Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Reconstruction of Beirut city center

Reconstruction of Beirut city center? Like Solidere? By whom again?

Solidere (Societe Libanaise de Reconstruction) is a chartered company in charge of reconstructing and managing the city center of Beirut. The concession was supposed to be valid for 25 years, and Fouad Seniora PM extended the permit for 75 years in November 2005. Seniora was the right hand of late Rafic hariri PM who was assassinated on Feb. 14, 2004.

This private company owns a third of the city center or (108,000 sq.metres). In Sept. 2010, a year after taking office, Saad Hariri PM (son of Rafik) took private possession of 30,000 sq.metres of downtown Beirut and paid for by Solidere.

Solidere was created in 1992 with the total backing of Saudi Arabia and the blessing of the financial neoliberal decision-makers in the US.

Through figure heads, Rafik Hariri gathered the majority of the shares.

Destroyed and badly damaged properties in the city center were expropriated under dubious circumstances and bought judges and ther controlled municipality of Beirut, and the owners of the properties were compensated by shares in the company.

The trick is that Rafik manipulated the stockprices and bought shares at ridiculous prices from panicked shareholders.

What Solidere does?

It sells and rents apartments and offices that guarantee huge profits. How?

1. Prime Lands were acquired virtually for free,

2. The cost of construction was minimal due to cheap Syrian work labor,

3. The investment in infrastructure was mostly done by public money,

4. Public money were poured in the Hariri contracting firms, and at inflated cost estimates

5. The side public institutions related to finance, reconstruction, and internal security… were attached directly to the Prime Minister (Rafik Hariri)

6. The former shopping centers and areas such as Hamra Street and Achrafieh were totally neglected for several years so that the city center attracks all the traders and banks andforeign multinational companies…

7. The network of urban highways and tunnels mainly served the city center to encourage companies to relocate to Solidere Real Estates

8. The airport was 15 minutes away and the seafront less than 5 minutes far, and the city center was located in the main axes to enter and leave Beirut…

9. The prime land of Ouzai district, an extension to Beirut’s seafront of luxury hotels, was inhabited by southern Moslem Shiaa, refuggees from the civil war, and they refused to vacate this district.

The planned Alissar luxury project was blocked temporarily.

Hariri undertook to have a highway run through Ouzai in order to have a legal leverage to pressure the people to leave, and he failed.

If Hariri had the best interest of the people in mind he would have built a flyover express highway as the one crossing the Armenian district of Burj Hammoud in East Beirut. And the highway to the south is detached in several places because of the rapacious personal  interests of the Hariri clan.

Building permits in this lucrative city center, if the projects do not get a go by the Hariri oligarchy, are routinely blocked by Beirut municipality, totally in control of the Hariri clan. And the Hariri clan can side step regulations on urban development to match their interests and the Saudi princes and Emirs of the Gulf…

For an entire decade (1992-2002), Lebanon was run by a triumvirate of Rafik Hariri PM, President Hrawi, and Chairman of parliament for life Nabih Brrri, with the total backing of Syria, saudi Arabia and the USA administrations.

The Lebanese chapter of Transparency International has abundant substanting documents on this matter. The chapter wrote:

As a result of this arrangement, late Hariri became the sole decision-maker on the reconstruction process of the city center, Nabih Berri (chairman of the parliament for life) was given the charge of the reconstruction and relief programs for south Lebanon. Walid Jumblatt, the Druze warlord was given the relocation of refugees Box, and president Hrawi was interested in the oil and gas sector…”

After the failed preemptive war of Israel in June 2006, the opposition coalition put the pressure on the Seniora government to desisit from its oligarchic policies. They set up tents in the city center for 16 months (Oct. 2006 to May 2008). a sit-in symbolizing the exclusion of the people’s re-appropriation of their city center

As a result, investors shifted their interests to Ashrafieh and Hamra Street. The Hariri clan was taken aback and lost vast amount in profits.

Solidere considered moving its wealth to Jordan, in the Al Akaba, Red Sea seafront, to invest in the vast luxury contracting project of the elder son of Rafik Hariri.

The neoliberal expatriate wealthy class forced on this pseudo-State over $70 bn in debt that Lebanon didn’t need so that they satisfy quick wealth to all the warlords and their clientelist political sectarian bases.

The irony is that this neoliberal system is stating that the first $30 bn generated from the potential gas and oil offshore extraction will go to servicing the debt.

They never learn from previous experiences of other States who opted to default and are now well grounded on their feet and prospering.

