Tags Posts tagged with "Hamra"

Hamra

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Keep your friends close, but keep your enemies closer. I’m not a fan of quoting cliches, but in these Machiavellian times, few phrases seem to articulate the situation better. Take the case of the recent media campaign praising Saad Hariri, Lebanon’s recently resigned prime minister.

Now it’s very normal to see posters praising politicians hastily strung up on light posts across Beirut. As you would expect, these are usually produced by a PR company or low budget design shop associated with the politician in question and hung up haphazardly by his supporters, illegally, often under the cover of night.

But what if the group putting up the billboards is not loyal to the politician in question, but actually allied with his enemies?

I began to wonder about this when I saw a Facebook post revealing Hariri billboards in or around neighborhoods loyal to his rivals, Hezbollah and Amal.

Mar Elias, photo: Dina J. Salem

The next day on my way to work, I noticed more of the same posters with the same font and message “#We are with you” plastered across many parts of Beirut.

From downtown:

To the corniche:

Bliss street:

And Hamra:

On nearly every light post, as far as the eye could see:

Yet the last few locations are not known to be strongholds of Hariri, but of other parties such as Amal and the SSNP. This was made abundantly clear during the clashes of 2008, when militants from these parties took over the streets fairly easily and strung their flags across these locations.

In the decade since, SSNP flags have appeared regularly across Hamra street and the party’s annual march turned into a military-style parade a few weeks ago that saw hundreds of party faithful take over the entire of Hamra street:

SSNP march, Hamra street, Beirut, Sept. 2017
SSNP march, Hamra street, Beirut, Sept. 2017

I thought about all this when I looked up at one of the posters, which had been put up so shoddily, it appeared to give Hariri a grimacing look:

 

I asked some tough-looking middle aged men sitting in plastic chairs below the posters if they knew who had put them up. At first one of them, a burly man in his late 40s, answered by saying “the Lebanese people put these posters up” and “it’s natural for a people to support their prime minister.”  Sure, I replied,  there is public support and then there are printing companies that print hundreds of these and distribute them in trucks. He smiled and vaguely suggested it was “political parties… all the parties,” that worked together to install the posters in their respective neighborhoods.

But I pressed him further: “But only certain parties can do that in Hamra.” Finally he conceded. “Yes we are the ones who put those up. The Hezb, the Harake and the Oumi Souryi.” This is shorthand for Hezbollah, Amal and the SSNP.

That’s a pretty savvy, next-level media strategy isn’t it, I replied. “Well the Saudis are donkeys,” he said nonchalantly.

“And what about this one,” I continued, pointing to the grimacing Hariri. What happened there? The man motioned to one of his cohort sitting in a chair behind us. “That’s Ali’s fault, I told him to fix it, he didn’t know what he was doing.” Then Ali shrugged and shot back: “You didn’t give me enough wood to put it up properly.”

I left the bickering men and tried to corroborate the story elsewhere on the block. But most people said they had not seen who had put the posters up because they found them in the morning when they opened their shops. So apparently the operation had happened overnight. But another group of men admitted laughingly that it was indeed the “Hezb, Harake and Oumi.” And they thought it was pretty hilarious too.

If this is true, could the Saudis have ever imagined this outcome? Were they assuming that Hariri’s resignation would have been taken at face value and that his opponents would have simply said good riddance, creating greater division in the country? Could the Saudis have imagined that Hariri’s opponents would be demanding his return even more vociferously than his allies?

Of course this goes beyond billboards: the President of Lebanon and the leader of Hezbollah-traditional opponents of Hariri–have been demanding his return on a near daily basis.  Even the leader of the Catholic church in Lebanon, Cardinal Bechara Rai has demanded his return, making an unprecedented visit to the Wahhabist state.

This spawned some interesting memes. Here the two are speaking in code:

The highlighted letters in the Hariri caption say: “I’m being detained” to which Rai replies: “We all know.”

Perhaps the Saudis had imagined the Lebanese would react in a simplistic “sectarian fashion” where politicians or crown princes prioritize their own sect above all others. I wonder where they got that idea?

