Posted by: r.m. | October 10, 2012

Lebanon – for whom?

A few weeks ago, at a regional conference in beautiful Tunis (which is another discussion), I shared tea with almonds with a colleague from Kuwait.  Naturally, our conversation meandered to Lebanon, my home.

“Ah,” he said, “I go to Lebanon every summer; I have a home there.”

Immediately, I thought of the Metn, the glorious pine forests and their intoxicating smell, the red-roofed stone homes, the curving roads, the terraced agriculture — and how all of it is changing rapidly.  The pine forests having to battle against, not only the increasing forest fires, but, much more dangerously, the urbanization. They are being cut down, replaced with guady, large villas — some even with swimming pools — to house summer visitors.  Their swimming pools contribute to water scarcity for the farmers who are still, with extreme difficulty, trying to survive. And, in the process, and with thanks to the absentee policies of the Lebanese government, the cost of the land has sky rocketed.

“How lucky for you,” I said. “I cannot afford a home in my mother’s village. I cannot afford to buy land in the mountains. I – and many many others like me – can barely afford to rent an apartment in our own country.”

“Yes… but Lebanon is so beautiful. Particularly Beirut.”

I sighed inwardly.  After 7 months living in Cairo, I have grown wary of people claiming to love Beirut.  What draws them – all too often – to my capitol are the very things that push me away.

“What do you find beautiful about Beirut?,” I asked him.

“Just look at those new buildings!” There was no sarcasm in his tone.

“Those buildings,” I said. “You mean, the over-priced, million-dollar-plus apartment high-rises that block out the view of the sea to everyone else, that encroach along the coast, that contribute to inflation? Or do you mean the hotels that have stolen the public coast?”

“Well… You have Zaitouna Bay. That is wonderful,” he continued.

“aH. Zaitouna Bay. A privately-owned, overly-priced, exclusive area for restaurants and shops in which we are not allowed to rest on the grass. That was built on reclaimed land – and thus is legally public property. That Zaitouna Bay?

“Look,” I continued. “What is important is that a country be for its citizens, first and foremost. The coastline should be for all, not to be limited to those who can afford to pay the $20 entrance fee to swim in their own sea.  We should be able to own land in our own country.  A country should serve its people, and not become a tourist-spot for others.”

Meanwhile, there is a campaign in Lebanon to reclaim the commons, to enforce the law that states – clearly – that the beaches are public property.  That campaign — Masha3 — is illustrated here: Finding Common Ground

“In flagrant disregard of the Lebanese law that states that the sea is public property, the publicly owned land reclaimed from the sea adjacent to Beirut’s downtown area is being gradually transferred to the rampant property developer Solidere, a private company renowned for its elitist and exclusive developments.

In a bid to retain the remaining reclaimed land, the Masha3 (Arabic for commons) movement aims to unite and organize efforts to reclaim it for public use.”

For more on the commons-campaign, refer to their facebook page

And about that Zaitouna Bay, the brilliant Mohammed Zbeeb has this article in today’s English Al-Akhbar

Zaytouna Bay, the luxury seafront development built on reclaimed land along Beirut’s downtown coastline, is the embodiment of everything worth resisting in Lebanon: corruption, the theft of public property, the destruction of the city’s history and seafront, and the widening gap between the haves and the have-nots.

The entity responsible for the Zaytouna Bay project is the Beirut Waterfront Development company, which built on the old Normandy landfill by artificially extending the coastline in an environmentally damaging process known as “reclamation.” Beirut Waterfront Development is jointly owned by Solidere, the private company of two former Prime Ministers – Rafik and Saad Hariri – and Stow Capital partners.

Read the article in full here: “Public Property…for the rich only”

The struggle continues… to create a country for the people

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