Tags Posts tagged with "Zaitunay Bay"

Zaitunay Bay

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Activists take down a legally dubious fence restricting access to the sea at Dalieh El Raouche

As I have written previously, a new boldness appears to be gaining strength among Lebanese activists in the context of the garbage crisis and #youstink movement. In addition to facing off politicians in the typical form of large-scale protests and marches, we have also seen unprecedented acts of civil disobedience such as challenging  security barriers at the Prime Minister’s office and the holding of a sit-in at the environment ministry for nine hours, as thousands gathered outside in support. We have also seen the protests extending beyond garbage to other failed public services such as electricity and water shortages. Yesterday we saw that energy channeled into a new front: the unregulated privatization of the Lebanese coast.

Like dysfunctional public services, the unlawful seizure of public seafront properties has gone on for decades with no accountability,  as politicians and their cronies create luxury marinas and resorts restricting access to well-heeled customers and leaving very few public swimming areas for the majority of people in the country who cannot afford entrance fees. (Over 1,000 illegal resorts occupy the coast)

Yesterday a protest was called to occupy one of these upscale marinas built on public property known as Zaitunay Bay. (The Bay is owned partially by a prominent former minister and the marina pays a pittance to the state- only $1.5 per square meter–despite collecting exorbitant berthing rates for the dozens of yachts parked there.)

Protestors began by defying the marina’s exclusionary restrictions on food, drink and music by having picnics and a dance party:

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After a couple of hours, the activists from #youstink and other groups decided to move the party to the famous Raouche Rocks area further along the seaside promenade (corniche) where another luxury project is being planned and the coast has been fenced off to the public. Here prominent investors tied to the former prime minister’s family have put up a razor wire fence in preparation for a major real estate development, seen by activists and lawyers has a clear violation of the law. (See my in-depth piece in the Guardian for more background on this story.)

For over a year, activists known as The Civil Campaign to Protect Dalieh have been trying to stop the project and open the space to the public by lobbying politicians, organizing an international design competition for alternatives and even convincing the environment minister to issue a decree to protect the area. Ironically the environment minister himself–the same one being held responsible for the garbage crisis–had called the razor wire “hideous” in a Facebook post on his personal page. Police subsequently destroyed the homes of fishermen to make way for the private project, claiming the homes were built illegally. Yet many questioned why the fence and many unlawful luxury establishments blocking the coast were not included in the police “law enforcement” action.

Lawyers associated with the campaign have also argued that the fence contradicts constitutionally enshrined rights of access to the sea and endangers the public with its layers of prison-like barbed wires both above and below the esplanade, as pedestrians often recline or lean on the rails. Following intense lobbying from the Dalieh campaign, the minister had even issued letters to relevant authorities calling for the removal of the razor wires in August 2014. And yet despite all this, the 377 meter fence has been up for a year. Until yesterday.

Activists from the #youstink protests came equipped with pliers–young, old, male, female, middle class, poor–and literally began bringing it down with their hands:

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Here is a video I shot from the scene:

Finally the view of the sea was unobstructed again, revealing the famous pigeon rocks, on countless postcards of Lebanon, but increasingly hard to see for city residents due to rampant and illegal developments.

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Once the fence came down, there was a few minutes of celebration as protestors chanted about corruption, the daily theft by the ruling political class, the unelected parliament, the lack of employment and marginalization of the poor. Finally one says “Now that we have liberated the coast, let’s go enjoy it!”

 

I then filmed the crowd walking toward the sea as police man just stand by and watch. In fact a few dozen police, including a riot squad, were deployed at the scene. But they merely watched as citizens took down the fence.

Finally it was time to reap the benefits and enjoy the sea.

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Activists made their way down to rocky coast that had been used for hundreds if not thousands of years as a swimming hole by the city’s residents.

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Here is a video from the scene:

Before the fence had gone up, this spot known as Dalieh el Raouche had been used by generations of Beirut residents, known for its natural pools, coves, caves and grassy areas to picnic and enjoy time with the family.  It is feared that the private project, proposed to a celebrity architect, will end all this free access and limit the area to elite sunbathers who can afford entrance or membership fess.

When the protestors began to head home as the sun began to sink into the sea, they had stripped the 377 meter fence in its entirety:

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Left behind a sign, reclaiming the public access to the area, reading “This Sea is Ours”

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And allowing average citizens once again, the right to gaze out at the sea, one of the few rights that seem to be left in this country.

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Watch this private security man get right in the face of uniformed police officers. According to Al Jadeed, the plainclothes men are security agents working for Solidere, Lebanon’s largest and most powerful private corporation.