Suffice to say, Hariri’s opponents and even internet trolls have successfully thrown the ball back into Saudi Arabia’s court and the Saudi leadership probably didn’t see this coming. But since the Saudi royal court (or whatever is left of it) has effectively declared that Lebanon is at war with them, we can only hope the disintegration of their media strategy will give them pause before pursuing further actions on the ground.

Wouldn’t it be great if all wars were limited to creative media messaging, and the winner could be decided with likes and retweets instead of missiles and bullets?

Via: Abbas Hamideh

What had been one of the most beautiful and historic buildings on Jeanne d’Arc street will soon be gone. Here’s a picture of it from January:

Jan 2017 (Before)

And yesterday:

Sept. 2017( After)

The demolition was well under way last week and it probably won’t survive much longer.

The Jeanne d’Arc building is/was just a couple of blocks up from the American University Of Beirut, a few streets from busy Hamra street.

Jan 2017

You could still see one of the arched window on the lower floor yesterday. Some say it will become a parking lot:

Sept. 2017

Elder neighborhood residents told me the building was easily over 100 years old. This would have made it one of the oldest in Hamra, where most development accelerated in the 1950s and 1960s. Before that Hamra was largely an agricultural area, a far cry from the urban density today where barely a tree can be found. Can you imagine how it might have looked, surrounded by orchards and greenery?

Jan. 2017
Sept. 2017

The door is still in tact too, but probably not for long:

Behind the building along Sidani street, there were three other old buildings, seen here in a photo I took for a post three years ago:

Dec. 2013

Almost all of these have also been demolished:

Sept. 2017

The block had already been in a poor state when I saw it, perhaps abandoned for decades:

Dec. 2013

But still quaint and worth restoring, one would think:

Dec. 2013

Now there is little left but the tree:

Sept. 2017

And the tree growing out of one building– compare to top photo. The tin door overhang is still there:

Also notice the turret-like stones on the building behind it. I’ve seen this on some old Ras Beirut buildings and not sure if it was decorative or part of the structure.

All the buildings are made of sandstone, which is supposedly protected by heritage laws:

Some said one of the buildings had been used as a school in more recent years, which seemed evident from some of the debris:

And the wall paintings:

I also noticed a number of roof tiles salvaged from the rubble:

They had a cool bee imprint:

Upon closer look, you can make out the name of the manufacturer: “Guichard Carvin & Cie” made in “Marseille St. Andre”

A quick internet search revealed these to be produced as early as the late 1800s.

Source: Mario

Can you imagine these tiles survived over 100 winters? I wonder how long today’s roof tiles last?

Another thing they don’t make like they used to is landscaping. Even though this decrepit block is falling apart, it is still the greenest place on the street, which is now full of concrete high rises:

Most people probably know the block by the old photo shop. A lot of things in the area seem to use ‘palladium’ including an old cinema not far away.

Questions remain. Why was one of the oldest buildings in the neighborhood not protected? What type of heritage laws allow the most historic building on one of the city’s most historic streets to be razed without a trace? Where was the Ministry of Culture and the Municipality of Beirut?

This could have been a rare opportunity not only to preserve a single building out of context, but an entire block, frozen in the early part of the century.  Whether as a community garden, small museum or even refurbished shops or apartments, it could have been a chance to protect a sliver of old Hamra at a time when much of the neighborhood’s architectural identity is gradually being erased, replaced by methodic glass and concrete structures that can be found anywhere and devoid of detailed craftsmanship.

While it stood, this block was a faint reminder of where we came from: the urban heritage and the social fabric that laid the foundation for what would become one of the city’s busiest neighborhoods.

But that window on the past is rapidly fading. And it’s being filled with rubble and concrete.

Always take pictures of old Beirut buildings. You never know when you will become an accidental archivist.

 

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Source: Campaign to save Red House

It seems everywhere you turn in Hamra, there is a new tower coming up. None of them affordable so most are empty. The old storefronts and casual street life marked by locals chatting on the sidewalks and old men pulling up plastic chairs becomes replaced by large metal gates and car garages: no loitering, no spontaneity, no sense of community is sanctioned by unregulated private capital keen on exclusive luxury property development.

