Erasing memory in downtown Beirut

Erasing memory in downtown Beirut

Published in the January issue of Al Jazeera Digital Magazine, available on iTunes.

Words and photos by Habib Battah
 
A waiter surveys a row of empty tables beneath the Place D’Etoile clock tower seen on so many postcards of Beirut. Once a gritty, bustling hub of the city, the square was sandblasted and transformed into a posh cafe district in the early 1990s after the ravages of the Lebanese war. Tonight, hundreds of glasses and plates are laid on fine place mats, but there is barely a single customer in sight.
“You will be lucky if your restaurant gets two tables per night,” says 26-year-old Rami. “If you get three or four, you are king of the street.”
 
He is among a dozen wait staff dressed in starched shirts and vests standing around, waiting for things to pick up. They say they’ve watched some 13 restaurants shut down over the last year and more closings are scheduled, leaving only a handful of establishments still lit up on the once crowded strip. Beyond the clocktower circle, the slowdown is more grim. Entire surrounding blocks are empty, with hundreds of vacant, dusty glass storefronts lining the pristine cobble stone streets.
 
Fifty-one-year-old Lina manages one of the few boutiques still open, but with an average of one sale per day, she spends much of her time drinking coffee on the curbside.

And yet rents in the redeveloped old city, rebranded after the civil war as Beirut Central District, are among the highest in the country. Some establishments reportedly pay up to $150,000 per year in rent alone.      
 
Downtown Beirut was bustling with hooka cafes before the conflict in Syria, catering mainly to wealthy tourists from the Arab Gulf countries. Now waitstaff stand around, fearing the loss of their jobs.
 
 
Before the Syrian war began, Beirut Central District– which spans about two square kilometers–had become a tourist magnet, attracting hordes of wealthy visitors from neighboring states such as Saudi Arabia during summer. But many of those countries have since imposed stiff travel bans on Lebanon, where there is intense hostility toward Gulf states for funding the war next door, particularly among the many pro-regime parties in the bitterly divided country.   
 
“They think Lebanon is a terrorist country,” Rami, the waiter, says. So now he is looking for jobs in other parts of the capital that are still thriving despite the conflict and subsequent fall in tourism. And that, perhaps, underscores a deeper problem with the redevelopment of downtown Beirut: the commonly held belief among locals that the once vibrant old city was reconstructed, not to be used by the Lebanese residents, but as a spectacle to attract foreigners.     
 
“This area was built for Khaleejiyi,” Rami says, using the colloquial term for Gulf Arabs. “It’s not for me and you. It won’t come back. Everything that goes away, doesn’t come back.”
 
‘An island for the rich’
 
Lebanese economist and former finance minister Georges Corm is not surprised by the disparity between the performance of the central district, which occupies a surface area of less than one percent of the capital, and the rest of Beirut.
 
“I said from the beginning this project is going to create an island instead of the reconstitution of the social and architectural fabric,” he explained from his office overlooking the cranes at work near downtown.
 
“This was a place where all of the social classes would mix. It was the biggest symbol of coexistence in Lebanon. Now it’s a kind of no man’s land for rich people.”
 
How old Beirut evolved into a luxury district few Lebanese could afford is rooted in an enormous real estate privatization process that began in the early 1990s spearheaded by the late prime minister Rafik Hariri.
 
Hariri, a billionaire developer, took office in 1992 after a power-sharing agreement to end the Lebanese civil war was signed in Saudi Arabia, where he had amassed much of his wealth in the construction industry and enjoyed close ties to the royal family. Hariri had eyed the Beirut reconstruction process as early as the 1980s and had commissioned a private firm to develop plans to rebuild the city center well before coming to office. It has even been suggested his construction firm, Saudi Oger, undertook demolition works in the 1980s to lay the groundwork for the planned reconstruction.
 
Over a dozen restaurants have closed on the main strip in the central district this year and dozens more store fronts on side streets remain unoccupied.
 
