Spotted in Harissa: Labbayka Nasrallah

I guess it must be completely natural for religious people to go to Harissa. Even I feel like going there sometimes. There’s just something about the serenity of that place.

I also guess it must be completely natural for religious people to bring their political zeal with them to churches and mosques. Checking such stuff at home is way too mainstream lately.

It must be completely normal also to bring sharpies, permanent markers and express such political ideologies on the walls of religious establishments because a support for a politician cannot be sufficient except when it’s coupled with graffiti.

The following was spotted at Harissa:

Harissa Nasrallah

Picture via @JessyGeagea

And to think those prayers were the worst thing being written on the walls of Harissa.

 

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Harissa To Become Nature Reserve

The view from Harissa sure is great if you scan the bay. Look down and it’s a disaster: ugly buildings springing up everywhere, eating away the mountain and the greenery, infesting their way around like cancer cells – uncontrolled and non-stopped.

Nazem Khoury, minister of environment in our dissolved government has, therefore, issued a new decree to turn the Harissa mountain into another nature reserve to stop the pangs of urbanism and keep whatever form of nature that the mountain had intact. The conversion to a nature reserve will happen with the help of the Maronite patriarchate and the Jounieh municipality (link).

Good news? Perhaps it is. But only for Harissa, which seems is still salvageable enough despite the many concrete blocks that have ruined part of it forever.

However, the question begets itself: what about the countless other mountains which do not happen to be religious shrines, do not get similar attention and do not exist in areas which are of touristic focus?

Turning Harissa to a nature reserve is a positive step. But it’s troubling that we need to turn an entire mountain into a nature reserve just to protect it from impeding construction and real estate. Is our only environmental solution to spring up nature reserves here and there just because we do not have a grasp on existing laws and cannot really contain the corruption that infests real estate and the mentalities of people towards the environment, à la nature is God’s given poubelle of the Lebanese people?

Because the root of the problem isn’t fixed, there will be another mountain out there which causes some environmental outrage down the road, maybe even bigger than Harissa. Nature reserves are needed, sure. But what we need even more is for municipalities across the country to be more stringent in the criteria employed to give away building licenses. We need relevant ministries to be more strict with urbanism laws that require certain standards be met, along the lines of no apartment complexes should spring up in Lebanese mountains where they don’t belong.

I doubt any of the aforementioned will happen anytime soon. Such issues are forcibly ranked so low on our list of priorities they might as well be deemed irrelevant. Good news for Harissa.

 

An Update on the Land Sold in Dlebta, Keserwan to the Saudi Prince

The view from the land sold

Following up with my post from Tuesday about the land in Dlebta that was sold to a Saudi prince, Pierre Daher, the person who had shared the original picture which went viral on Facebook, had the following to say in order correct the information I had shared in my post about the sale:

This picture is not representing the Dlebta valley Sold. This is the very nearby area of Harissa Valley! The red line represents the Harissa valley and has NOT been sold. Dlebta is just in the top right corner of the picture outside the red frame.

For reference, you can check out the post in question here and the picture here. In the meantime, these are the facts regarding the land sale, according to this article by Annahar and other sources:

  • The decree to authorize the sale of the land to the Saudi Prince was passed in the Official Gazette on April 26th, 2012 – almost a month ago. The land that was sold is not as huge as originally thought. It consists of 4 properties, numbered 76 – 157 – 160 – 1152 in the Dlebta region, a town that hadn’t seen lots of real estate movements similarly to the surroundings towns. The sale was brokered by a Lebanese man who’s not from Dlebta.
  • The total area of the land which the Saudi prince purchased is 7700 squared meters. It is part of Tallet el Salib, which neighbors another hill called Tallet Mohammad. Talks are already underway to purchase a part of that hill as well.
  • The presidential decree that was signed and passed in the gazette allowed the Saudi Prince to purchase the 7700 sqm land even though the limit for non-Lebanese is 3000 sqm.
  • The authorization to approve the sale was signed by President Michel Sleiman, prime minister Najib Mikati and minister of Finance Mohammad al Safadi.
  • None of the Christian ministers in the ministry spoke against the sale despite their previous stances against such transactions in Christian areas.
  • The owners of the land are a rich Maronite family in the region who had previously sworn not to sell any land to anyone from outside the region. I guess the Saudi Prince is not “ghrib” anymore to the Keserwanis.
  • The municipality of Dlebta was not consulted in the matter of this transaction.