What will remain of Hamra and Ras Beirut when every old building is torn down? Will it become just any other prefabricated valley of towers, with no sense of history, community or architectural identity? What will happen to the rest of Beirut if there are no authorities capable of protecting any semblance of heritage? Where is the Ministry of Culture?

Such questions are now being raised by the campaign to save yet another condemned building known by its residents as “Red House,” part of which reportedly dates back to the 18th century, which would make it one of the oldest homes in Hamra.

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Source: Campaign to save Red House

The campaigners say the Directorate General of Antiquities has drafted a report to save the home, but according to this article the report has sat for several months without a signature from the Culture Minister Rony Araygi.

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Source: Campaign to save Red House

Instead the current renter, architect Samir Rubeiz– who says his family has occupied the second floor of building for three generations– says they have been served an eviction notice to vacate within 10 days, ending on January 22. The eviction notice, they say, specifically mentions demolition.  (See bottom of the post for updates and reaction from the owner)

Rubeiz’s family has started a Facebook page and encourages visitors to take pictures and publish them to share the story. I am told some activists are now trying to reach the minister and there has been some scattered press coverage. But public participation may be needed as well if this house is to be saved unlike the infamous demolition of the Maalouf house despite promises by a previous minister and an outcry by some activists.

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Source: Campaign to save Red House

In addition to posting pictures and sharing this story, you can also contact the minister on Twitter.

Here is an interesting video about the house, underscoring the broader issue of the neighborhood’s disappearance in favor of well-heeled real estate interests.

For a sense of the context in which this potential demolition is taking place see these photos from Al Modon news site:

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Clearly the Red House stands alone, the green spaces and other homes that may have once surrounded it are now paved with parking lots and condos. Can this lonely memory of the neighborhood be saved?

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UPDATE:

A decendent of the owner of the home has posted a rather terse response to those sharing this story, noting that the tenant, Samir Rubeiz, is a “leech” and simply using heritage as an excuse to keep renting the home at a cheap rate. This is presumably because of old rent laws that have recently been controversially amended allowing potential evictions across the city. However the status does not make any mention of what the owner plans on doing with home and whether or not she thinks it should be kept or demolished. I have reached out to her to get a clarification and will publish one if she responds. Here is her comment in full:

I am responding to the numerous posts about the Red House in Hamra. I would like to inform those who have shared comments and articles about the house that it belongs to MY family. My grandmother Marie Abdo Rubeiz raised my father Georges Rubeiz and my uncle Michel Rubeiz in this house. My uncle Michel who is now 90 years old still lives in it. My siblings (Nelly and Abdallah Rebeiz) and I spent innumerable hours in this house when we were children.

Samir Rebeiz, who is behind the historic designation campaign that you are spreading around in your posts, has been renting at no cost in MY FAMILY’S HOUSE for decades and has repeatedly refused to vacate OUR PROPERTY unless he receives a very significant sum of money. This real estate conflict is the only reason that Samir Rebeiz wants to “save” the house: so that he can continue to live in it indefinitely for free. My family has been going through hell in the Lebanese courts to resolve the never-ending saga with this leech. There are many details that the public is not aware of, but it is unequivocal that Samir Rebeiz is doing this out of self-interest only and not to preserve a historic house. In fact, just a few hours after my father Georges Rubeiz (who served the Lebanese and specifically the Ras-Beirut community for decades as a cardiologist at AUB) passed away one month ago, the honorable Samir Rebeiz couldn’t get to the appropriate government agencies fast enough to report that my father had died in order to reverse potential court rulings against him. This was right after he offered his condolences to my family.

I hope that this clarifies the situation of the “Red House in Hamra” for all of you.

