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.

 

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5 Major Projects To Take Place In Beirut: The City Losing Itself To Money

Between articles about how empty Downtown is and a reiteration of every form of the word “Phoenix” possible, there has been plenty that international publications have said about our capital. But there hasn’t been, in my opinion, as interesting an article as the one published in The Guardian today (link). In fact, it has taught me a few things about the city’s future that I felt should be shared.

Solidere’s view for Downtown Beirut is only halfway done. That empty but beautiful looking aggregation of charming but ultimately lifeless buildings is not where things end. Solidere’s view for how the center of Beirut should be is basically to get as many fancy worldwide architects as possible and have them build on one of the city’s plots.

As such, here are 5 projects that await the city in the future.

1 – Zaha Hadid’s Department Store in Beirut Souks

If you thought Zaha Hadid’s AUB building was bad, wait till you see this. Beirut Souks as they stand currently are not expensive nor are they enough for regular shoppers. So, naturally, they will expand in the future with the addition of a Zaha Hadid-designed department store that will also serve as a residential space in some of its floors. Why? Because money, I guess. The place will have be a 5-storey development of 26,370musable area (32,390m2 gross). And it looks ugly. For more information, check this.

2 – Norman Foster’s 3Beirut:

In the “Minet el Hosn” area, behind the Four Seasons hotel and facing Phoenicia, 3 towers are currently under construction, and nearing completion. The 3 towers are basically a staggered face that rises up to 120 meters. And here I thought urban planning in the city had a limit on how many “high-rises” you can have. They are considered “luxury apartments” and as such, add this to the list 99% of the Lebanese population can’t afford but will spend the rest of their days looking at. For more information, check this.

3 – Herzog & de Meuron’s “Beirut Terrace”:

Also in the “Minet el Hosn” area, facing Phoenicia, the “Beirut Terrace” project is currently under construction. An architect friend of mine once said he found the design to be impressive, so I would assume that this one of the better ones from an architectural point of view. In 2013, this project ranked 3rd among 36 projects worldwide in the MIPIM Awards. Of course, this apartments complex is also not within your budget, or almost anyone’s budget for that matter. The penthouse is $13 million. For more information, check this.

4 – Peter Marino’s  1338 Mina El Hosn:

Seeing as that same area isn’t saturated with wellness centers and shopping spaces already, here’s another one. The project includes retail, restaurants and cafés, high-end serviced apartments and a wellness center, the future Beirut Spa and Wellness Center. It will be a continuation of the Beirut Souks project and serve to connect the hotels area (Phoenicia, Four Seasons, Monroe) with the commercial district (Souks, Downtown). Located along Patriarch Howayek Street, it will cover an area of 17,173m2. For more information, check this.

5 – Renzo Piano’s “Pinwheel”:

Sama Beirut, which is nearing completion, won’t be the country’s tallest structure for long. “Pinwheel” is the name of the glass tower to be built at Wafiq Sinno avenue, near Biel, effectively blocking the view for most of the buildings behind it.  The towers will have a department store and ballroom in their lower levels, and a hotel with serviced apartments in the higher levels. For more information on the project, check this.

Bonus – Jean Nouvel’s “Landmark”:

We’ve all heard about this one when the plot on which it was built turned out to have Lebanon’s first Church. Naturally, everyone was outraged. Except this time, because it was a religious building, the outrage ended up putting the project on hold. As it looks now, this will be the project out of the 5 listed never to see the light of day. It was supposed to be a hotel, shopping center – because downtown doesn’t have enough of those – as well as a spa. For more information, click here.

They wonder why we feel disconnected with the city’s heart, and ultimately with the city itself. Beirut is not meant for us anymore. Even the less “fancy” development is not something most of us can afford. The Beirut that our parents told us stories about is nowhere to be found anymore, and if you thought the future would move retrogradely towards a city that’s more accessible to Lebanese, and less aimed at wealthy expats and Saudi sheikhs, you thought terribly wrong.