Lebanese Are Forbidden From Accessing Nejmeh Square in Downtown Beirut, But Foreigners Can

Nejmeh Square No lebanese

Picture this.

Downtown Beirut, home of the city’s flashiest and most expensive, the place housing essentially all forms of worthwhile Lebanese governance, which also happens to be the heart of the Lebanese capital, is a Lebanese non-grata region: we are not allowed entry to the area’s most important area, Nejmeh Square.

Even prior to the YouStink protests, the area had been a nuisance to enter: you had to be interrogated by army personnel, get your IDs checked out and sometimes even searched before they let you through the barricades. And people wonder sometimes why some parts of Downtown Beirut are empty.

Soon enough, entering Nejmeh Square was no longer a procedure, but an impossibility. The clocked-square housing our country’s parliament became off limits when the people giving that same parliament every ounce of legitimacy it has, or doesn’t, were forbidden from entering. Why? Because we posed a threat to a building that is, for the better part of any given week, month or year, without any official or parliament member not doing their job in its halls.

And yet, the security concern does not apply to everyone it seems because foreigners, regardless of their nationality, only need to flash their better-than-ours passports to enter and enjoy the sight of heartless emptiness behind the barricades, in the heart of Beirut.

Earlier today, a Facebook post circulated, by a man from Tripoli called Rashed Merhabi who was visiting Downtown Beirut when he decided to try his luck and enter Nejmeh Square.

I spoke to Rashed extensively to get the whole story, and here’s how it went down:

Rashed approached the security personnel manning the barricades on the main entrance to Nejmeh Square and he was denied entry, being told that “a decision had been taken to make the public square non-public.” When Rashed insisted that it was his right as a Lebanese to enter the place especially given that there was no parliament meeting taking place, he was rebuffed once more.

So he carefully made his way to the other side of the square where he was told that entry is only possible at the main entrance, which is basically the place he had just come from. So he returned there where that same security officer told him: “What part of you are not allowed entry don’t you get?”

It was then that same security officer allowed two foreigners entry while a family of four from the UAE were leaving. When Rashed asked for an explanation to what he had just seen, the security officer replied: “Yes, foreigners are allowed entry but you’re not. Now get the hell out of here.”

Rashed then tried to reason with the security officer who decided to use the following glowing argument: “Do I have the right to enter your house whenever I please?” Upon being told that his argument didn’t make sense and that they wanted to go to the Starbucks beyond the barricade, they were told: “Those running this particular Starbucks told us not to allow anyone except the ten Starbucks employees entry.”

Seeing that Rashed and his friend weren’t going away easily, another security officer in civilian clothes joins in and says: “we are Parliament security and we’ve taken over this Square. Only foreigners are allowed, now leave.”

The following day, Rashed tried to call Beirut’s Municipality which told him he had to take up his issue with Parliament which then transferred him to the ISF, which ended up being a dead end.

So yes my fellow Lebanese, not only is our nationality detrimental to our potential in any place around the world, but it’s also a hurdle coming in our way in the middle of the place we are forced to call home. Live love Lebanon indeed.

This saga isn’t exclusive to Nejmeh Square. Almost every single orifice in Downtown Beirut that might lead in one way or another to a governmental building, big or small, is blocked off from every single Lebanese that might wander there.

Remember the Roman Baths we used to take tourists to once upon a time? Blocked. Remember the Wadi Bou Jamil area where Beirut and Lebanon’s only synagogue is present? Blocked.

Every single one of us is a subclass citizens in our own country, at the mercy of politicians who think of us as nothing more than bugs infesting “their” spaces, encroaching on the things they hold dear, as we face their henchmen who marvel in the power they are bestowed by the fact that they wear a uniform.

I wonder what kind of government has the audacity to forbid its own people from accessing their own city. It’s the kind of government that is too terrified for its own existence that it becomes paranoid from the reason it should exist in the first place. And they call themselves as servants of the people.

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Blocking Downtown Beirut From The People Is Unacceptable; This Is The True #AbouRakhousa

Lebanon wall Downtown Annahar Le Grey #YouStink

The Lebanese Government has no idea what it’s doing. If you thought it had an inkling before, be certain now that it’s essentially an establishment that only functions on reflexes; their latest reflex is blocking Downtown Beirut at its main entrance near Le Grey in order to prevent entry to protests to those streets to which not only should they be allowed access, but to which they have a fundamental right.

A couple of weeks ago, our government build a big concrete wall near Riyad el Solh square to block protests from having a 1% access – even less – to the Grand Serail. The Beirut Wall lasted 24 hours at the time before it was brought down. Every single minister declared that the wall in question was not their doing. Yeah, right. One thing became clear, however, that wall – as irrelevant a barricade as it was – signaled the massive divide between governance and people.