 
In fact in 1990, two years before Hariri came to power, the head of Hariri’s Saudi Oger was appointed to lead Lebanon’s state reconstruction agency, the Council for Development and Reconstruction (CDR). Once in office, Hariri established Solidere as the lead developer, a private firm traded on the Beirut stock market, in which he would become the largest shareholder. Meanwhile, through a decree signed by his government, the rights of thousands of Beirut tenants and landowners were ceded to Solidere, in exchange for shares, valued by government committees. The decree was signed by then finance minister Fouad Siniora who had previously headed banks owned by Hariri.
 
Attorney Mohammed Mugraby, who has represented some 50 property rights owners in suits against Solidere, says his clients were denied the right to challenge the company’s actions and claims judges were paid by Solidere through the CDR to issue share appraisals, which were exponentially undervalued.  
 
“Solidere is an unprecedented violation of the Lebanese constitution and rule of law,” Mugraby says. “Legally it does not exist. Solidere is nothing but an arm of the Hariri establishment.”
 
Despite multiple requests for comment, Solidere’s press office and representatives could not be reached for an interview. The company has often argued that an expedited private management structure was the most feasible approach to the reconstruction process at the end of the war.
 
An image of rebirth
 
Marked by rows of gutted, bullet-riddled buildings, open sewers and vegetation growing through the streets, the old city center had become an eyesore that interfered with the image of rebirth Hariri had hoped to sell investors during his post-war reign. The Lebanese economy and  institutions had been crippled by 15 years of savage shelling and the lure of multi-million dollar contracts and the promise of renewed business flowing into the capital was undoubtedly a powerful motivator for widespread acceptance of the sweeping changes proposed by the prime minister.
 
In the 1990s, Solidere told its story in the form of ubiquitous television commercials with time lapse footage of individual buildings slowly restored to their former glory by workers on scaffolding. It published coffee table books featuring large glossy artist impressions of what the city would look like, with vignettes on the offices and marina designs Solidere would borrow from places like Barcelona, Monte Carlo and New York City.
 
Excluded from this narrative was the razing of entire historic neighborhoods such as Zeitouni, Wadi Abou Jamil, Safi, the Souks and the whole of Martyr’s Square, save for its namesake statue.
 
There are more pigeons than customers on an average day in the city center. Critics say the scheme to rebuild old Beirut created a Disneyland effect, replacing the once gritty streets that drew a mix of social class with an island for the wealthy, divorced from the rest of the city.
 
 
Among the hundreds of destroyed buildings were “the last Ottoman and medieval remains in Beirut” wrote American University of Beirut professor Nabil Beyhum in the Journal The Beirut Review in 1992. Much of the damage had been done through unapproved demolitions in the 1980s and early 1990s, bringing down  “some of the capital’s most significant buildings and structures,” wrote UCLA professor Saree Makdisi in the journal, Critical Inquiry, in 1997.
 
To increase Solidere’s surface area, relatively undamaged buildings were collapsed through the use of excess dynamite, according to Makdisi.
 
Seventy-five-year-old Mugraby is also a rights owner himself and says four shops owned by his late father in the vaunted Souks of Beirut were demolished in mid-1983– not by militias but by bulldozers belonging to Hairi’s Saudi Oger.
 
Mugraby and others say they have been punished for opposing Solidere. He claims the company launched an illegal attempt to disbar him and was even jailed for three weeks following his allegations of corrupt payments to Lebanese judges. Mugraby says it has taken a decade to clear his name: “I became so busy defending myself, I had little time left to fight these guys.”
 
Company or country?
 
Fadi Al Khoury, the owner of  Beirut’s oldest and most storied hotel, says Solidere has consistently denied him the right to rebuild. Opened in 1929, the St. Georges had been featured in countless films, books and postcards of the city, famed for its water skiing matches, yachting club and James Bond-like guest list. But today Solidere has landfilled the hotel’s beach access to build its own marina and the St. Georges is now better known for the giant “Stop Solidere” canvas that covers its still bullet riddled facade.
 
