Rebuilding for the rich

Beirut Downtown

Fascinating story about the reconstruction of Beirut after Lebanon’s civil war. Of course, this isn’t unique to Lebanon — you’ll see the same thing in American cities, too:

Beirut’s shiny new downtown has struggled for various reasons. Despite the end of the civil war, violence has continued to batter the country. In 2006, war broke out with Israel, damaging Lebanon’s economy and leaving shops and restaurants empty. In addition, persistent sectarian feuds have erupted in bombings and demonstrations in central Beirut. Lately, fighters in Syria’s civil war have launched cross-border attacks into Lebanon.

With such upheaval, tourists from oil-rich Arab states no longer fly into the elegant city for shopping sprees and fine dining.

But many Lebanese say that there is another problem: the reconstruction project demolished historical buildings and filled the area with upscale condos and shops. There are few parks or other public spaces.

“Downtown should have soul. It should be alive,” said Mona Hallak, an architect and historical-preservation activist. “But what we have is a culture-free ghost town for the rich.”

Before the 15-year civil war, the city center bustled as a grittier, more Middle Eastern-feeling place. People of all income levels congregated at mosques and churches and bought vegetables and Arabic sweets at the souks. Theaters hosted performances by iconic Arab singers such as Umm Kulthum and Mohammed Abdel Wahab.

But the average Lebanese worker earns less than $10,000 a year and can’t afford the new multimillion-dollar residences or the swank offerings from the boutiques of Ermenegildo Zegna or Swarovski.

“This isn’t a downtown. It’s an investment for wealthy people,” said Mohamad Hashash, a 38-year-old psychiatrist who traveled to the center on a recent weekend with his wife and young son for the first time in months to pray at the Grand Omari Mosque, which dates to the 12th century.

Hashash laid some of the blame for the problems on the man responsible for the rehabilitation of the downtown: Rafiq al-Hariri, a former prime minister and billionaire businessman.

After the civil war, Hariri founded a state-affiliated company, Solidere, which led the rebuilding effort and now manages downtown like a virtual municipality. The company, which declined to comment for this article, has been accused by architects, heritage-preservation organizations and everyday Lebanese of driving out the area’s original property owners and unnecessarily demolishing historical buildings.

H/T Jason Kalafat, DC Federal Healthcare Fraud Lawyer.

2 thoughts on “Rebuilding for the rich

  1. Capitalists have always had more money then brains. Every good capitalist knows that money that’s just sitting around doing nothing is being wasted. So it’s got to be invested in order to make even more money.
    But there is an entire chunk to this story that was not reported.
    Hezbollah controls about 1/2 of Lebanon’s territory. Hezbollah sided with Assad in Syria years ago. Those terror attacks by the Syrian opposition on Lebanon are in response to Hezbollah’s support of Assad. They’ve obviously had there desired effect because downtown Beirut is empty of people.
    It appears that the capitalists who wanted Assad removed from power are now seeing their investment in Beirut fail because the very people who they supported in Syria are now attacking Lebanon.
    How ironic.

  2. Well if they don’t like the new downtown it wouldn’t be that hard to get Israel to flatten it for them again.

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