• Monica Holm Rasmussen
4. term, Global Refugee Studies, Master (Master Programme)
This thesis explores urban reconstruction in Damascus following the eight-year long armed conflict that has haunted and still exists in Syria. It does so, by exploring reconstruction as a process of urban governance, and sets out to examine which values shape urban reconstruction practises in Damascus – particularly in the case of a new prestige residential development project called Marota City. The theoretical focal point of the research question is the concept of values taken from Jon Pierre, that sets values as a system of norms and objectives, and as a variable in urban governance. In this way, the thesis takes it point of departure not only in post-conflict reconstruction but also in urban development in general. In addition to this, I support my analysis by drawing comparisons to post-war Lebanon and Bosnia-Herzegovina and research done on these other cases of post-conflict reconstruction. I mostly draw on parallels to Beirut in the first part of analysis that explores reconstruction as a process of privatisation and revitalization, and in the second part of analysis I turn more to the issues of state-building and securing housing land and property rights in Bosnia-Herzegovina, that are somewhat paralleled in today’s Syria.
The first analysis explores unprecedented public-private partnerships at play in reconstruction, as Damascus governorate has established a private holding company undertaking much of reconstruction in Marota City. Here I argue that there is a shift in urban governance towards market oriented and neoliberal values with the aim of revitalising the city after years of war. This is supported by the government taking on a new role of facilitator for private investors rather than as the main developer behind reconstruction. I conclude that this development follows patterns of privatising, rebranding and gentrifying cities that are also seen in non-conflict countries, but that it at the same time entails a literal revitalisation of the city, as conflict has made reconstruction a necessary means to re-establish the city. The value of revitalisation means a desire for a swift and efficient reconstruction and even improvement of the city after the conflict.
The second analysis investigates processes of urban reconstruction and restructuring that cannot be explained by viewing them merely as a wish for revitalisation and privatisation. Here I argue that demolitions and designation of zones of redevelopment strategically target anti-government groups. Furthermore, new Syrian legislation on housing, land and property rights means a great emphasis on documenting and formalising property rights in a way that leaves room in implementation to favour some loyal population groups over others who are less loyal to the current government. I analyse this as a process of demographic engineering, that aims at pushing out anti-government working-class households or discouraging them from returning from displacement.
Lastly, I go on to discuss these two values of revitalisation and demographic engineering as two transitions that the Syrian government desires to push through, and that it does so under disguise of the ongoing conflict. In this sense, the intertwinement of conflict and reconstruction somewhat hides objectives of the government and facilitates these transitions. I thus conclude that urban reconstruction in Damascus is shaped partly by a value of revitalisation, partly by a value of demographic engineering – and that these values both represent transitions that the Syrian government seek to hide in plain sight because reconstruction and conflict become embedded within each other.

Keywords: urban reconstruction, Syria, Damascus, revitalisation, privatisation, urban governance, demographic engineering, housing land and property, Marota City.
Publication date31 May 2019
Number of pages58
ID: 304751143