Al Khoury says his refusal to sell the property to Solidere has resulted in him being repeated denied work permits over the last 19 years through the company’s vast influence on city officials.
 
“They are more powerful than the government,” he says from his home in the hills above the capital, which he admits to now rarely visiting. “Having one company bigger than the country can disrupt the rights of the people.”
 
With rows of empty buildings, it is unclear how many shops remain vacant in Beirut’s central district. Unable to afford the high cost of maintenance imposed by Solidere, most original tenants have been forced to surrender their properties in exchange for shares in the company
 
 
Solidere is by far Lebanon’s largest company. According to its website, the firm’s current real estate and financial assets are close to $10 billion, which is nearly one quarter of the country’s entire GDP.
 
Even for the few whose properties were spared by the bulldozers, Solidere has made the price of holding on very high.
 
The Ahliah School, one of the city’s oldest, had managed to stay open during the worst days of the civil war, but was still forced to pay Solidere some $350,000 to continue operating once the fighting ended, the chairman of the school’s board, Nadim Cortas, explains. Solidere had claimed the fee would cover “infrastructure costs” such as road and plumbing work in the Central District, and was calculated as a percentage of a property value.
 
Solidere would also claim rights over the schools “sky” space. Before the war, Cortas said he had been granted a right to build several additional floors to expand the campus, which has been hosting students since 1875. But now even if the school needs to build an extra room, Cortas says that space must be purchased at market value from Solidere. And because the neighborhood has been transformed into one of luxury towers at the costs of millions of dollars per apartment, the value of land has risen exponentially to thousands of dollars per square meter.
 
Meanwhile Cortas says Solidere also demolished the Ahliah school’s annex elementary building– which remained intact during the war and was recently renovated– to make way for a parking lot (though it had promised to transform the space into a garden.) In exchange, Ahliah received shares in the company, which he says are worth hardly a fifth of the property’s current value.
 
Still the chairman of the board says he has “mended bridges” with the developer. He touts Ahliah, a non-profit institution, as one of the few schools in the Beirut to have maintained a non-sectarian curriculum with a mixed student body, including some 30 percent of students supported by financial aid. He said the school had recently achieved the coveted New England certification and is keen to move beyond the challenges of the past.
 
Indeed many property owners are reluctant to speak critically about Solidere. The company maintains a say over all approvals and sets very strict building standards, often forcing owners to purchase high cost imported materials.
 
“Everything we need to fix requires permission,” said one property owner on the condition of anonymity. “If I need a new door, they will choose the most expensive paint. If we need to replace a window, they make us buy cedarwood because they say the original windows were cedarwood. So we have to import the windows from the USA.
 
“If you make a fuss, next time you ask for permission to renovate, they will keep your request in their drawers for six months.”
 
When a property owner fails to comply with Solidere’s strict building codes, the owner is forced to vacate and accept shares in the company. And because central Beirut had not been a luxury district, it would be hard to imagine most residents and small business owners could afford lavish furnishings, particularly after 15 years of harrowing conflict.
 
But, in other cases, more coercive means may have allegedly been deployed. Mugraby produces a court indictment in the case of 11 persons killed during a demolition in February 1996 because, he says, a family refused to move.
 
Had Solidere offered comment, one assumes they would have denied responsibility for much of the above. Of course accidents happen on construction sites and the notion that change will always be difficult for some parties to accept is a mantra of developers everywhere.
 
A ‘manicured’ city
 
“Any big organization undertaking a task this large is really going to upset people along the way,” says Karim Makarem, managing director of Ramco, a Beirut-based real estate consultancy.  
 
Each night the tables are set and the televisions are turned on in the hopes of luring customers. Staff say they would be lucky to fill two to three tables per night.
 
