Beirut’s lessons for how not to rebuild a war-torn city

By Julia Tierney – Washington Post: Link to Original Article

The Syrian conflict has divided and destroyed many of the country’s most important cities. Should the fighting cease, they will require massive reconstruction. Yet I spoke with urban development specialists at the National Agenda for the Future of Syria who fear that the war-torn cities of Homs and Aleppo will never be rebuilt. Instead, they will be razed to the ground and another Solidere will be rebuilt in their place.

Their references to Solidere are intriguing. Solidere is the name of the private company contracted to rebuild downtown Beirut after the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990). However, Beirut’s reconstruction had wide-ranging political and economic repercussions that offer an object lesson in how not to rebuild a devastated city.

Solidere turned Beirut into a city of exclusion. Its iconic architecture and tax incentives attracted foreign investment, in turn helping the country’s economic recovery. But more buildings were torn down during reconstruction than were destroyed by the war, transforming Beirut’s war-scarred layers of history from the Roman, Mamluk, Ottoman and French periods into a city without memory.

During the civil war, Beirut was separated by checkpoints between Christian East and Muslim West. Daily movement today is disrupted by what Mona Fawaz, a scholar of urban planning, describes as architectures of security. Soldiers and blast barriers guard the entrances to Solidere’s downtown. The sidewalks outside public buildings are protected by concrete walls and barbed wire, forcing pedestrians onto the road. The areas surrounding politicians’ homes or political party headquarters are blocked by checkpoints. The only public park was, until recently, closed to the public for security reasons. The sentiment that those living here need to create a bubble and live inside the bubble for them not to lose their minds is one often expressed to me, and which I also feel after two years of living in Beirut. These frustrations mean that half of Lebanon’s young and educated emigrate at some point in their lives.

Solidere also symbolizes the extent to which reconstruction has blurred the boundaries between public interest and private profit. The process of postwar rebuilding was especially lucrative for members of government and their business associates, none more so than billionaire Prime MinisterRafiq Hariri, who upon purchasing $125 million of shares in Solidere became the largest shareholder in the very company to which his cabinet awarded the most lucrative reconstruction project. Hariri also owned Lebanon’s largest private construction company, whose director was appointed the head of the Council for Development and Reconstruction, meaning, in the words of architect Hashim Sarkis, that “the agency that the government used to control private development has now reversed its role.”

Lebanon went deeply into debt to finance reconstruction, and with a debt-to-GDP ratio of 149 percent, it is today the world’s third-most-indebted country. The interest payments total more than a third of the government’s annual spending. Yet because politicians and their families control one-third of all banking assets — and because Lebanese banks own around 85 percent of the debt — these payments profit the very political leaders sinking Lebanon deeper into debt.

Lebanon’s reconstruction has preserved the war economies once lining the pockets of militia leaders. During the civil war, the militias established civil administrations to service their sectarian constituencies. In return for taxing the population under their control, they collected garbage, provided water and electricity, managed traffic and maintained roads. Yet the militias also turned war into a strategic resource. From drug-trafficking to pillaging the port to speculating against the Lebanese pound, the militias procured about $1 billion annually, creating personal fortunes for their leaders and perpetuating the civil war.

Postwar reconstruction came without political reconciliation. The former warlords are today Lebanon’s politicians, ministers and heads of government. These include (but are not limited to) Walid Joumblatt, the Druze leader who despite displacing tens of thousands during the war was named minister of the displaced; Nabih Berri, who led Shiite forces and has been speaker of parliament since the civil war’s conclusion; as well as presidential candidates Samir Geagea and Michel Aoun, whose Christian militias battled each other throughout the war. Their inclusion may have persuaded them to lay down their arms, but according to Reinoud Leenders, these politicians are less willing to surrender the economic windfalls from violence and state collapse. Today, they sit in a paralyzed parliament — which has failed to elect a president in more than two years (or pass a budget in over a decade) — where they line their pockets through a system of sectarian patronage.

The pathologies of reconstructed Beirut are laid bare in the deterioration of basic services. Every summer when the faucets run dry, the streets are blocked by tanker trucks delivering water to the plastic cisterns atop apartment buildings. Compared with the average international broadband speed of 22.4 megabits per second, Beirut’s internet crawls along at 3.2 Mbit/s — and only when there is electricity. There are daily blackouts of three hours in Beirut and up to 18 hours in the rest of Lebanon. The government subsidizes the public electricity provider $2 billion annually, totaling 40 percent of the public debt; but with half the bills uncollected and politicians divided over privatization, the World Bank refers to Electricité du Liban as “the Poster Child of Confessionally-Induced Waste in Public Spending that Plagues Public Finances, Businesses, and Households since 1981.”

Everyone must purchase potable water, and those who can afford it pay for a generator, but there is no individual solution to garbage. A private company is responsible for both the collection and disposal of Beirut’s garbage. The council of ministers renewed its contract three times without an open tender and its payment per ton of garbage is one of the highest in the world. So when the landfill, which had long reached its absorptive capacity, was closed last summer and putrid garbage began piling on the streets, the Lebanese people participated in the largest protests since the assassination of Hariri in 2005 and the withdrawal of Syrian occupying troops. They were demanding not simply a solution to the trash crisis but an end to corruption disguised as sectarianism.