Any political system that wants to self-sustain should not be afraid of its people. It should be from the people, to the people. Our government is squarely against us. They beat us, they humiliate us, they rob us of our fundamental rights and still have the audacity to play victim.

That concrete wall was then replaced by massive barbed wires, which are now adorned will all kinds of slogans berating those hiding themselves behind such barricades, cowering away from the people demanding they be held accountable. But even that slide.

On Sunday, the #YouStink movement held a march with several thousand people all the way to Downtown Beirut, at the gates of Nejmeh Square. The march was to demand access to parliament, to demand fair elections to try and replace the current governing body we have (or so I think). The protestors were met with riot police adamant about not letting them pass. The entrance to Nejmeh Square was barricaded, of course, and it still is until this day.

Our government, however, decided to take this a step further yesterday night and block the entirety of Downtown Beirut from all kinds of people, protestors or not, by erecting concrete blocks at its main entrance, near Annahar – Michelle Tueini should be happy – and Le Grey – Nicolas Chammas would be happy too.

Check out the pictures via Abir Ghattas:

A few days ago, Nicolas Chammas – the head of Beirut’s commerce syndicate – was “worried” that the protests taking place in Downtown Beirut now at the hand of protestors he called were “communists,” because clearly only leftists and communists would have an issue with the current establishment, were turning his beloved Downtown area into a cheap market which he dubbed “Abou Rakhoussa.”

Little does Mr. Chammas know, however, that in its current form Downtown Beirut is not only “abou rakhoussa,” it’s cheaper than cheap. As the Lebanese popular saying goes: “bteswa franc b iyyem l ghala” and no amount of Hermes, Chanel, Aïshti shops and fancy hotels or restaurants can change that.

They wonder why Downtown Beirut is not popular with the Lebanese populace.

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that the average Lebanese income is nowhere near the one needed for minimum purchase power there? Or that the area was built by raping the property of common Lebanese folk who were not able to challenge the system back then to give them their right?

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that there’s a security zone every other meter there, or that there’s someone in it that feels threatened every single waking moment of their life so they feel the necessity to draw endless perimeters around their holy being to stay safe from people who just want to have a good time?

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that the entire area is not meant for us but for tourists who are not even coming here anymore because they have much nicer places to go to elsewhere?

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that cheapness is not a measure of how cheap the area is, but how lifeless, dead, horrifying, without charm and character an area actually is?

Downtown Beirut fits those to the letter.

That new barricade they built at its main entrance to keep us out is a disgrace. They want Downtown Beirut to remain their area, the place where they feel exclusive, the place where they can sit and chastise the average Lebanese about not being “western” enough to care about fancy facades and empty cores, the place where they can make sure the average Lebanese they fear always feels excluded, not-belonging, ostracized and shut out.

Nejmeh square is not a property of our politicians. The Grand Serail area is not a property of our politicians. None of the streets in Downtown are their property, but they sure act like it all the time. Beirut is not their city alone; it’s also ours. They’ve robbed it and claimed it enough.

I’d like to see them running tourist-attracting ads now. Come to Beirut, see our state of the art walls and empty streets. We promise you’ll love it; no Lebanese are allowed here. There’s nothing more disgraceful and despicable than a government that thinks it’s more important than its own people.  You see that barricade they’re building to keep us – the people – out of their exclusive area? It’s not keeping us out, it’s locking them in.

This is the real Abou Rakhousa: an area worth billions, but is being rendered uninhabitable, foreign with total shutting out of anything and everything Lebanese. The area’s worth is not its buildings and empty streets, but the people. Without us, your billion dollar projects are worth nothing.

This is apartheid, Lebanon-style. Someone pass the lexotanil pills to Nicolas Chammas, please.

 

Beirut’s Newest Tourist Attraction: A Wall of Shame To “Protect” Our Politicians

Picture via @SalmanOnline.

Picture via @SalmanOnline.

When you think Lebanon’s politicians couldn’t sink lower, they utterly and irrevocably surprise you.

Two days ago, when we peacefully protested to defend our right to have a country where their corruption doesn’t reign supreme, our politicians surprised us by orchestrating a military response that not only echoed that of Arab countries where suppression is a way of life, but paralleled it to the letter.

We were beaten. We were hosed. We were shot at. We were tear gassed.

Yesterday, our politicians sank to a newer low when they orchestrated another type of response to the YouStink protests as they sent their goons to infiltrate the ranks of peaceful protesters and make sure they wreck havoc.

