Law No. 10: Hell, in real estate terms

Law No. 10: Hell, in real estate terms
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Nidal Yousef

May 15, 2018


- The properties of the opposition, the lost and the displaced in the Syrian regime’s hands

- Opponents: this removes the rights of citizens

- Loyalists: this is part of reconstruction efforts

- Eastern Ghouta and the refugee camp are expected to be the first areas affected.


Syrians are once again divided in explaining law No. 10, passed on April 2nd of this year, which allows for the redevelopment and reconstruction of new organized areas in Syria’s governorates. Opponents of the law told Suwar that this is an insidious attempt by the regime to confiscate the properties and real estate of the opposition, the displaced, missing and prisoners; warning that the regime’s policies are sinister. Loyalists, on the other hand, are calling the law a step to fix the informal neighborhoods –one of the original reasons that led to the protests – and to rebuild what the war destroyed in a modern and well-planned manner.  


As this new law stirs fears and strengthens the convictions of opponents, it is thought of as a vital development in the reconstruction stage to loyalists. The two sides have entered a war of words in defense of their positions. As Syrians lived on opposite sides in 2011, Law No. 10 deepens the divide and rings alarm bells. Will this new law become a new hell for Syrians?


Doubts despite agreements


President Bashar al-Assad signed Law No. 10 of 2018 into law after it was passed by the People's Council of Syria (the Syrian Parliament) on March 19. After Al-Assad’s signing of the law it has come into effect. The law allows for the redevelopment of one or more organized and planned zones within the master plans of the governorates as defined by the Legislative Decree No. 107 of 2011. These zones must be based on public and detailed studies and plans, that include approved feasibility studies by the Local Administration and Environment Minister.



The new law modifies Article 29 of Legislative Decree 66 of 2012 which legalized the redevelopment of two existing areas of Damascus. The first area included the neighborhood of Basatin al-Razi and parts of Kafr Soussa to build upon them the Marota City project, and the second extends to southern Damascus and reaches the small villages of Al-Kadam and Al-Assali up to Highway 30, where the city project of Pasellia will be built.


While both opponents and proponents of Law No. 10 agree that it was drafted in a civilized manner, opponents registered reservations about the law. They called into question whether the law could be applied transparently and they warned about the potential wrongdoing that can happen when it is applied, the result of which would be denying citizens of their property rights. At the same time, the regime’s Minister of Local Administration and Environment, Hussein Makhlouf, claims that this law will create financial gains for the residents of the areas covered by the law in every governorate, while also putting an end to any abuses. Other members of the People’s Council described the law as a modern, civilized bill.


Inappropriate at this stage


The lawyer Sami Kayali perceives the new law as a new chapter in the regime’s removal of the rights of Syrian citizens who protested against, opposed and rejected the regime. He explained to Suwar that at first the text of the law seems to be in the best interest of local residents – as claimed by some – and it avoids using the usual sloppy language that allows local committees to reinterpret the law to serve their interests. However, after examining the text, Mr. Kayali says that the law is inappropriate at this critical stage in Syria and that there is no way for the law to be enforced in a fair and transparent manner that guarantees the rights of the public. He described the main weakness of the text is in proving ownership of properties, asking “can someone who is wanted or missing prove ownership of their properties?” Mr. Kayali asserts that the only way to prove ownership is through the regime and its institutions, asking rhetorically who is able to meet the requirements, including the security ones, to prove ownership? He added, “This is a fantasy, the committees and institutions enforcing the law can’t be trusted.”


Mr. Kayali is also critical of the timeline to prove ownership, which is only one month from the announcement that an area will be redeveloped. He perceives this development as a serious attempt to deny those who opposed and rejected the regime of their rights. This law gives people two sides: either submit and accept to the regime’s will or your rights will be removed.



Mr. Kayali explained that Law No. 10 is completely partisan and its fair enforcement requires employees, institutions and government agencies that have no preconceived notions of others and do not judge them for their political opinions. He concluded that past experiences have taught us that the forgery of documents can be done easily, as there are agencies that sponsor and encourage such actions, including the security apparatus that controls the fate of all citizens and has control over the judiciary and other government agencies. Kayali believes that there are many court cases and law suits in deliberation that revolve around the forgery of property documents in areas controlled by the regime.