As the economic downturn and insecurity of the Syrian war bleed across the border, Lebanese policymakers point to the business opportunities of reconstruction. I spoke with real estate developers who hope to be called upon for rebuilding and commercial bankers who want to reopen their offices in Syria.

But as international donors and development specialists look towards reconstructing Syria, they should heed the lessons from Lebanon. Politically paralyzed, infrastructurally fragile and deeply indebted, Lebanon is a model for what postwar Syria should avoid. A cessation of the hostilities is essential in Syria. Yet reconstruction without dismantling the war economies and political patronage networks perpetuating them means that Syrian reconstruction will resemble Lebanon, in all its division and dysfunction. More than rebuilding, what is required is reorienting the political economy away from war. Lebanon reveals this is especially problematic when the same perpetrators and profiteers of the conflict hold political office in the postwar era.

Julia Tierney is a doctoral candidate at the University of California Berkeley in city and regional planning.

Illicit Traffick in Cultural Property in Lebanon: A Diachronic Study

Currently Associate Professor at the Lebanese University and Advisor to the Minister of Culture, Dr. Assaad Seif was coordinator of the archaeological research and excavations / Head of the Scientific departments at the Ministry of Culture – Directorate General of Antiquities (DGA).
Currently Associate Professor at the Lebanese University and Advisor to the Minister of Culture, Dr. Assaad Seif was coordinator of the archaeological research and excavations / Head of the Scientific departments at the Ministry of Culture – Directorate General of Antiquities (DGA).

By Dr. Assaad Seif –  Antiquities, particularly ancient works of art, belong to the country in which they were produced in the past. They form an integral part of the past of the inhabitants of that country, and hence are in reality communal property forming cultural roots for the present day inhabitants. Like natural resources, cultural heritage forms anon-renewable resource base, every bit that is lost, broken or sold is a fragment of past identity removed and hence an impoverishment of today’s identity. If the loss is due to ignorance, it will be paid for by future generations whose cultural memory will have been wiped out (Seeden 1992a: 110). Download full study in pdf (illicit_traffick_in_cultural)


Dr. Charles Malek once wrote about Leadership:


by Dr. Charles H. Malik

I respect all men, and it is from disrespect for none that I say there are no great leaders in the world today. In fact, greatness itself is laughed to scorn. You should not be great today- you should sink yourself into the herd, you should not be distinguished from the crowd, you should simply be one of the many.

The commanding voice is lacking. The voice which speaks little, but which when it speaks, speaks with compelling moral authority- this kind of voice is not congenial to this age. The age flattens and levels down every distinction into drab uniformity. Respect for the high, the noble, the great, the rare, the specimen that appears once every hundred or every thousand years, is gone. Respect at all is gone! If you ask whom and what people do respect, the answer is literally nobody and nothing. This is simply an unrespecting age- it is the age of utter mediocrity. To become a leader today, even a mediocre leader, is a most uphill struggle. You are constantly and in every way and from every side pulled down. One wonders who of those living today will be remembered a thousand years from now- the way we remember with such profound respect Plato, and Aristotle, and Christ, and Paul, and Augustine, and Aquinas.

If you believe in prayer, my friends, and I know you do, then pray that God send great leaders, especially great leaders of the spirit.

A great leader suffers in a hundred different ways, and keeps his suffering to himself.

A great leader survives both his suffering and the fact that nobody knows anything about it.

A great leader loves being alone with God.

A great leader communes with the deepest the ages have known.

A great leader knows there is a higher and there is a lower, and he always seeks the higher, and indeed the highest.

A great leader fights against the spiritual forces of darkness and disintegration, both in his own soul and in the world.

A great leader overcomes himself, rises above himself, daily, minutely.

A great leader is very polite, but he never tones down the truth just to please others.

A great leader never seeks fanfare and publicity- they come to him, and often he rejects them.

A great leader never craves the approval of the world- in fact he often intentionally provokes its disapproval.

A great leader hitches his wagon to the remote, the unattainable, the stars.

A great leader does not worship quantity, multiplicity, perpetual motion- he stubbornly sticks to the one or at most two ultimate truths that there are.

A great leader is very simple, but the moral force of his conviction shines through every tone of his voice and every gesture of his hand.

A great leader lets the oneness of his interest burst forth with endless creativity.

A great leader is absolutely fearless- fearless because he fears only God.

A great leader loves, not sentimentally, not by making an effort, but with the effortless overflow of God’s love for him.

A great leader identifies himself with, and is not ashamed of, the deepest in his own tradition.

A great leader is never disturbed by the fact that other traditions too have their own deepest.

A great leader is decisive, yet with the utmost tentativeness and tenderness.

A great leader, under God, does not care if he is crucified- there is something he knows and sees in the distance infinitely more important than to avoid crucifixion.