 
Makarem blames the current slowdown in the central district on the lack of tourism and says added security measures have made the area difficult to access, even for locals. With the country’s parliament and the prime minister’s offices close to the Etoile square, streets are often cordoned off due to protests.
 
“It’s extremely uninviting,” he says. “The BCD [Beirut Central District] has suffered more than any other area because of the political situation, yet in my opinion, it has the best future.”
 
Despite the high rents, Makarem is confident that there exists a market of wealthy Lebanese living abroad, particularly in newly built Gulf cities like Abu Dhabi and Dubai, to fill the gap.
 
“A lot of these people want the benefits of living in a manicured part of town. Once you’ve been living in that type of sanitary environment, it is very difficult to live in the mess that is the rest of Beirut.”
 
Because Solidere leveled much of the old city, it was able to install new cabling, sewers, power sub stations and sidewalks. Whereas in the rest of the capital–which is roughly 20 times larger than Solidere– much of this infrastructure had collapsed during the years of war. Power lines are haphazardly strung, street flooding is common and sidewalks are broken or missing.
 
“There are a lot of positives,” says Makerm of Solidere’s urban planning. “It’s the only place you can walk downtown. I’m very optimistic,” he adds. “The minute you get these tourists and expats in the country, I think they will appreciate what the BCD has to offer.”
 
Changing history
 
Yet critics also question what the Central District has offered the local population. In a country with an average monthly income of around $1,000, most Lebanese struggle to find somewhere to eat or shop within their price range.
 
For years, Solidere has promised to build parks, museums and cultural spaces. Much touted projects include an archaeological exhibit, dubbed The Garden of Forgiveness, a city museum to be built beneath Martyr’s Square and a lush central park–all announced to much fanfare over a decade ago. Yet today these sites remain vacant, with little indication about completion dates and barely a mention on Solidere’s sleek, recently revamped website.
 
Despite the lack of business, cafe owners are faced with some of the highest rental prices in Beirut. If the lack of tourism continues, the few remaining outlets are expected to close.
 
 
Meanwhile, well over a dozen hotel, office and residential towers have gone up over the same period. And in 2007, Solidere had announced plans to create Solidere International, which would help develop multi-billion dollar residential projects in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. In an interview with Bloomberg earlier this year, Solidere’s general manager announced that the company had amassed over $700 million in cash, with an annual income of $50 million–this in addition to land and real estate assets worth over $8 billion.  
 
“With all the profit that has been made, you don’t have one cultural project in a city– that in the worst of times– had theatres and performances,” says architect Mona Hallak.
 
Hallak is among several activists and academics who have long argued that any project to rebuild the city center should aim to bring original residents back in an effort to stimulate post-war reconciliation over a profit-making enterprise. But she has lowered expectations considerably.
 
“Just give me one building, that would have shut me up,” Hallak says, rolling off a list of promised cultural centers that never materialized. Hallak has spearheaded the Beit Beirut museum, which will be housed in a shrapnel-pierced apartment block that had become the most-feared sniper’s nest on the line dividing East and West Beirut during the civil war. Hallak spent over a decade of her life fighting to save the arcaded 1930s-era building, which lies just outside of the Solidere area, and was four days away from demolition in the late 1990s, she says. But the slightly graying activist is exasperated by the battle for the BCD.
 
“I think we deserve Solidere. The people of Beirut don’t understand that it was the biggest rip-off–a real estate company taking over a downtown. I mean, it’s crazy. It changed the whole history and identity of the city. For me, Solidere is a question of erasing the memory of Beirut.”
 
Still visions of old Beirut live on.
 
At his wood-paneled law office in Hamra, a few miles from the city center, Attorney Mugraby leans back in his chair when asked about his final days in the old city. It was 1976. The civil war had gone on for about a year but there was a lull in the fighting. The militias had withdrawn and the barricades were removed. Crowds of shopkeepers and residents had returned to check on their properties. There was a large impromptu gathering at Martyrs square. Even strangers embraced, asking about friends and families. Mugraby pauses and turns away.
 