UPDATE 2:

I’ve spoken to the tenant’s family for a reaction and they say they have already begun to vacate the home and have no interest in staying. “We just want to save the home,” a relative told me, showing stacks of boxes in the living room ready to be moved. The relative hoped the home could become a cultural or museum space. The relative also noted that while the rent has indeed been low, Mr. Rubeiz has invested in maintenance work, which contributed to the DGA report valuing the building’s preserved architectural features. The family would also like to emphasize that they don’t intend to be in conflict with the building owners and instead focus on the need to preserving the structure and they encourage supporters to do the same.

UPDATE 3:

Blogger Elie Fares has compiled a history of the Red House, underscoring it’s political significance, and particularly that of its female occupants who helped build the careers of certain politicians during Lebanon’s early modern history. There is even a visit by Louis Armstrong! See Elie’s post here.

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Late last year I noticed a couple of technicians from Ogero– the state agency that runs the country’s telecom network– surveying a street in Ras Beirut. My heart almost skipped a beat.  Are we finally getting high speed internet, I thought.  Are they finally laying the fiber optic network that we have been promised for at least six years now,  since then telecom minister’ Gebran Bassil’s 2009 announcement?

In fact, I wrote an in-depth piece two years ago about the number of false promises we’ve received since then, with each of the last four telecom ministers confidently announcing at one point or another that the fiber optic project will be ready in the “coming months” or “by the end of the year.”  Yet little has changed and Lebanon’s internet is still among the world’s slowest. The last telecom ministry official I had interviewed promised the project would be online by mid 2014.

It wasn’t until December 2014 that I saw these two Ogero guys. When will it be ready, I asked them: “6 months inshallah,” they said.  Around that time I randomly met a new telecom advisor from the current administration at an event. He said it would take 6 months to have the tender ready and another 6 months to connect the fiber to home. This was December 2014.

Recently I noticed some interesting activity in the Hamra area.  Here they are tearing up Makdissi street yesterday:

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This work has been going on for about a month in different parts of Hamra. When I first noticed it, I asked the workers and one said they were laying electricity. The other said, “no you fool, this is water, can’t you see the pipes are blue!”

Yesterday,  I asked the same question and the workers said: “We are laying pipes, but we have no idea what they will put in them.”

Meanwhile, there is another interesting development. In addition to streets, sidewalks have also been ripped up in Hamra for the last few weeks now:

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Then about two weeks ago these holes were replaced with big cabinets:

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These mystery boxes have suddenly appeared throughout the neighborhood over the last couple of weeks. Here is one on Bliss next to AUB:

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Upon closer inspection these boxes have fans on the back. Does that mean there are hard drives in there and thus… internet??

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A cab driver recently remarked about them. He said a telecom employee told them they are worth $25,000 each. True? God knows.

Last week, I was invited to a telecom ministry event and I was hoping I could finally get some answers. But this event turned out to be about “supporting entrepreneurs” — not the infrastructure they need to become competitive. Once again, I found a ministry advisor.  He actually told me the fiber project was behind schedule because a lot of the work done by the contractor under the last administration was problematic and they actually had to “re-do” a lot of the digging or connecting.

I should clarify here that there are two fiber projects going on. One is a “fiber backbone” that will connect the country’s 300 odd Central Offices — what we colloquially call Centrales.

Then there is the plan to bring that fiber from central office to the home. The plan to finish the backbone was supposed to be completed (by account of the last promise) by mid 2014. At the time, the ministry advisor had said nearly all 300 were connected to the new backbone, a figure that was disputed by Ericsson who put the number closer to 60.  But now with the work done shoddily, it may take an additional several months to complete the backbone. That is a nation-wide network–might we see some quicker results within Beirut?

Yet the plot thickens.

When I noticed them digging up Makdissi street last week, I had seen a sign near the workers:

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I checked out Guardia Systems online and turns out they install security and surveillance systems, i.e. CCTV cameras. So maybe the blue pipes are not water, electricity or internet–maybe they are just security camera feeds?

Sure enough, close to those boxes, they have recently put up poles and a few days ago, those poles were studded with cameras:

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I went on Guardia Systems website and there was a list of clients yet none of these mentioned CCTV in Ras Beirut for the government. In fact, the site was pretty vague with virtually nothing about its staff or mangers in its “about us” section.

