Update: Beirut governor halts demolition work at Gemmayze building

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In a Facebook post last night, Beirut Governor Ziad Chebib shared an order from his office to halt demolition works on the Art Deco building in Gemmayze. This follows coverage of the demolition by The Daily Star and this blog over the weekend.

Earlier yesterday, leading politician Walid Jumblatt issued a statement condemning the demolition and demanding accountability from the Culture Ministry and Beirut Governor over this issue.

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Jumblatt also mentioned Roman ruins discovered in another part of the same neighborhood and questioned both the need for wealthy developers to keep amassing profits by building towers on such small plots and the lack of interventions from the municipality to save some of these plots, despite its huge amount of financial reserves. I had posed some of the same questions in my post on the Roman ruins this week–indeed a friend of Jumblatt had alerted me to his statement soon after it was published, noting that Jumblatt had read the blog post prior to making it.

So it is in this context that Governor Chebib published the work stoppage order last night. In fact the governor directed his comments toward Jumblatt stating that his cessation order had already been issued over the weekend and a police memo issued on December 12 to enforce it. This is curious because the governor had not mentioned any of this during his interview with the Daily Star on the same day–Dec. 12. In fact, the when asked about the building Governor Chebib reportedly “could not recall the file” and seemed to indicate the demolition was legal.

“Although he could not recall the specific file for Atweh’s property, Governor Ziad Chebib, who gives final approval to all such requests, said the law was clear: “If the owners or builders have a license, their work’s status is legal.”

Also when I visited the building this weekend with some activists and the local Mukhtar, we noticed several official permissions posted on the building signed by the Governor. I haven’t had time to go over these in detail, but maybe someone can come up with a quick translation:

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Whatever the case is, I’m glad that major politicians are now debating what had been any other demolition a week ago–that is, before our coverage started. We should also thank the architect Jihad Kiame who drew our attention to this issue earlier this month when he posted about the building’s imminent demolition on Facebook.

Now that the conversation has started, the efforts should focus on closely monitoring what happens next and who will be held accountable for those actions.

 

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Update: 12/16/14

Architect Kiame and The Daily Star’s Venetia Rainey have just posted that some construction work continued today. Rainey is scheduled to talk to the governor about it. Looking forward to her piece.

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