The main projects aimed at rebuilding residential areas of war-torn Syria over the past year – including in the Damascus, Homs and Aleppo metropolitan areas – have already seen some of these dynamics linked to politicisation of reconstructions.
A first readily observable trend linked to reconstruction is how rebuilding is proving an effective system for the government to reward and strengthen local allies, consolidating power even as it devolves the authority for rebuilding locally.
Co-operation limited to state partners
This is achieved in two main ways: first, by directly awarding reconstruction tenders to local authorities, government-backed NGOs, private actors and ad-hoc public-private local partnerships, all according to a logic that rewards political loyalty to the regime.
Second, by continuing to demand all international actors work only with government-approved local partners, the central government has found a way to effectively reconcile international donors′ call for “localisation” while preserving de facto power and control.
The government has also been pushing to redevelop informal settlements, including Basateen al-Razi in the Damascus area, where a multi-million urban redevelopment project aims to build a large residential area intended to house over 60,000 residents and replace the previous settlement.
Permanent displacement and dispossession?
But the modern character of the project – including high-rise buildings – is not without potential problems; indeed its implementation inevitably includes the demolition and dramatic reconfiguration of the previous urban landscape. The redevelopment can in turn have a dire impact on its previous residents, especially as many of them have been displaced by the conflict. Clearing these areas for redevelopment raises fears in the displaced population that their displacement and dispossession could be made permanent, by both physically destroying their homes and de facto reallocating their property rights.
Basenteen al-Razi is not exceptional. It is one of many informal settlements – which simultaneously constitute some of the poorest and more severely war-damaged areas in cities like Homs, Damascus or Aleppo, among others – intended to be rebuilt and redeveloped.