is the history stupid.. no offense intended 😉

February 9th, 2008, 6:55 pm

 

Alex said:

Idaf I think Qifa Nabki’s point is valid … especially with younger Syrians … There are few constants that no one can ignore, in Syria, Lebanon or anywhere else. For example, there will always be people who can be lured away from their ideological beliefs through material attractions … there WILL be less Syrians who are preoccupied with “the struggle” when they are completely occupied with their economy.

But IDAF is also right … while everyone concentrated on the corruption of many of the Syrian army officers in Lebanon, the main story is that Syria lost 13,000 soldiers in Lebanon … the Syrian people supported that … remember that in he mid to late seventies Syria’s economy was booming … post 1973 war. At that time, I remember as a Child how hundreds of thousand of Lebanese refugees from the civil war flooded Damascus … Syrians were very willing to host them.

Today .. while many Syrians are getting rich or getting more rich, Syria is hosting 1.5 to 2 million Iraqi refugees … our electricity supply failed last summer partly because of this 10% increase in demand (and another increase in demand due to excessive heat)

Yet, most Syrians (including some of those who are busy getting very rich) want to do more of the same… host Lebanese refugees from Israel’s invasion, continue to host the Palestinian refugees, stand up to the neocons and to Jumblatt …etc.

Trust me … Syrians feel responsible for ex-greater Syria even if they don’t admit it or even realize it.

This is the difference between Syria on the one hand, and Lebanon + Jordan + Saudi Arabia + Kuwait … etc. It is not only Lebanon.

The only other country where there is a bit of similarity (to a lesser extent) is Egypt … Many Egyptians still feel they are what Nasser made them to be … leaders of the Arab world.

February 9th, 2008, 8:02 pm

 

ausamaa said:

It is EMAR’s money, but Syria is dammned if it does and dammned if it does not. Let us go picket the constructin site!

February 9th, 2008, 8:56 pm

 

Qifa Nabki said:

Idaf,

I have to say that I find your isolationist-internationalist dichotomy baffling, not least because of the historical backdrop with which you associate it. That some Lebanese see themselves as possessing a distinct culture (what you call “isolationist”) is nothing that can be blamed on some Machiavellian impulse of their zu’ama. It is, as you suggested, the product of centuries of conflict with and alienation from the various powers in the area (from the Abbasids to the Hamdanids to the Crusaders to the Ayyubids to the Mamluks to the Ottomans… and THEN the French). As I’ve said before, there are Lebanese who think of themselves as Phoenicians (i.e. not even Arabs), there are those who think of themselves as Shi`a first and foremost, or as Armenians first and foremost, or as Greater Syrians, etc. We have all types.

The Lebanese person who is angry about seeing his country being used as a tool to help prop up a dictatorship (however benign, liberalizing, etc.) is not “brainwashed” by an isolationist culture. The Lebanese person who is fed up with a militia that acts like a state within his state, that provokes wars and answers to no one (besides foreign dictators) is not an irrational, racist, exclusivist, isolationist, person as you seem to be suggesting. After all, this same Lebanese person was almost certainly a very strong supporter of that same militia when it was legitimately struggling for Lebanese interests.

On the contrary, Syria’s history (which is very similar to Egypt’s history on this respect) was very “internationalist” and all about influencing the world beyond (from Rome, to Spain to China), reaching out with trade and diplomacy, conquering other civilizations, and most importantly exporting knowledge, science and ideas. This proud history is what every Syrian child is taught in school from early childhood and seeded in Syrian children by their parents even outside Syria. It is part of the psyche of every Syrian today.

Highly amusing to me is that you can actually slip a paragraph like this one in just after preaching to me about the ways the Lebanese have been brainwashed! As you should know (and as you point out to me), just because somebody tell you something from birth, doesn’t mean it’s accurate. If Lebanon was a “creation” of the colonial powers, then Syria was no less one. Just because we have a word that is historically attested for centuries (like “Sham” or “Lubnan”), does not mean that modern citizens are the inheritors of that historical genotype. If that were true, then I’d have to conclude that the Lebanese were even more “internationalist” because they are modern-day Phoenicians, the ancient world’s first internationalists. This is just silly. If one group of people can be brainwashed into becoming isolationists, then another group of people can surely be brainwashed into becoming socialists, Baathists, etc. You don’t get to pretend like Bashar al-Assad is the modern day incarnation of some universal Syrian monarch type, stretching from Philippus Arabs to Mu`awiya to Sayf al-Dawla to Najm al-Din al-Ayyubi, etc. and still be taken seriously.