“It was touching, I tell you,” he says, voice cracking. A slight tremble runs over his lips and wrinkled face. For a brief moment, his eyes fog up.  
“It’s difficult for me to discuss.”

32 COMMENTS

  1. Did the Solidere people refuse to talk to you? If so, you should have added that, unless you did and I didn’t notice.

  2. Yes I did and noted that just before the second section “image of rebirth”. I actually tried about 6-7 times over 3 weeks, including emails, phone calls, voice messages and a formal written request all to the main PR manager, who kept promising something. Exasperated, I looked up a senior executive on Facebook, we had some exchanges and the exec promised to take my calls but then never answered them.

  3. Nice article (once again)… thanks Habib. I hope this article and issue picks up traction and momentum. Beirut has been raped by Solidere and other corrupt developers in partnership with corrupt government officials. And the Lebanese people (for the most part) struggle on in silence and oblivion. Depressing indeed.

    • Thank you anon. I think one of the main problems is the lack of public information and people willing to demand that information amid very slick and expensive PR campaigns that dissuade questions. With time, hopefully more people will begin to ask about issues they deserve answers to.

  4. The downtown is the only civilized, decent, walkable, modern and organized urban space in Lebanon… just tell where you can walk in beirut or Lebanon on a well designed and paved sidewalks and streets, tell me where in Beirut or Lebanon that has an up to date infrastructure that offers you high speed telecommunications, tell me where in Beirut or Lebanon where you can find plazas or green areas amongst the urban fabric, tell me where you can find lit streets at night and street signage that make your life safer in Lebanon… the downtown is a model that all lebanese cities should adopt but negative and un-civilized people don’t want and don’t deserve to live in such places…

    • To say the BCD is a model for other Lebanese cities would be to suggest that other Lebanese towns destroy wide swathes of their built-up space, level entire neighborhoods, raise real estate values exponentially and thus remove nearly all the original inhabitants and property owners, who would have absolutely no say in the policies that govern their lives, i.e. their future. That’s not really a model for a city, it’s a model for the autocratic and dehumanizing emptying of a city in favor of a different, preferred ‘class’ of residents. If you had carefully read the article above, you would know that downtown Beirut is in fact largely a ghost town today and is thus devoid of social fabric with the vast majority of shops shuttered. Infrastructure improvements in downtown were made possible by the expropriation–many would argue the ruthless and unconstitutional appropriation–of other people’s property, which was forcibly seized at massively undervalued rates. But if you feel that much of Beirut’s population is undeserving and uncivilized anyway, I’m guessing you have no problem demolishing the properties of those you deem unfit for civilization in whatever narrow, un-nuanced, classist and Orientalist way you have defined the idea of civilization. But what’s even more disturbing is that you have basically discarded, ignored– or not even read– any of the many detailed legal and financial allegations presented above, which run totally counter to your narrative of a model city, because the governing structure utterly lacks accountability, transparency and inclusivity.

    • Also I’m perplexed by this idea that “downtown is the only place to walk in Beirut” which basically ignores Hamra, much of Ashrafieh and the entire Corniche, which is probably the biggest, busiest and most picturesque place to walk in all of Beirut. But it’s hard to see why questioning the financial and political behavior of the country’s biggest company is related to or reduces the availability of public space. In fact it is investigations of accountability that can be the basis of arguments to make the BCD’s fine amenities available not just to a select, wealthy neighborhoods but to neighborhoods across the city. Why would anyone be opposed sidewalks?

    • You really have a flat mind! Who is to blame that some people in Lebanon don’t follow the rules and the law. Why?
      Why are some people uncivilized and negative as you say, because we don’t have a government who are teaching rules to be
      followed. This nice island “dawn town” is only build for the rich.
      You don’t even have a normal pedestrian footpath outside in the surburbs.
      There are so many things wrong in Lebanon and people never learn. I don’t understand!