The protestors had nothing on them; the insurgents had lasers, molotov cocktails and various other weapons. The protestors were chanting for their rights; the insurgents were chanting for their sect. The protest turned from shouting “revolution” to shouting their sect name in no time.

I don’t have proof of which politician ordered the infiltration, but his name is known. He’s been fastened to the same leather chair, stronger than super glue, since 1992.

Today, our politicians are so afraid of what could be from the Beirut Uprising that they’ve gone the extra-mile to make sure the psychological and military barrier that separated them from the people is re-inforced by yet another kind.

Today, in Downtown Beirut, across Riyad el Solh square, a concrete wall has been erected to separate our governmental seat from the people.

They had absolutely no idea what they were doing that they built it around a utility pole:

Lebanon Government Wall Downtown Beirut

Picture via @Mich_h.

As soon as it was built however, the youth of the country used the wall as a space to get our government to see what it’s worth every single time its members pass by the area to infuse the country with more corruption.

To bring the message of the wall home, each tile is now decorated by a figure representing every political party in the country:

This wall is a sad entity but it’s been turned to something beautiful.

Lebanon has now joined the very exclusive list of countries in the world where people are separated from each other by physical barriers existing solely for political reason, only this time the only entity separating itself from the people is the country’s political establishment.

The Lebanese system keeps digging itself in a hole. The more a system is disconnected from the people that make it, the more it’s afraid from those same people. This is why that same system fired at us on Saturday. This is why that same system tried to tarnish the protests yesterday. This is why that same system is barricading itself behind a wall today.

The Serail is not for a PM or a minister, it’s for the people. Nejmeh Square does not belong to the Speaker of Parliament or his MPs, but to the people. They can build as many walls as they want, but that doesn’t make our claims of wanting to live in dignity any less just, and their need to stay in power any less barbaric.

The Lebanese government is protecting itself from us by a wall. What they fail to realize is that their main problem isn’t the physicality of a protest. Their stench rises above the wall. Their failures rise above the wall. Their corruption is sinking an entire country, including their new wall.

Today, Downtown Beirut has a new attraction to add to the list of things that make it an obscene place to visit, a place that is not only non-Lebanese, but irrevocably hostile as well. Thank you Lebanon’s government for making sure I feel, with each passing day, more of a stranger in my own home.

If only they know, though, that any wall that goes up must eventually go down, not necessarily by force. There are some words that have the effect of wrecking balls.

Update: the wall is being brought down. This will go down in history as the shortest living separation wall ever.

Ministry of Culture To Buy Land & Save Lebanon’s Oldest Church in Downtown Beirut?

Source: The Beirut Report

Source: The Beirut Report

The site in Downtown Beirut, which is called “The Landmark” and at which a future hotel and mall were to be built, turned out to be an archeological jewel for Lebanon, unveiling three very important entities:

  1. A Roman gate,
  2. The old Roman road,
  3. Lebanon’s possibly oldest church (source).

I wrote on the issue yesterday. The matter has since made the rounds online. And it seems we’ve made a ripple. Lebanon’s ministry of culture is now considering to purchase the land where “The Landmark” is to be built because of its historical importance according to the following source (link – Arabic).

While the news is definitely welcome, I have to wonder – is it really Lebanese-like to have a ministry with a proven track record – the Roman hippodrome, Phoenician port and Amin Maalouf’s house are all destroyed – somehow respond this fast to demands and act on them? Isn’t it all too fast and too efficient to actually be plausible taking into consideration Lebanese standards?

Perhaps this whole “land purchase” deal is a decoy in order to calm down everyone whilst the real plans go underway. It’s not a conspiracy theory as much as it is the reality of a place like Lebanon where such things happen almost all the time. The question to be asked though: what truly got the ministry of culture to act this time while they didn’t regarding other sites despite all of them getting the same attention and vocal opposition to the demolitions?

It’s quite simple, in my opinion. “The Landmark” land has had a Church discovered in it. Prior to the discovery of the Church, and even though the Roman gate and road were both potentially discovered, the ministry of culture had no problem leaving the project underway and everything demolished in the process (source). But when a church comes into play, can a “Christian” minister truly leave the place be especially with so many “rights” at stake lately? It’s not about “culture” at all.

Ancient churches obviously trump everything else in archeological importance. And quite honestly, it was probably really smart to add a “Church” twist to the affair in order to get people – including the minister – to act. Can you imagine the even bigger outrage if the Church wasn’t saved?