My original argument had almost nothing to do with your response, which seems to be motivated only by the classic insecurities and anxieties about Lebanon’s “isolationism”. I was simply making the uncontroversial point that people who have gotten a taste of progress and stability will cease to be as willing to accept a militarized status quo. That’s it.

February 10th, 2008, 1:19 am

 

MNA said:

QN said:

Offended,
The comments you are citing as despicable are mine and not MNA’s.”

QN thank you for taking the credit 😉

February 10th, 2008, 5:41 am

 

MNA said:

QN said:
“The Lebanese person who is angry about seeing his country being used as a tool to help prop up a dictatorship (however benign, liberalizing, etc.) is not “brainwashed” by an isolationist culture. The Lebanese person who is fed up with a militia that acts like a state within his state, that provokes wars and answers to no one (besides foreign dictators) is not an irrational, racist, exclusivist, isolationist, person as you seem to be suggesting. After all, this same Lebanese person was almost certainly a very strong supporter of that same militia when it was legitimately struggling for Lebanese interests.”

Do you really believe that Bush, Sarkouzi, Olmert, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia are all dictators??

February 10th, 2008, 5:44 am

 

Qifa Nabki said:

No, just King Abdullah.

The rest have shelf lives, and they don’t depend on Lebanon for survival.

February 10th, 2008, 11:50 am

 

idaf said:

قفا نبك (Qifa Nabki),

My comment was not intended to imply that Syria is better or Lebanon is worse! I was not ranking. So for example, yes I agree that today’s Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, Israel, etc (with their borders that did not originally reflect natural, cultural or social differences among the citizens) were “creations of the colonial powers”. They were.

The paragraph that I “slipped” on Syria, is not just about today’s Syria. It was about the residents of this region. The “creation” called Syria (thanks to those same colonial powers) happened to keep the name that associated it with the history of this region (hence the state still influences its citizens with such history). While state/media/etc. of other “creations”, such as Lebanon and Jordan, tried hard during the past 6 decades to disassociate their people from such regional history and shape and teach them an exclusivist history for their own (one clear example, “Phoenicia equals Lebanon”, while to be more factual, it was merely one of the civilizations that existed in ancient Syria, not just within the boarders of today’s Lebanon). I did not imply that this is “genetic” or that today’s Syrians or Lebanese citizens “are the inheritors of that historical genotype”, but rather I said that the cultural and political context (call it brainwashing) that the people of these “creations” in the region were subjected to during the last 60 years, was the reason for such internationalist vs. isolationist culture. This was influenced culturally and politically (brainwashing), not genetically, similar to the way today’s Israelis -contrary to what AIG insists on- were culturally and politically influenced (or brainwashed) to believe that they are the same people with the same history that have the same history in Israel (which is factually incorrect).

QN, I did not “pretend like Bashar al-Assad is the modern day incarnation of some universal Syrian monarch type stretching from Philippus Arabs to Mu`awiya to Sayf al-Dawla to Najm al-Din al-Ayyubi”!!! 🙂 🙂 🙂 .. However, if it was any other person in Bashar’s shoes today, a Christian or a Sunni, a dictator or an elected democrat, a king or Khalifa, this person governing this creation called “Syria” would also be associated with such history and will be guided by its “internationalist” cultural and political associations. (btw, I think you mean “Salah al-Din al-Ayyubi”, “Najm al-Din al-Ayyubi” was in Egypt)

Now back to your argument (which I tried to originally address in my comment but with a bit of controversial theorizing and generalizing!):
I argue that unless people in Syria were to be influenced culturally and politically (brainwashed) with a systematic isolationist culture (similar to Egyptians under Sadat), they would continue to be willing to pay the economic price “for supporting the divine resistance, the Arab nationalism, the umma, solidarity in the face of al-3adu al-akbar, al-kiyaan al-ghaasib, etc.” to quote you, even “if it means giving up Starbucks, poncy organic markets, sweetheart pieces about Damascus in Vogue magazine, money from rich Kuwaitis lining the streets during the summers”. After all, the extremely successful capitalist Syrians of the 40s and 50s did so as forcefully as the “socialist” Syrians of today who are still doing this, mainly because of the cultural and political influence of history.