  5. Excellent article! Only one thing that I think warrants correction: BCD wasn’t exactly happening prior to the Syrian war. It began to pick up a bit in the 2 years before (2009-2010), but between 2005-2009 most of that time it was empty. I remember places opening and closing all the time and going down there to see empty streets. I think Lebanese like to forget this to over dramatize an already dramatic situation. It’s bad, but downtown was not so much better before the Syrian war. Any political instability affects downtown. If it wasn’t Syria it would be something else.

  6. Clean buildings and polished streets do not create life and culture. Who are the residents of downtown Beirut and how do they relate to the Lebanese fabric of life. Put aside a few clean Lebanese families, most tenants are Lebanese expats and Gulf men who visit the downtown in the summer. They use their condominiums to accommodate East European prostitutes away from their spouses and children. The shops are mainly owned or leased by the masters of money laundering. They have millions of dollars in cash from drug deals that need to be legitimized. Here is a scenario; prices at this downtown shoe stores ranges between $460.00 and $1895.00 a pair. This store in reality does not sell two pairs a month yet his daily deposits into the bank may go up to $10,000 a day in cash. The owner can fabricate receipts, pays TVA, and can easily afford $150,000 a year in rent. This is the downtown that Solidere has created; facades of corruption, antiquities of deception, and high priced whorehouses. Hisham Khalek

    • Hisham. your comments are a masterstrok in depiction of the corruption, graft, nepotism, cronyism, swindle, deception and depravity which Lebanon has been afflicted with by the political prostitutes of the Hariris, first the father, and now his sons who all are international rogues on a grand scale. A polluted stream is the Hariris, their Solidere, and their “Future” thugs, hoodlums and stooges. One must be a sea to be able to receive a polluted stream without becoming unclean.

  7. This is a great article on a very important subject. As a half Lebanese who grew up outside, I used to think Solidere was a great thing…as I dug deeper, however, I grew progressively more disappointed. It is no mystery that real life in Beirut happens in Gemayzeh, Mar Mkhael and Hamra. Those places have authenticity and more important “mixite” meaning a kind of diversity of owners, people, residents, locations and a complex urban fabric that developers can not copy no matter who hard they try. I think SOlidere should be considered a neighbourhood size version of Dubai mall, but more corrupt, more map-intentioned and way less successful. Everyone I know who opened a shop in Solidere now regrets it, Zeytouni bay most of all…

    About 18 months ago, after the Christchurch earthquakes, a close friend who co-heads the christchurch (NZ) rebuilding committee came to beirut to study solidere. They were initially quite impressed but as the day and the meetings wore on, they seemed to become more and more disenchanted. At one point He asked Nasser Chamaa which areas had been designated for affordable housing…the completely off the cuff answer: we don;t have any affordable housing, we do not want those people here. So what they want is a city with only the extremely (by lebanese standards) wealthy, selling only imported luxiry goods, designed by foreign architects and with no soul. Well,t why have it, good luck.

    Needless to say the New Zealanders never came back…

  8. What a fascinating story epok, thanks for sharing! I’d love to do a blog post about the interaction you had with Soldiere Chairman Chamaa. If you are willing to share the details please email me at habib (dot) battah (at) gmail

  9. […] “Even the rich people don’t bother coming anymore,” Mohammed Younnes, 27, said on a recent Saturday evening as he gazed at the empty tables of Grand Café, an eatery he manages in downtown Nejmeh Square. Businesses in the square, distinctive for an art-deco clock tower with “Rolex” written on its dial, are relocating or going bankrupt. […]

