Maalouf: “We don’t have a home in Beirut anymore”

Maalouf: “We don’t have a home in Beirut anymore”

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I just got off the phone with Ziad Maalouf, a son of Lebanese literary giant Amin Maalouf, who’s childhood home (pictured above) has recently been sold and is reportedly slated for demolition.

After posting an article and some pictures on Facebook about this story, I was contacted by my colleague Massoud Derhally, a former longtime Beirut-based correspondent, who put me in touch with the Maalouf family.

Ziad, 36, the youngest of three sons, phoned me from Paris and explained that the land owners have actually been trying to evict his family for at least a decade: “They’ve been talking about forcing us to leave for the last 10 to 15 years,” he said.

The Maalouf family had moved into the building, located in the Badaro area, around 1961 and occupied the second floor apartment. Amin Maalouf, author of over a dozen books and the first Lebanese inductee into the prestigious 40-member Academie Francaise, spent his formative years in the home from the age of 12 to 22.

The period marked the beginnings of Maalouf’s writing career, his son Ziad, a journalist for Radio France Internationale, explained.

“They were very important years,” Ziad said, noting that Maalouf had begun working as a part-time reporter around the age of 16, alongside his father, Ruchdi Maalouf, a well-known journalist and poet in his own right.

As a student, Amin Maalouf’s room overlooked a courtyard garden and he had access to his parent’s library, “the books that made him,” Ziad said.

Amin fled to Paris in the mid 1970s at the outset of the Lebanese civil war, but continued to spend time in the home in the preceding years and regularly visited with his family.

“The library was just the way it was until the end of last year,” Ziad said. “It was the place where he grew up: reading literature, listening to the radio; nothing changed.”

For the younger Maaloufs, stepping into the home was like entering “a ghost of the past,” and a living memorial to his late grandfather Ruchdi, who passed away in the 1980s.

“It was a very beautiful apartment, 500 square meters. It was untouched since the 1970s; the paintings on the wall, the shell holes, the bullets. The house was right on the (civil war) demarcation line.”

Amin Maalouf’s 91-year-old mother was the last of the family to reside in the home. She packed everything up late last year after losing a number of legal battles to the owners and developers.

“We don’t have a home in Beirut anymore,” Ziad said. “We have no place to stay–except with friends or family, which is sad.”

While his father was “very moved” by the interest of activists who have sought to shed light on the demolition, Ziad says he has not made efforts to prevent it: “My father is a very humble man. He is not the type of person to demand his memory be kept alive.”

He may also lack the resources to do so: “We are a famous family, but not in fields that make money,” Ziad said with a chuckle.

But the younger Maalouf is worried the move is part of a larger trend in the Beirut real estate market: “It’s a symbol of a city that does not respect its past, but destroys it.”

He laments the continuous loss of 1930s-1950s iconic Lebanese architecture in favor of new towers, many which remain empty; the product of real estate speculation more than planned development, he says.

“These landmarks, you can’t rebuild them. You can capitalize on skyscrapers for the future, but you can also capitalize on your history and those who build the pride of your country.”

“The former does not exclude the latter. The only thing is who decides what to preserve and where to build skyscrapers–if you need them.”

Correction/Clarification:

Ziad Maalouf is 36 not 33 as originally posted. He would like to clarify that he was returning my call and not initiating the conversation. It should also be noted that this piece is told from the family’s perspective and is not intended as a definitive history but rather a starting point for research on this topic. I welcome any comments or different interpretations to address the issues brought up in this post.

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6 COMMENTS

  1. i know this building and for the last 20 years Maalouf family were not living there and i think it is not historic and the mother of Amin maalouf were renting the 2nd floor for like 200$ per year…and would anyone guess how much money Mr. Maalouf”s mother take money to leave this rental one year ago ???
    i donno why Mr. Ziad is so jealous for this matter knowing that he was born and lived in france and dont know if he knows that his Grandma Miss Odette and his aunt Miss Hind how much money they get with the online coordination with the immortel Mr. amin Maalouf .

  2. Hi Patrick, thanks for bringing up the issue of the owners rights and compensation. These are important issues and please share more info if you have access to it. The point of this post was to raise the topic of preservation and how do we decide what is or is not a historic landmark. The homes of famous writers all over the world have been considered landmarks regardless of the age of the home itself or whether or not the author was constantly inhabiting it. These homes have attracted many tourists and may help stimulate local interest in the artist and art in general. I think that is the bigger picture we are looking at here, do you disagree?

  3. Anonymous,c’est la première fois que j’entends qq.chose d’intelligent.peut être je suis sourd,mais je suis tout a fait d’accord avec ce raisonnement..c’est tellement clair que les propriétaires sont forces de vendre,et c’est encore plus clair que les locataires sont des abrutis qui, pour économiser de l’argent qu’ils peuvent payer (augmentation des loyers), se retrouvent des années plus tard a la périphérie de beyrouth ,une fois éjecter par les nouveaux propriétaires.on ne peut pas tout le temps avoir le beurre et l’argent du beurre.

  4. dear Habib, we knew recently that amin malouf”s cousin Miss roya kanaan (real estate consultant) had a meeting with the developper but you know what, she was escorted by a developper called paul khodr who is the co-owner of mr raed abillama the two own an adjacent building and failed to buy the mdawwar plot due to the price.. why we dont approach the owners who sold this building like the syrian patriaicate (who got approval from the vatican), rabbat family (relatives to antoine mdawwar) and minister ibrahim najjar.. as long as there is no new law regarding the heritage building to preserve them and to give exploitation somwhere else i think things will continue like thisand especially in concrete buildings such the case of badaro.

  5. I’m interested in all replies, they bring more to the subject. But the thing that bothers me, is not that it is a historic building by itself. I completely agree with the owners issue, they have rights that no one is willing to give (most of the governments buildings are rented for low prices, so go figure the will to give them their rights), I also feel for people living in those old houses, and who can’t afford to buy or move out (not all of them of course but a big percentage)… It’s a vortex! But the issue is not here, in my opinion. It is a policy of “I don’t care” applied everywhere. This house, in a country that believes in its culture could have been bought by the government, or could have been kept and integrated in the new building, transformed into a cultural center (apparently there was a study that never saw the light). Investors have the right to built, but it’s up to the government to put certain barriers or certain conditions, that investors usually take and apply. It happens everyday on the planet. But again, it all depends on what we want, and how we want it…

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