About a month ago, Assad’s prime minister, Hussein Arnous, laid the foundation stone for the Nirvana tourist complex in the Hijaz area of central Damascus. It will be erected on the ruins of the famous Hijaz cafe after its demolition in 2021.
The project, a commercial tourism facility, costs about 105 billion Syrian pounds.
According to SANA, the project includes “the construction of a 5-star tourist hotel, on an area of 5133 square meters, with a floor area of 25,000 square meters. The duration of its implementation is 47 months, and the duration of its investment is 45 years.”
Since its announcement following the demolition of the famous Hijaz cafe last year, the project has received criticism from some Syrians because of the symbolism of the place and its historical connection to the famous train station in the area. However, what is striking about the project is the investing company and its president.
In 2020, the general manager of the General Organization for the Hijazi Railway, Hassanein Mohammed, announced that the tender for the project had been awarded to a loading company named Hijaz Private Syrian Investment Company. He did not disclose any details about the company and its president.
Media outlets at the time reported that the owners of the company are unknown, relying on what was reported by al-Iqtisadi website concerned with corporate news. Hijaz Investment Company belongs to two people, Fadi Mowafaq Hamada and Ahmed Farouk Abbas, with each owning 50%.
However, during the laying of the foundation stone of the project in October, it turned out that Khaled Zubaidi, who is considered one of the emerging economists on the Syrian scene, is behind the project.
Zubaidi, a 46-year-old son of the Damascan neighbourhood of al-Midan, was not known in the sphere of Businessmen. His name has shone for the past four years, as one of the major investors of Syria’s most important real estate projects.
Zubaidi’s most notable appearance was when he founded Zubaidi Kala’i (Z.K.) with Syrian businessman Nader Kala’i before his death in Lebanon in February, 2021.
Kala’i was considered one of the most prominent businessmen close to the Assad regime, managing large investment projects in the country. He is a friend and partner of Rami Makhlouf, and for years served as the general manager of Makhlouf’s Syriatel company.
Zubaidi started his investment moves by establishing several companies concerned with real estate affairs. He founded Ibdaa Investments, he is the director and owner of Zubaidi Developments, the director of Injaz Investment, the director of Aqar Investment, the general manager of Zubaidi and Tawil Contracting Company, and a founding partner in Iqarkom Real Estate Development and Investment Company.
Zubaidi received a license to implement the Grand Town tourism project, in the vicinity of the Exhibition City and the Conference Palace on the road to Damascus International Airport.
According to the official website of the project, it is “a city located on two and a half million square meters, and an integrated tourist city adjacent to the exhibition city and the Palace of Conferences at the fourth bridge.”
His relationship with Assad
What is striking about Zubaidi’s companies is his association with Yasar Hussein Ibrahim, whose name has emerged significantly in recent years, as an adviser to the Presidential Palace and head of the economic and financial office of the presidency.
According to the website al-Iqtisadi, Zubaidi and Ibrahim founded Tatweer in 2017. Tatweer’s activities are focused on the management and ownership of all investment projects, commercial centers, markets, entertainment complexes, agricultural and tourism fields.
Yasar Ibrahim is the director of the economic and financial office at Assad’s palace and is close to his wife, Asmaa, according to The Guardian.
Ibrahim’s name has appeared in numerous investigations as a close associate of the Assad family. His name has also emerged in the conflict between Asma al-Assad and Rami Makhlouf over Syriatel.
This article was translated and edited by The Syrian Observer. The Syrian Observer has not verified the content of this story. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.