Intended consequences


The strong opposition to law No. 10 is based on the lack of trust in the regime and its institutions, the questioning of its intentions and ambitions and suspicions that the regime is attempting a significant redistribution of Syrian demographics, as happened in Hama in the 1980s when the regime redistributed the area’s population on sectarian grounds.


Human rights activist Salman al-Agha says that the opposition issued warnings at the onset of the revolution advising the public to preserve, maintain and make copies of their property ownership documents. Mr. Al-Agha says that the time to use these documents has come, as the regime has made its intentions clear in terms of the law – a law that will create serious problems. He added that the details discussing how the law is to be enforced are complicated and infuriating, especially when taking into account the bureaucracy and corruption in the government. What is more problematic, according to al-Agha, is the security apparatus’s control of every aspect of the state, meaning that proving ownership will require approval by security agencies, which will be impossible for many who oppose the regime.


Mr. Al-Agha warns that this law will affect millions of Syrians who are currently displaced and seeking refuge outside the country, whose circumstances do not allow them to return to Syria to prove ownership. He added, “The text of the law allows for relatives of up to the fourth degree to prove ownership. However, this is insufficient, especially considering that Syrian society collectively opposed the regime, and the regime’s refusal to engage with anyone who opposed it.”



The regime’s gains


Mr. Kayali believes that the judicial guarantees required to enforce the law as stipulated in its text, including litigation and proof of ownership procedures, are non-existent. Thus, this law completely disregards the rights of citizens and their properties, instead of legislating to guarantee rights. He explained that the timing of the passing of the law and its inclusion of all Syrian governorates (including those controlled by opposition forces) raises questions and fears about the fate of the properties of Syrians who opposed the regime, or those who refused to serve in the army after being drafted into it. If these people own properties included in a redevelopment project, to be eligible to prove ownership, they would need to turn themselves in to the regime.


Mr. al-Agha is of the opinion that for this law to be successful, it would first require reaching a stage of stability, security, compassion, participation and consensus among all Syrians and turning the page on the conflict. Meaning an end to the war, a political transition and a process of bridging social gaps, in addition to creating a political climate that will empower citizens and eliminate corruption and security interference. He points out that the failure of the national reconciliation project, due to the use of force, will prevent a positive implementation of Law No. 10, which was drawn from previous experiences and created to ensure the interests of the regime, while claiming to be in the interest of the Syrian citizen. Mr. al-Agha described how the regime, in the absence of an opposition, would profit from the new law when developing a new area, asserting that the regime would distribute the financial gains to its supporters and loyalists and that this would allow the regime to create economic development while rearranging the demographics of the Syrian population by forcing refugees and migrants to either return under the regime’s conditions or abandon their properties altogether.


The law uses post-war vocabulary according to al-Agha. The massive destruction resulting from the war has reduced whole cities to rubble, which would require the legislation of specific laws for reconstruction, proclaims the regime whose supporters claim to have won the war against the opposition. He adds that for “…these problematic laws to be enforced, it would require a suitable environment and climate. But all indications are telling us that Law No. 10 is hiding an unpleasant surprise for millions of refugees and displaced people. We are expecting the regime to start the redevelopment process in every governorate that was destroyed, with the intention of restructuring the social fabric of these communities.”


Suwar was able to obtain from government sources information that demonstrates that Eastern Ghouta and the refugee camp area south of Damascus will be the first areas to be redeveloped under Law No. 10. Preliminary studies have been completed and the regime is preparing to carry out the process. 