According to Al Jadeed, the confrontation began when activists protesting the ongoing waste crisis, which is seeing garbage piled up on Beirut’s streets, decided to hold a demonstration in front of Zaitunay Bay, a luxury restaurant area, built around Solidere’s private yacht marina.

(Update: Photographer on the scene says he was punched by security agents. See details below.)

The private security around the facility allegedly attempted to ban video cameras from filming the demonstration, according to Al Jadeed, and the police were deployed around the protestors, who had obtained a legal permit for the rally, the report says. Of course Zaitunay Bay, which is built around public coastal property is very concerned with its image and has a series of rules it enforces to keep the area exclusive, despite claiming the site is open to all.

It took several police to restrain this man, identified by Al Jadeed as one of Soldiere’s private security:

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He’s heard shouting at the officers to get off of him, while he wrestles with those trying to pull him away. This would probably be considered assault of a police officer in many countries, a criminal offense that can carry a sentence of one or more years in prison.

But as we have witnessed in Lebanon, bodyguards and private security working for Lebanese elites frequently engage in violent behavior with impunity, the most recent example was the stabbing death of George El Rif. Other well-connected bodyguards have assaulted, beaten or even tried to run over protestors in the past facing very few consequences for their actions.

So was the security officer charged with anything? One of the protestors I spoke to said he was just left alone when police left. It would be interesting to hear what Zaitunay Bay or Solidere have to say about this. What does the police department have to say?

You can watch all the action in Al Jadeed’s report below. The clash begins at 1:06:

In the early part of the video, protestors are shown standing in front of the well-protected luxury property which has been insulated from the mounds of garbage piling up in other parts of the city.

One suggested people dump their garbage to places like Zaitunay, which is connected or owned by the politicians that rule this country. As I recently reported previously, the private yacht marina pays a negligible amount of tax on the public waterway, despite the huge revenues it brings in for exorbitant berthing fees.

Indeed the waste crisis has sparked a public uproar against the country’s uber wealthy politicians for failing to deal with a series of failures in state services, despite somehow always managing to succeed at enriching themselves. Tomorrow (Saturday) citizens are gathering in front of the Prime Minister’s offices to give them a piece of their mind, and perhaps bring some garbage bags along too.

 

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UPDATE (25/7/15): One of the photographers on the scene, Hussein Baydoun, has just confirmed to me that he was punched in the back by one of the security guards on the scene. Baydoun, who works for the news site, Al Araby Jadeed, he was not hurt seriously but that another security agent also tried to slap him. He says the plainclothes private security agents were shouting: “No pictures!”

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A “super yacht” called Samar has just docked in Beirut’s Zaitunay Bay marina. At around 77 meters, it dwarfs the dozens of other smaller yachts in the marina (see below right).

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Samar has a helipad, gym, private movie theatre, cold and hot pools, guest elevator, three jet skis and a Mini Cooper as well as some 20 staff to serve you, according to a charter company that claims to rent it out.

But I wonder how much the Solidere marina charges it to park?

I wonder if the owner and the crew on-board are taking advantage of yacht crew tax accountants to keep their finances in order? Running a ship of this size must be expensive.

I recently reported for The Guardian that the marina around Zaitunay Bay has been rented for 50 years at the cost of just $1.60 per square meter. The marina is 66,000 square meters so that comes out to a total government fee of around $100,000 per year.  Thus the annual berthing fees for one yacht alone can pay the whole government fee,  Al Akhbar economics editor Mohamad Zbeeb, told me.

But what about a yacht as big as Samar? It’s not easy to find the rates of berthing at Solidere’s website but another site called Port Booker offers a calculator.  It only allows boats of a maximum of 30 meters, so I calculated a single day cost and it came out to $638 for one day. I tried for one month and it quoted about $17,000; multiply that by 12 months and you get over $200,000. But again this for 30 meters–which is less than half the size of Samar. If we were to double the fees, Samar would cost at least $400,000 per year to park, meaning it could pay off the annual government fee in just 3 months.

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Screen grab of www.portbooker.com Beirut rates for a 30 meter yacht, less than half the size of Samar

 

And remember, Samar is just one of dozens of yachts bobbing around in the marina.

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The boat is apparently registered in the Cayman Islands according to MarineTraffic.com and is rumored to be owned by Kuwaiti billionaire Kutayba Al Ghanim, number 4 in Kuwait on the Forbes list.

I spotted Samar once in 2008 in Beirut and did a short post on it.
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I wonder how many times she’s been to Beirut since then, and how much money her owner has paid Solidere.

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A glimpse of Samar’s interiors via CharterWorld.com