February 10th, 2008, 4:58 pm

 

Qifa Nabki said:

Idaf,

I understand your argument now, and it is a fair one. We’ll have to wait and see. The difference between today and the 40’s and 50’s is that we are living in a globalized culture. So, capitalism’s ability to influence people’s mentalities and orient them towards promoting political stability rather than upheaval (aka “brainwashing” them) is much more powerful than at any other point in its history. When Syria is more like Lebanon, in that regard, I think the Syrians will be more like the Lebanese.

Or not. Who knows.

But now you’ve got me sounding like a neo-Phoenician capitalist, so can we please change the subject, so I can redeem my street cred on SC?

February 10th, 2008, 5:16 pm

 

MNA said:

Qifa Nabki said:

“No, just King Abdullah.

The rest have shelf lives, and they don’t depend on Lebanon for survival.”

How do the other or does the other one depend on lebanon for survival??

February 10th, 2008, 6:42 pm

 

Qifa Nabki said:

MNA,

As plenty of people have acknowledged on SC, Syria cannot afford to lose control of Lebanon. At least, not at this stage, with Bush still in the White House. With a weakened Hizbullah, a strong anti-Syrian government would spell big trouble for the Assad regime.

This is what I meant.

By contrast, the US and France are not directly threatened by the events in Lebanon.

February 10th, 2008, 7:07 pm

 

MNA said:

Qifa Nabki said:

“MNA,

As plenty of people have acknowledged on SC, Syria cannot afford to lose control of Lebanon. At least, not at this stage, with Bush still in the White House. With a weakened Hizbullah, a strong anti-Syrian government would spell big trouble for the Assad regime.

This is what I meant.

By contrast, the US and France are not directly threatened by the events in Lebanon. ”

Yes I agree, but this far from survival. Syria needs Lebanon to strenghten its regional stature and apply pressure on Israel regarding the Golan, the same way that Saudia Arabia needs influence in Lebanon b/c it is the last place the it would have any influence in the region and a way to limit Iran’s influence.France is trying to become marginal again in the ME thru lebanon. The US needs Lebanon b/c it is the only place that it can pressure Syria and Iran. I’m not even going to talk about why Israel needs Lebanon!!

February 10th, 2008, 7:42 pm

 

AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Israel does not need Lebanon. All it needs is a quiet border with Lebanon and this was provided by the 2006 war. From this regard it was very successful.

The Lebanese are not willing to absorb more wars on their soil and they know who to blame. That was another advantage of the 2006 war. The Lebanese realized what the real cost of Hizballah is.

February 10th, 2008, 8:40 pm

 

Jay said:

Perhaps Bashar should first consider finishing the myriad buildings in central damascus which were abandoned while 30-70% completed before creating a soulless dubai inspired megaplex. Damascus today is largely lacking in both beauty and modernity, its character is all it has left!!

February 13th, 2008, 9:07 am

 

Ajdab said:

This kind of project smels fishy, and a sign of pure corruption! why?:
1- Syria has enough rescources to build it, and dosen’t need Emaar.
2- This partner of Emaar, IGO, the offshore investment and property development company is a new company without hostoric record to prof its legitimacy. Especialy that most corrupted companies on earth are located on offshore.
3- Who owns IGO ?
4- How about building a new hospital instead of Al-Mowasah Hospital.

February 15th, 2008, 6:48 pm

 

Global Voices بالعربية » سوريا: وجه سوريا المتغير said:

[…] واحد من العديد من الأمثلة حول أين يذهب هذا المال هي الطفرة العمرانية في سوريا. ولكن ان كنت تعتقد انها من أجل بناء بنية تحتية أو مساكن رخيصة, فأنت مخطئ. هذه الطفرة موجهة لبناء المجمعات التجارية, المجمعات السكنية الفاخرة في ضواحي المدن, مثل تلال قرطبة في حلب, والمشروع الشهير, البوابة الثامنة في دمشق. أليكس يعرفنا على هذا المشروع على مدونة جوشوا لانديس: مجموعة اعمار للاستثمارات الخارجية, أعلنت عن تفاصيل مشروع مشترك لتطوير منطقة محتلطة من الشقق المفروشة, والتجارية في منطقة يعفور, التي تبعد حوالي 15 دقيقة عن مركز دمشق. المشروع بقيمة 500 مليون دولار, وسيكون فيه الشكل والفخامة التي تميز مشاريع شركة إعمار العالمية في دبي. […]

March 5th, 2008, 12:00 pm

 

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