Reconstructing what was ruined by the war


“We will not wait any longer," responded the lawyer Noureddine El Hadi in response to a Suwar’s question about timing, adding that, “The debate about the timing of the law is an attempt to cast unwarranted doubts on it and to justify the delaying of its implementation. “They’ve created preconditions to gain time and to suspend the reconstruction phase”. Al-Hadi explained that the law’s opponents have not presented convincing proposals to postpone its implementation or to demonstrate the regime’s inability to address the difficult organizational reality within the governorates, instead they have hidden behind their opinions on the regime. Al-Hadi is able to describe the text of the law clearly, saying, “Law No. 10 guarantees the rights of all citizens, provides them with the opportunity to get out of the informal slums that lack services and rebuild what the war destroyed.” He added, “The law offers an incentive to return for those who wish to return to their homeland, moves national reconciliation and the concessions that have had positive effects forward while avoiding another bloodbath and puts us back on the correct path.”


Al-Hadi claims that the regime does not need to enact new laws to affirm its control over territory, it has a force that allows it to do that – the Syrian army which has recaptured several districts in Syria.  He added, “The regime – which is the only legitimate representative of the Syrian people – wants the law to build a coherent and solid foundation that satisfies national aspirations. Claims that the law is an attempt at demographic redistribution is inappropriate, considering that everyone has the opportunity to return to their city, neighborhood and home.”


El-Hadi dismisses the assertions of opponents that the regime is using the law to take over people’s properties, explaining, “If the regime wanted to do so, it would have found other ways, such as confiscating properties in secret without making any announcements or media attention, or by transferring properties through real estate companies.” He added, “The truth is that Syrian institutions want to play their role and return life in Syria to its natural course.” El-Hadi concludes that the law “…provides for multiple ways to guarantee citizens their full rights, without limiting them or through extortion. Citizens have many options to prove their ownership.”


A new bridge


The Syrian constitution guarantees property rights including private property. However, the process of proving ownership is a new bridge to cross for Syrians whose property has been destroyed without any remains to prove its existence other than the memories of its owners. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights also guarantees property rights, as stated in Article 17:


1. Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others.  

2. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property. 


These articles are insufficient because there are no enforcement measures that guarantee the rights stated. Like other international laws and conventions, it does not take into account that ruling regimes can completely disregard them when they do not have an interest in following them.


Legislative jurisprudence concurs that one of the most important elements that can empower laws is timeliness, which can indicate the reasons and the purpose behind a specific piece of legislation. It is clear that redevelopment – especially in areas that have witnessed military operations, combat and where control has shifted – will cause significant challenges in proving ownership as long as the political transition process is frozen.


The wrong time


So, where are we? Should Syrians move forward and implement this law and redevelop? Or do they need to create the political, legal and social conditions that can guarantee the rights of citizen and protect their property?


According to Mr. El-Hadi, “Meeting construction and residential needs cannot be delayed at the will of those who are living outside the country and are waiting for the war to end.” He added, “Those who have paid a heavy price and suffered through the scourge of war need their state to move up the decision-making process for these issues. They need the government to launch a developmental process that will guarantee them a decent life and protect their rights.” Mr. Kayali asserts that choosing the wrong time to implement will have disastrous consequences. “It will deny people who cannot return of their rights to prove ownership of their properties in case a redevelopment scheme is introduced for the areas they lived in,” says Mr. Kayali. He added, “The vast majority of people aren’t able to authorize others to prove ownership on their behalf.” He suggests that if “…the regime and its intuitions are truly acting with the people’s best interest in mind, they would be patient and first create the necessary climate that would allow people to return to their homes with dignity, and then begin the process of redevelopment as needed.” Among the alternatives that the human rights activist Mr. al-Agha proposes, is that the regime should initially establish who has ownership of what in the areas that have been destroyed or witnessed fighting. After that it can start redeveloping, thereby safeguarding the rights of citizens. He concludes, “Only after completing this vital task should we begin to think of redevelopment.”


Bridging the gap


Law No. 10 is considered a major triumph by loyalists, while the opposition views it as a major defeat. Clearly there is a deep divide that separates the two sides, who are stubbornly sticking to their positions. Yet everyone agrees that this law is necessary. For it to be spared politicization, we must find the right time to implement it once the desired political transition has taken place in Syria.





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