Note 1. In the Middle-East, the relatioship between political regimes and space is based on political patronage. A city is a place of power to control the space and influence the central government.

This reconstruction project is viewed by the elite classes (foreigns, expatriates, and local bank owners…)  as success story. It is viewed as a striking failure by the Lebanese in resolving unstable social and political class-divide.

Note 2: This urban planning of Beirut city center is inherited by the recent Arab Gulf Emirates Real Estates development programs (Dubai…) with the explicit purpose of attracting foreign investment… This project wanted the Lebanese to believe that “neoliberal globalization” will save Lebanon from its endemic insecurity from its regional enduring conflicts (Israel, jihhadist…)

Note 3: Article inspired from a chapter by Fabrice Balanche in the book “Lebanon After the Cedar Revolution

On “The Corniche” of West Beirut

The Corniche or paseo of West Beirut is known as “Corniche el bahar (sea)”, “Corniche el manara (Phare)”, “El Raoucheh (rock)”.  It used to be called during the French mandate (1920-43) the “French Avenue“, and it is equivalent to the strolling boulevard of the British in Nice.

Muriel Rozelier wrote in her “A life of a Pintade in Beirut“:

“I am walking The Corniche.  It is 5 pm, and my female friends are out of their work offices and meeting me at the Corniche, at Hajj Daoud shop for a cocktail on the pontoon to dip our feet. To get to this cliff road, I have to walk amid heavy traffic and loud honking: Silence is a rare commodity in Beirut.

I cross the district of Ouet-Ouet, mostly of Shias and old houses, and traverse the district of the Joumblatt, and joins the superb alleys of Ain Mreisseh before reaching this 2-mile stretch of walkway from Hajj Daoud and McDonald to the outdated Luna Park.

The sun is hesitating to dip into the sea. The crowd is already loud and dressed in all kinds of cloths and colors. Many are nibbling on “termos” and sunflower seeds, drinking coffee as they criss-cross amid bicycles and roller riders.

Many are slumped on folding chairs, smoking the narguilleh, listening to old songs of the 50’s, or the latest of George Wassouf (the equivalent of the French singer Serge Gainsbourg)…

The women of West Beirut are here: wearing miniskirt, hijab, gelbab, sponge short, transparent waxed water proof coat (to sweat profusely),…

The women are gathered in clusters, walking briskly, leisurely, or jogging singly and in two, listening to their MP3, Louis Vuiton cap on the head, Louis Vuiton veils, Dolce and Gabbana jogging shoes

You think these ladies are here for the daily exercise,  but mostly they are “mazaher” for show-off.  A lady from the Gulf Emirate exclaims, arms wide open: “Oh my God. This is real civilization“.  And I am wondering what in this Corniche is bluffing her.

The rule: Make sure you look busy and focused on your walk.  You have to look that you don’t care about the males solicitations, otherwise, this favorite location will lose its sense of permissiveness..

After 10 pm, the couples of lovers converge to the Corniche, and these 4*4 tainted window passing slowly… Ambulatory merchants are increasing in number, selling pistachios, termos, Coffee Express, orange juice, cigarette, chocolate bars, “foul” or fava beans, and gardenia necklaces…

During the long civil war (1975-1989), the Corniche was the place to find supplies in all kinds of drugs, whores, and young gays…

Currently, the lovely old houses have been torn down, to making room for new tall buildings, no less than 25 floors, blocking the sight to the sea: You have to pay to have a view to the sea.  These buildings are owned by Saudi and Gulf Emirate citizens and Lebanese expatriates, and they are almost totally empty! (Read note 3 on Solidere chartered company)

Women of Beirut have a dignified style, a showing off humor, a resistance to improbable events in life.  Women of Beirut hold in their palm the destiny of Lebanon, this “pseudo-State”, giving Lebanon life and flesh.

If you believe Lebanon is an exquisite location to spend your vacation, it is mainly due to the women who draw daily the geography of intimacy…

Note 1:  I recall that 4 years ago, I used occasionally to go with one of my nieces to the Corniche. We parked the car at the entrance of BIEL, rent bicycles and ride about 4 miles back and forth, to end up turning round and round in the open space in front of the McDonald and the bust of Gamal Abdel Nasser.

It appears that the crowd is not here for open spaces and visualizing the vast horizon of the “open sea”, but to congregate in the narrower locations in order to mingle and enjoy a crowd bath…

I had more difficulty than my niece enjoying these difficult rides among the babies and delinquent adolescents…

Note 2:  You may read a previous post

Note 3: On the reconstruction of Beirut city-center




March 2023

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