A few things, however, still need to be said:

  1. The fact that the land is not as huge as originally perceived doesn’t mean selling it should be permitted. I am firmly against selling Lebanese land to foreign nationals especially those coming from countries where the people of the aforementioned areas have very limited rights.
  2. The sale of this land, especially allowing it, sets a dangerous precedence for the entirety of the Harissa Valley, which is highlighted in red in this picture. If they allow this land to be sold, then what would stop the selling of bigger properties in the valley some other time?
  3. The fauna and flora argument is irrelevant to many Lebanese – but the area in question is one of the few areas in the region that has been kept relatively untouched. In fact, half of the area highlighted in red in the above picture has been made into a reserve by the Maronite Church to prohibit commercial activities in it.
  4. The Dlebta sale is not the first and won’t be the last. In fact, much worse sales have already taken place and received much less attention. Why so? It could be because they’re not situated in an area Lebanese Maronites consider sacred. For instance, 740 acres were purchased by Hezbollah from a Christian man in the Chouf for a total cost of $240 million – one of the richest land deals in Lebanese history.
  5. According to this report, here’s how the sales of land breaks down in select areas: the towns of Ajaltoun, Rayfoun, Mayrouba & Kfardebien in Keserwein have 80% of their lands sold to non-Lebanese, as well as 85% of the town of Alma in Zgharta. The story is similar in the Chouf, Baabda, Batroun and other regions as well. This is a reality, not paranoia.

Let me tell you the story of a very good friend of mine from a very small, almost irrelevant, village in the caza of Aley. There was once a man who needed money so he decided to sell the only land he owned and he knew it won’t go for much. Why so? Because the village barely had an access road to begin with and his land was nowhere near it. It was also almost unusable for agriculture. Why would anyone need a land like that?

And yet, an offer from a nearby village came in. It was much higher than what the seller had thought possible. But why would the buyer want to buy this land? Why would anyone buy this land? The town’s people rallied together and pitched in to keep the purchase from passing forward.

True, the example I gave is a matter between Lebanese but when foreigners start to desire and work on getting Lebanese land as well, then we must get very worried especially that many Lebanese can’t afford the prices of land in their current state but those foreigners can. If we keep letting foreigners, regardless of country of origin and supposed limits that they can obviously work around, buy land without any form of regulation, which is the current case, then we won’t have a country to return to.

The people of Dlebta are organizing an event to support their cause this Saturday. You can check it out on Facebook here.

Massive Land Sold in the Lebanese Keserwan Area, Near Harissa, To a Saudi Prince

Check out this post for more information about the sale.

View from the land sold

The area in question is called the Hill of the Cross (Tallet el Salib) and it was sold to Saudi prince Mokran Ben Abdel Aziz Abdul Rahman Al Saoud.

Tallet el Salib is a huge forest, rich in its flora and fauna. It contains many rare species of mammals and birds that use the millenary forest as shelter. As you can see from the above map, it overlooks the Mediterranean sea. It is in the region of Dlebta, close to Harissa.

The selling of this huge piece of land requires governmental approval to be fulfilled. MP Abi Nasr has said the Saudi embassy put pressure on the government and the Prime Minister in order to allow the transaction to proceed.

No matter how much we talk against this, when it comes to the powers at play in the matter of land purchases in Lebanon we stand powerless. Soon enough, the trees of the area will be cut down in order to make use of them. The winter of the area is especially harsh and wood for the fireplace is needed. The animal species of the forest will, therefore, disappear. And then the construction will start to turn whatever greenery that remains of the Harissa mountain into a massive concrete jungle. The people in the are won’t be able to afford housing in the newly built apartments. Those that can afford housing won’t have anything to do with the area.

Where were the other MPs of Keserwen when the deal regarding this land was being struck and tailored? They’ve already started their 2013 electoral campaign with bulletins on certain bridges in Jounieh. But when it comes to true work, instead of shouting up and down about how Christians are threatened and how they are defending “us,” there’s not much there.

I don’t see any of the Christians constantly worrying about losing foothold in Lebanon do anything when it comes to selling their land. In fact, they are more than glad to make a few millions, get out of the country, and nag about how they are losing influence. Hypocrisy much? You bet. But that’s how many Lebanese Christians have always been.

Where’s the Maronite Church which has been so worried about people selling the land in its regions of influence? Why doesn’t it help those that end up selling because they absolutely need to? Why doesn’t it stop those selling because of greed? Doesn’t it have enough money and influence to counter whatever offers and pressure the government is facing?

The situation is beyond despicable. I know this firsthand because the real estate market, even in my Batrouni hometown, has prices going through the roof and people coming from places you didn’t know existed to buy lands which you had previously thought useless. This is not paranoia. This is reality.

It’s high time those preaching stop doing so and start acting. I don’t have millions on me to help but if I were one of the billionaire Christians of Lebanon, I’d start splurging not on Maybachs and Maserattis but on the only reason we can call Lebanon home.