Hassan Hassan writes: Forty-six per cent of Syria’s buildings are illegally constructed, according to a government study in 2007 – and this includes the homes in which more than half the population live. The problem was mostly seen around the large cities but, amid a widening gap between rich and poor, the authorities generally turned a blind eye to it.
Particularly since this summer, though, they have been bulldozing illegal buildings – but only in restive areas. In other areas, the authorities have been selective in their demolition orders. The campaign against illegal construction is thus being used to send a message: if you rebel against the regime, you will no longer enjoy the favours bestowed by it.
A further complication is that officials also accept hefty bribes from internally displaced people to allow them to use abandoned or partly demolished buildings. Additionally, the regime’s militias and rank-and-file officers are raiding houses, ransacking and then fraudulently selling or leasing them.
Besides adding to people’s suffering amid the current conflict, these practices are reshaping neighbourhoods across the country, from large cities to small villages – which is a recipe for future clashes between the old and new owners. Many will feel their properties have been usurped by other people or bought cheaply and at some point may try to retake them. [Continue reading…]