Moreover, isn’t it despicable for us to now start hoping religion factors into the undiscovered aspects of our history in order to have a decent chance at having them saved, documented and potentially turned into a viable economical outlet that doesn’t require their demolition?

Based on a comment on my post regarding the matter (link), a law in Lebanon actually exists in order to protect ancient ruins from the claws of real estate and developmental projects with no other aim but blind money. The law in question was put into action prior to the civil war and hasn’t probably been put on hold akin to our new driving law.

Shouldn’t a country as archeologically rich as Lebanon, and a city with layers upon layers of history such as Beirut, have devised a method by now in order to accommodate the need for contemporary development with the need to also preserve history? How did cities like Rome and Athens manage to move into the 21st century? I guess it all comes down to the basic flaw in everything Lebanese: we never, ever, have a plan and a vision for a future.

How will the moguls behind “The Landmark” take the news that their entire investment will now go to waste? Is this even charted territory for us whereby the billionaire developers don’t get their way – in theory at least?

I hope for its sake that the next site to be unearthed in Beirut has some Umayyad mosque in it.

Lebanon’s Oldest Church Discovered & Will Be Destroyed Soon?

Update: the site MAY be saved.

Downtown Beirut: the gift that keeps on giving when it comes to archeology. After a blogger (link) and Daily Star journalists were assaulted for taking pictures at the District S site, it turned out a nearby site, where the Roman gate and road were discovered, was more important than originally perceived.

Our ministry of culture Gaby Layoun has no problem in allowing the demolitions at the site in question to continue. But new evidence is now surfacing according to this source that the site in question may contain Lebanon’s first and oldest Church. And yes, that possible Church is part of the things that are going to be destroyed as well.

Source: The Beirut Report

Source: The Beirut Report

What will replace the Roman gate and road as well as the potential Church? A five star hotel and mall. Because that’s precisely what Downtown Beirut is so desperately lacking. After all, why would any tourist in their right mind want to see anything in Beirut that doesn’t revolve around the Zaitunay Bays and the Solidere edition of Downtown Beirut?

Gaby Layoun is well on his way to be Lebanon’s prime minister of culture to allow the most transgressions against Lebanon’s culture. From the Roman hippodrome, the Phoenician port, Amin Maalouf’s house and the constant destruction of Achrafieh to the current site at hand. Of course, all of the aforementioned entities are not things that can be milked electorally for them to be anything substantial for Layoun and his friends. Roman hippodrome and Christian rights sure doesn’t sound catchy enough.

We, as Lebanese, have apparently no right to at least have the parts of our history that are discovered be fully studied and documented because it will ruin the plans of multi-billionaires who are paying our government in droves to turn a blind eye to every single transgression taking place.

It’s not only about stone, mosaics and ancient significance. It’s about this monumental carelessness and barbarism with which authorities handle every single situation in this country, including ruins and culture and houses and highways. And quite honestly, I’ve come to expect nothing less of people who probably find the pillars of Baalbek are enough for this tiny country.

The Maghen Abraham Synagogue in Downtown Beirut, Lebanon

I recently visited the Wadi Bou Jamil area in Downtown Beirut to check out the infamous synagogue, currently being renovated. The area itself is a security zone within a security zone – call it security zone-ception. They have security forces for Hariri’s “Beit el Wasat,” the Serail and the synagogue itself.

You can get to the synagogue by walking up the stairs of the Serail and then walking on the street towards the Capuchin church. Once you reach the church, proceed to the street that is sealed off with one of the red plastic barricades, with an ISF person guarding the entrance to the synagogue’s street. Don’t worry about him, though, just proceed as if he doesn’t exist.

As a result of the security zones, the synagogue is off limits by a huge gate that is sealed shut. You can still see the building from outside but you are not allowed to go in. Furthermore, you are prohibited from taking pictures of any kind whatsoever.

We asked the security guard present near the synagogue if we can get access if we happened to be Jewish and he said no. He then said no one comes to this area except for very few tourists who want to look around, which is understandable because the area is so segregated from Downtown Beirut and yet so close that finding it is a task on its own so many Lebanese don’t care it exists to begin with.

I wonder, though, what’s the point behind so much security if the synagogue’s renovation is supported by the different political parties in Lebanon? I guess what’s been declared is drastically different from the hidden intentions…. Typical of Lebanon.

Until then, the synagogue is such a beautiful location in Beirut, in a very serene area of Downtown Beirut, whose calm contrasts drastically with the bustle of the surrounding shops and streets. It won’t be long before they ruin it with high-rises as well. They’re already talking about demolishing the Roman hippodrome near the synagogue to replace it with a high-rise.