Mohamad Sharbaji

Produced by: Sharq.Org
Part of the Curated Collection: Syrian Histories,
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Interview Location: Turkey
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"In Syria, the service of the mayor is terminated either due to him being a thief or, more often, being accused of corruption."

Mohamad Sharbaji was born in 1961 in Daraya, a city with a conservative character. Since the 1960s, the majority of its inhabitants had cultivated the land that extended east and west into the vast Damascus countryside. Since the late 1990s, a large proportion of Daraya’s people had found work in trade and construction. The city had suffered significant neglect at the level of government services and other sectors in comparison to other areas of the country.

Mohamad says that, "The community in Daraya consisted of approximately 92% Sunni Muslims and 8% Christians. It was difficult to distinguish between them in terms of customs, traditions and even names. A large proportion of the Muslims worked in agriculture, while the Christians often worked in industry and handicrafts, especially in carpentry and timber."

Mohammed joined the Faculty of Architecture at the University of Damascus. During his time as a student, he established many friendships and relationships with students from various governorates, especially those who worked with him day and night completing their group projects.

Mohamad says, "The level of scientific leadership in engineering was quite distinguished in terms of teachers and deans of faculties but this level gradually began to decline to the extent that most of the recent teaching staff at Syrian universities came from the socialist camp. They were graduates who came back from missions to Russia and Eastern European countries in the late 1980s. They were to study there as a political decision, and not according to competence or experience."

Mohammed graduated in 1985 and worked at the General Company for Technical Studies and Consultations in compliance with the law that required graduates of the engineering faculties to undertake government work for five years. He was later able to pursue his higher studies in urban planning and architectural design.

After five years of working in the public sector, Mohammed openeda private engineering office in Daraya and continued to work up until 1994, when he began to take part in trade union activity and was appointed to the chair of the Engineering Syndicate in 2012. During that period he also served on the local council of Daraya for four years, and was afterwards appointed as chairman of the Daraya City Council for three more years.

Mohammed says, "I used all my experience to serve my city and worked on important services and urban projects but the problem was always imposed centralization. All the state authorities interfered with the work of the municipality, especially the security services. Simply said, such interference meant that a person had to paysum of money in exchange for earning an exception, i.e. an illegal license that permitted him to set up an industrial or commercial establishment."

He continues by saying, "In more advanced countries such as France or Turkey, the mayor can reach the post of President of the Republic, as was the case for President Jacques Chirac, because of the latter’s proximity to the people, and in return for public service. In Syria, the service of the mayor is terminated either due to him being a thief or, more often, being accused of corruption.

Mohammed headed the Engineering Syndicate that carried out architectural work and was divided into five branches. The Daraya division was the largest, dealing with more than 1,700 engineering bureaus, which exceeded the total number of offices operating in three provinces in the Syrian north - Hasakah, Deir Ez- Zor and Raqqa.

"Urbanization had been particularly rapid in the south and north of Damascus since 2005. At the southern entrance to Damascus, many licenses had been granted to industrial facilities as this was an international road leading to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. At the northern entrance, the number of car dealership agencies grew in the industrial city in ‘Adra, therefore urbanization activity significantly increased."

Licenses were granted to open private schools and hospitals, which in the past had been restricted only to certain people. In addition, commercial markets such as malls, industrial halls, and furniture galleries appeared. The aesthetic appearance of factories was also considered.

Mohammed believes that the establishment of these commercial and industrial entities was a healthy situation but that it needed planning to avoid sheer randomness in the granting of licenses, which were usually granted through bribery and clientelism.

"In Syria, there is a lot of scientific expertise that should not be underestimated and that must be preserved. This expertise needs only support in terms of rights and the easing of pressure," he says.