I did a little research and turns out Guardia won a $40 million contract to install the CCTV cameras. But there were issues with the contract and the fairness of the bid and a Beirut judge ruled it was “illegally” awarded last year. I don’t even remember this coming up, let alone the ethical debates about surveilling the entire Ras Beirut population. If you have the means, you may be tempted to install your own cameras on your property. If so, you may want to check out these home security cameras reviews to help get you on the right track.

I’m not sure what happened since, but it seems Guardia’s contract is back on track.

Does this mean our internet hopes are doomed? Maybe not. A friend of mine suggested the new cameras may run on fiber and maybe the boxes are supplying it. Is there a chance that the same boxes will be used to connect homes too… at least some day?

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This place has been closed for as long as I can remember. It’s located on the bottom floor of a recently renovated apartment building in Hamra. One of the construction workers told me it was once a bar but no one has been inside for 30 years.  The font on the signs and window shapes do look very disco.

Jack’s Hideaway is right across the street from the Commodore Hotel on the corner of Yafet Nehme and Baalbeck street:

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Was it really a bar? If so, it was probably frequented by the foreign correspondents that lived at Commodore during the war in the 1980s, which was reportedly run by the PLO at the time. But it also looks a bit like a clothing or jewelry store.

Anyone remember this place or know anything about it?

 

UPDATE: 2/16/15

Thanks to the comment below by Andy, we have some more background on Jack’s Hideaway. Apparently it was a sort of bar or night club, even throughout the war, as an Associated Press reporter notes in 1982:

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The title of the March 21, 1982 article is “Chic war rages in Beirut.”  Jack’s may be gone, but the exotified reporting continues!

Another comment by Ray suggests the bar dates back to the 1970s and was owned by a Seikaly family. Do comment below if you know more.

When you can have a cafe instead…

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You can’t even walk in the street because they have tables there too!

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Pedestrians can either get run over by cars or just sit down and dream of sidewalks….

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Surely Ka3kaya Cafe is not doing anything illegal. I just didn’t know the municipality of Beirut was renting sidewalks. Maybe I should open an arguileh joint under my building.

 

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… for the “Hawker” private security guard staring and squinting at me while taking this picture (because I haven’t shaved?) comes rushing toward me (bottom left)–tells me photos are illegal in front of the “mahal” /store (Starbucks) he is protecting.

“Do you want to call the police,” I ask, calmly reminding him he is not law enforcement.

“I don’t need to call the police,” he replies. “I will take the law into my own hands.”

Now there’s a nice story for the Starbucks “community engagement” wall. Following today’s “terror raid” at a Hamra hotel, maybe Hawker will start busting jihadists drinking Frappuccinos.

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So reads the banner above, placed just outside an old supermarket on Makdessi street in Hamra.

A handful of police officers stood across the street. Neighbors watching told me the tenant was being evicted after having been offered somewhere around $100,000 to vacate both the shop and an apartment in the building, which is either being renovated or torn down.

I passed by later this evening and a number of people were still inside.

One woman, who described herself as a relative of the shopkeeper, said she planned to sleep in between the aisles tonight along with other relatives. She said the shopkeeper–an older woman– had been running the Aintoury Market since 1960s. The fear is that the repossession team will gut the place at night after having already dragged the refrigerators out onto the street.

But this woman told me only $60,000 had been offered both to vacate the shop and the shopkeeper’s 130 square meter apartment. Obviously both properties in a prime Hamra location would be valued in the millions of dollars but the woman is an old renter, though she says she was promised a much higher settlement sum by the court. ($60,000 is barely enough to rent a parking space in today’s real estate market.)
“Do you think they are kicking us out because we are Christian,” she asked me in a hushed tone. I told her people are being evicted from the city no matter what their religion. She nodded and then gave an example of another Muslim woman being kicked out of her building down the block.
I asked why they had listed infamous Israeli general “Ariel Sharon” on the banner. “Ariel Sharon is the enemy isn’t he,” she said. “Are we the enemy too?”

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    Both establishments pictured here in Hamra. Not sure if a “like” buys you a discount.