  10. Thanks for this article (and all the comments). Just found its link in the January 1 2015 Hugh Naylor article (^^noted above).
    We visited Lebanon, Syria and Jordan 10 years ago, and spent days walking all over Beirut. The ‘downtown’ described above was still under construction (and the centuries older relic buildings still under ‘deconstruction’), but the parts already completed were instantly, easily identifiable as sterile, culture-free wasteland of overpriced consumer traps. We were baffled by the whole scene and spent very little time there compared to many other parts of town.
    A few months later, when Hariri was murdered, I wondered, cynically perhaps, if, rather than the standard assumption about Syrian political payback, it was just a hit by organized crime against a rival…

  11. […] “Even the rich people don’t bother coming anymore,” Mohammed Younnes, 27, said on a recent Saturday evening as he gazed at the empty tables of Grand Cafe, an eatery he manages in downtown Nejmeh Square. Businesses in the square, distinctive for an art deco clock tower with “Rolex” written on its dial, are relocating or goingbankrupt. […]

  12. Hi Mr, Habtb Battah concerning your BIG ISSUE about Erasing Memory in Downtown Beirut I have got few humble comments . if you dear Sir ,or any other person watched Old Beirut photos in COL.OUR or in BLACK &WHITE on the website . you ll realise that the only best modernising Downtown Beirut period was after the Lebanese Independence or after 1945??as before that Martyrs Square/Bab Edriss/ Ryadh Solh/Debbas Square …were mostly reminders of Ottoman rule period ,then came the French whom modernised Al Zaytouneh strip and built their UNKNOWN Soldiers shrine..to look like some french boulvard which in turn led to open new hotels and cabarets to entertain French victorious soldiers who survived the 2nd W.W. in the M.East region. Most of the buildings around just been refurbished some renovated some demolished and rebuilt due to the latest architectural models..such as ASSAYLI/Capitol bldg. in Ryadh Solh Sq. late S. Salam s Maqassed bldg,/or better known as Cinema RIVOLY which demolished in the late 1990 S?? which stood next to Today s AN NAHAR paper s bldg. and Cinema OPERA s bldg. or today s VIRGIN stores. 1950/60/60 s 3and half decade to the 1975 things got better for downtown Beirut with BAYDOUN S prime Skyscraper then, i mean STARCO tower and almost 1st shopping Center in the M.East then followed by Samadi / NajibSalhAa s City Centre on Bichara el Khoury St. also famously known as City Palace Cinema those were the biginnings of a changing Beirut s FACADE already and even before the 15 years conflict. .. so as you see all were individual or family businesses and efforts with the help oh some at the time talented architects such as late Antoine TABET engineering team and many others around. Actually Mr.TABET built St.GEORGE S hotel at Meena EL Hossn area , as i recalL ! without forgetting to mention BYBLOS Stores tower near Saifi then , now (Demolished )! So, my point is that this Erasing was delayed due to the 15 years unrest . the only thing is that what is happening now is that its happening very fast, now days Beirut is like a recovering person with 2 paralysed legs , is Running before he/she is trained how to walk ..and running SO fast.. which is worrying for a just recovered pair of legs…and running to where??? with all the uncertainty surrounding the whole region!! from LONDON with love to BEIRUT! Barsoumian. P/S Mr.Habib thanks to you i can see my childhood home/building where i lived from 1947-1959 Rue MAARAD..Much obliged to you. in your photo A Beirut report about Erasing Memory,,,,,,,,,,,,,,! 1st building close to Emir Bechir street and Cinema Grand Theatre.. We were on the .( 2nd floor_)!

