The war in Syria continues, but life moves at a relatively normal pace in the coastal city of Tartous, a stronghold of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Syrian Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi has recently launched a series of projects and tourist facilities around Tartous, tailored to its role as a beachfront tourist hub. But at least one of those projects has caused controversy: the opening of Tartous Mall just outside the city, which was touted as evidence of an economic and tourism revival of the city.
Proponents of the project say that the Tartous Mall provides people with jobs in hard times. Mohammed, 32, was offered a job at the mall and turned it down. He explained to Syria Deeply why he refused the work, and why the mall has become a flashpoint for his fellow residents, who see the project as catering to an ever-smaller circle of the Syrian elite.
I turned down the job because the salary they offered was 15,000 Syrian pounds, which is less than $100 a month for 10 hours a day. This is not a job opportunity; this is humiliating. I have a college degree in economics. I deserve a better salary.
This mall has provided just 200 low-wage jobs so far, despite costing millions of dollars to build. Only the rich will benefit from this mall while the suffering continues for the poor, the homeless and the wounded soldiers.
It is frustrating to see the advertising for a huge mall at a time when hundreds of government soldiers are being left to die in the deserts, killed by the forces of ISIS, and when there are thousands of unemployed people in Tartous – including hundreds of wounded veterans who struggle to make money for their treatments.
But what really makes me angry is all the money that was spent building the mall and the even greater amounts that have been spent on other tourism projects. All this money could have been of great benefit to the people if it had been spent on real industrial projects, such as workshops or small factories. That would have cost less money and could have provided jobs to many poor people. But such productive projects would not have benefitted businessmen who built the mall: they want big and quick profits, and official authorities don’t stand in their way, nor do they encourage them or force to take on more productive types of economic activity.
The mall is located outside the town close to its southeastern entrance, next to the industrial area attached to the city. There aren’t any residential areas around it and most of the shops inside are still empty. The number of visitors is still very small and restricted to rich people.
[The builders] and local authorities were celebrating the opening of the mall, at a time when families are burying their sons or healing their wounds, while others were anxiously watching the news to hear anything about their missing or kidnapped sons. The mall caused a huge wave of anger and resentment among people. In my family we put a lot of effort into earning the money we need to continue my brother’s treatment; he was wounded while fighting in the Syrian army. We sometimes have to borrow money from relatives or friends to cover his medical costs. Meanwhile, the Syrian officials are busy with such absurdities as opening a shopping mall.
Politically speaking, the authorities have been trying for three years to reassure people that life can be normal here, but the truth is that conditions are declining. The poor are getting poorer, the rich are acquiring more wealth, and the war continues with no end in sight.
Authorities are ignoring ordinary people’s needs. Meanwhile these people are the ones supporting the government in its war against its opponents. We’re only heading towards more misery, regardless of this mall or any other similar projects, which they try to tout as evidence that conditions are heading towards stability or improvement.