Foreign Policy Blogs

Bridges, and Tunnels, to the Future

One of the main issues on the redevelopment agenda for Syria is transportation infrastructure. Much of the country has no choice but to use outdated roads, bridges, and other forms of transportation. Many of the main transportation resources here are literally crumbling. Thats why the new Kefer Soussah square project is so important, and shows so much promise for the future.

Kefer Soussah is the new posh neighborhood in Damascus. Housing two fancy gulf-style malls, the majority of the local diplomatic core, and the highest real-estate prices in town, Kefer Soussah is the place to be. Up until last year the neighborhood might have had the malls and the diplomats, but it’s streets were just as lackluster as the rest of the country. Last year the government decided to change that.

Sometime in late 2009 Douwar Kefer Soussah, or Kefer Soussah square, went under construction. Plans called for a refurbished and enlarged square, and the addition of an underground by-pass tunnel that would dramatically reduce the amount of traffic that would actually pass through the square. Seemed like a perfectly good idea at the time, but when the ambitious construction schedule was announced the reaction on the street ranged from a good natured “we’ll see” to a full on belly laugh. The plans called for the project to be completed in a little less than a year. I remember a syrian co-worker saying “10 months? I say 10 years…maybe”.

Well the results are in and the marks are top notch. The new project was completed earlier this month and traffic is flowing faster than ever. Not only has the project been finished on time, it’s actually AHEAD OF SCHEDULE. That, uh, doesn’t happen here. Not to mention the fact that the new square is a dramatic improvement, and the by-pass tunnel looks as efficient and well made as an Autobahn on ramp.

There are a number of things that can be taken away from all this. First of all, this marks a fairly dramatic step forward for Syria. This project, while having had private foreign consultants on the payroll, was completed by the Syrian public sector. Yes, thats right, the Syrian government did something well and on time. Second, it shows that the transportation sector truly is a priority within the regime’s development plans. The President and many key advisors have been making references to transportation for some time now, but they have put their money where their mouth is [sic] on this one.

Not to rain on the parade here but there are reasons to be skeptical that this success can be repeated. The most glaring of which is the fact that this miracle of transportation engineering just so happened to occur smack dab in the middle of the swankest spot in town. One could imagine a scenario where the Damascene elite grew tired of fighting through traffic from the backseat of their chauffeured BMW’s. The completion of the new square also coincides with the opening of the Special Olympics for the Middle East and North Africa (SOMENA), which Syria happens to be hosting this week.

The jury remains out. The successful completion of the new Kefer Soussah square, ahead of schedule and exceeding expectations, will either become part of a larger trend towards more effective public sector investment and the prioritization of the transportation sector, or it will be seen as the exception in a succession of fumbled chances. Time will tell. One thing is clear, however. Syria is capable of identifying, planning, and completing, the sorts of large scale projects and investments that will help it to develop going forward. We will see if it actually continues to follow through on that capability.

I have included several photos of the newly completed square. Unfortunately, due to security installations near all three entrances, I was unable to get any good shots of the by-pass tunnel. Enjoy.

The Road leading to Douwar Kefer Soussah...WITH FANCY NEW GRASS!!!

The Road leading to Douwar Kefer Soussah…WITH FANCY NEW GRASS!!!



See those fancy lights? Those are new!!!

See those fancy lights? Those are new!!!



Walter Raubeson

Walter spent the last two years living and working in Damascus, reporting on the Syrian social, political, and cultural scene. Recently returned to the US, Walter continues to monitor Middle Eastern events with verve, and also gusto.

Having graduated from New York University's Masters Program in Political Science- International Relations-in September 2008, Walter's MA thesis analyzed the Lebanese political system; focusing on the impact of foreign intervention within Lebanon, particularly the roles of Iran, Israel, Syria, and the US.