  13. This is a PERSONAL OPINION…..// when the 15 year old Lebanese civil war came to an end ,and people in Beirut started to come out of their hide -ways and cocoons..to see the MASTERPIECES that fighters painted the city centre ,with their /KALASHNIKOVS/ RB G s/DOSHKAS/ and every other weapons used , that astonished all and shocked them tremendously..no doubt!! seeing all such hideous damages and ruins of., once, the hub of the Arab world & it s cultural centre for many many decades, in ruins, the cinema theatres, restaurants, office buildings that were once like a beehive ,casinos,markets,shops ..people from all around the Arab world and the western..too ,used to come to see and shop around ,lying in ashes… i assume, and undoubtedly must have shed and jerked few tears from every eye witnessed all that almost 25 years ago? between 1975 -1979 when i was still in Beirut ,and whenever there were a kind of armistice or negotiations , i or we.. used to go downtown and see few damages here and there like bullets/bombs holes decorating such buildings facades we used to say maalesh or Never mind Metals/bricks easy to be replaced ..but the departed won t !! dear GOD were we fooling ourselves ,because all this was a 5% or a fraction of what s to come in the next 11 years, Lebanese and others all around the globe shed tears every time when they saw war reports on their local T.V screens ,as these were the only means to follow events..in those years, but in one report showing Beirut s MARTYRS Square, among all the destruction/ruins/and rubbles getting bulldozered ..one scene caught my attention, the demolition of SHORTAT BEIRUT… or Beirut s main police station, that once caused fear and panic in every citizen or visitor to the country…for many many decades, because of its reputation as , House of PAIN? >> i leave it to your imagination, Sir or Madam to guess what i mean, i recall my mate used to make living by displaying cheap priced decent story/ novel books on the sidewalks in the Martyr Square, a couple of officers used to harass him every evening,asking for license,if he got one, if not , he must consider himself lucky if they took few books.. free,or asked for few quids as bribe..if not they confiscated the whole box of books, and many many other street vendors experienced such Harsh treatment ..even some been arrested for answering back a bit in Loud tone ,as angry ,frustrated from such daily injustice ,the only means to make some money to live on and feed their families children.,and they get all this nightmare daily/nightly, i believe corrupted individual officers are every where around the world, also the good ones too, but in Beirut,,specifically , SOME officers think they were or are over the law..or gods to be feared of and Worshipped by all..especially the poor and the meek,because the rich if in trouble with the law can pay his way out…./ also they lack respect ,they forget that they are Servants of the public as anywhere else on this planet..EARTH, mutual respect is essential to make one s life worth living, it s got to begin from the one in power FIRST..! not by hitting the person and then asking questions ,..as i witnessed long ago in Beirut, Lebanon is well renowned as Democracy before 1975 s war, land of Freedom ..yes it was But only for the ELITE, all such bleak thoughts from the past …drew a grin on my face, i guess thousands other Lebanese all over felt the same..seeing the rubbles of such pain -house are getting removed??as the most hated landmark in the downtown Beirut, or Gone With The Wind..,and a memorial for the next generation of any officer in any position ,, that the sighs of an innocent detained wrongly , are more powerful than all the bullets or bombs that crumbled the neighbouring downtown s ,other buildings..mind you it was located between Cinema Metropole and cinema Rivoli then , or opposite AL AMINE Mosque ..today, behind it were the red light district in Beirut ,before 1975<< some kind of… IRMA LA DOUCE movie late Jack Lemmon/Shirley McLAIN situation !!……..regards from London/G.B from: I.Barsoum-ian

    worshipped

  14. Dear Mr. HABIB..,Hi,,,remember you asked me about where i grew up on Ma3rad Street?? If you kindly check on >>>> Erasing memories … Beirut Report <<<<
    photo ..A.. shows 4 large Arches that was Sheikh Hamad HALAWI bldg. close to Grand Theatre?in 1950/60?/ and one complete view of the balcony on top of the 4th arch you see there ,1 st floor..that was once an office and storage depot. the Zincographe SETRAK was on top 2 nd floor? the flat opposite him was OUR Home Sweet Home for, at least 10 years?/ and the movie i mentioned shot straight on the opposite in line.. all those buildings around once were homes/offices/workplaces even HOTELS or as then called NAZIL.Thank you for such wonderful snaps you took/ take which takes one through TIME warp ,GOD bless! your efforts. consider me as a blast from the past or SAWT MIN AL MADI?? yours truly Barsoum-ian/London

Leave a Reply