This week, Beirut residents celebrated Job’s Wednesday (Orba’at Ayoub) at Ramlet El Baida, a tradition that stretches back generations. Legend has it that Job, a biblical prophet also revered in Islam, was directed to swim in the Ramlet El Baida waters to help heal his illnesses.
For decades, Beirut families have gathered on the last Wednesday of April for a picnic in his honor. “There were thousands of people, all of Beirut came out,” Samir, a 70-something local resident told me, reflecting wistfully on the 1950s. “Everyone used to walk all the way from their houses to the sea. My father used to take me.”
For the occasion, women often prepare a special sweet dish called “mfatka:”
The tradition was kept alive this year with dancers, fireworks and a souk.
But the crowd that came out was much smaller than the hordes of people that thronged the coast in 1950s, before the unregulated real estate boom that has literally walled in the shore and erased much of Beirut’s extended sand coast and dunes:
There are also fears that Ramlet el Baida, the only remaining free beach in the capital, may fall victim to well-connected investors and privatization. Until the late 1980s, this coast was protected from construction by Lebanese law, but land-owning politicians have recently changed those laws, paving the way for large developments that will benefit them and their associates.
At the far south end of the Ramle beach is a multi-million dollar development known as Eden Rock. And on the northern side, the natural shore of Dalieh has also been claimed by a political dynasty who have commissioned a Rem Koolhaas design. Will Ramlet el Baida face a similar fate?
“We inherited Dalieh from our parents and grandparents and we will pass it on to our children and grandchildren.”
Many from the crowd enjoyed it so much they took selfies:
The activists also tried to reach Beirut Mayor Bilal Hamad, who was busy taking selfies himself:
But as exited after the brief visit, he never stopped once to look up at the banner:
Hamad has repeatedly claimed the beach will be saved from development, but he has yet to translate those promises into action and has refrained from calling for the protection of Dalieh, which is owned by a political dynasty he is very close to.
The evening ended with fireworks:
And more singing and dancing:
At the end, Dalieh organizer architect Abir Saksouk-Sasso was welcomed on stage and gave a brief speech about the campaign.
Beirut seafront traditions, and the working class that participates in them, have been hit hard by the zeal for luxury development, which is literally pushing people out of the city.
But it’s nice to know that many still believe in holding on.