A great leader knows what the Bible calls “the fullness of the time”, I mean the time in which he lives, and God gives him the grace and the power to fulfill that fullness.

You insult a leader if you call him great; he does not want your judgment; he wants only to please God.

A great leader calls forth the most secret and the most sacred impulses of those whom he leads.

A great leader leads those who are not even aware that they follow him, but only rejoice in the fact that he leads them.

A great leader is at the forefront of danger, be it physical or moral danger, when danger strikes.

A great leader heals….

And so, if we really believe, my friends, we should pray, and work together, and accept suffering and sacrifice, and we should have the courage of our convictions when it comes to the deepest we know.

For the greatest single evil today is this blanket of fear and intimidation spread all over the world, so that people do not dare to stand up for their convictions.

But nothing great has ever been accomplished in history, nor indeed can it ever be accomplished, except through fearless courage in the face of the greatest terrorization. This is the now-forgotten way of how really to live- I mean, the way of the Cross. The world needs today the unterrorized man- indeed, the unterrorizable man.

… I pray you all to consider on your knees how much God has blessed you and how much you therefore owe him.

For you owe him everything. And once we realize how much we owe God, then, since we can never give him anything commensurate in return, we can at least pay him back tears of gratitude and love.

Lebanon ranked 3rd with the highest level of government debt

3. Lebanon — 139.1%. The country used to be a tourist destination, but war in Syria and domestic political turmoil have caused ructions across the economy. (Source: The Independent).

Corruption, theft, rigged system, dirty politicians ….. and Al Sha3ib Al-3anid ….

On the 80th Memory of Gebran Khalil Gebran

I leave you with his own words:

khalil_gibranMy Countrymen

What do you seek, my countrymen?
Do you desire that I build for You gorgeous palaces, decorated With words of empty meaning, or Temples roofed with dreams? Or Do you command me to destroy what The liars and tyrants have built? Shall I uproot with my fingers What the hypocrites and the wicked
Have implanted? Speak your insane Wish!
What is it you would have me do, My countrymen? Shall I purr like The kitten to satisfy you, or roar Like the lion to please myself? I Have sung for you, but you did not Dance; I have wept before you, but You did not cry. Shall I sing and Weep at the same time?

Your souls are suffering the pangs Of hunger, and yet the fruit of Knowledge is more plentiful than The stones of the valleys.
Your hearts are withering from  Thirst, and yet the springs of Life are streaming about your Homes — why do you not drink?

The sea has its ebb and flow, The moon has its fullness and Crescents, and the ages have Their winter and summer, and all Things vary like the shadow of
An unborn god moving between Earth and sun, but truth cannot Be changed, nor will it pass away; Why, then, do you endeavour to Disfigure its countenance?

I have called you in the silence Of the night to point out the Glory of the moon and the dignity Of the stars, but you startled From your slumber and clutched
Your swords in fear, crying, “Where is the enemy? We must kill Him first!” At morningtide, when the enemy came, I called to you Again, but now you did not wake From your slumber, for you were Locked in fear, wrestling with The processions of specters in Your dreams.

And I said unto you, “Let us climb To the mountain top and view the Beauty of the world.” And you Answered me, saying, “In the depths Of this valley our fathers lived, And in its shadows they died, and in Its caves they were buried. How can We depart this place for one which They failed to honor?”

And I said unto you, “Let us go to The plain that gives its bounty to The sea.” And you spoke timidly to Me, saying, “The uproar of the abyss Will frighten our spirits, and the Terror of the depths will deaden Our bodies.”

I have loved you, my countrymen, but My love for you is painful to me And useless to you; and today I Hate you, and hatred is a flood That sweeps away the dry branches And quavering houses.

I have pitied your weakness, my Countrymen, but my pity has but Increased your feebleness, exalting And nourishing slothfulness which Is vain to life. And today I see Your infirmity which my soul loathes And fears.

I have cried over your humiliation And submission, and my tears streamed
Like crystalline, but could not sear Away your stagnant weakness; yet they
Removed the veil from my eyes.
My tears have never reached your Petrified hearts, but they cleansed The darkness from my inner self.

Today I am mocking at your suffering, For laughter is a raging thunder that
Precedes the tempest and never comes After it.

What do you desire, my countrymen?
Do you wish for me to show you The ghost of your countenance on The face of still water? Come, Now, and see how ugly you are!

Look and meditate! Fear has Turned your hair grey as the Ashes, and dissipation has grown Over your eyes and made them into Obscured hollows, and cowardice
Has touched your cheeks that now Appear as dismal pits in the Valley, and death has kissed Your lips and left them yellow As the autumn leaves.

What is it that you seek, my Countrymen? What ask you from Life, who does not any longer Count you among her children?
Your souls are freezing in the Clutches of the priests and Sorcerers, and your bodies Tremble between the paws of the Despots and the shedders of Blood, and your country quakesUnder the marching feet of the Conquering enemy; what may you Expect even though you stand Proudly before the face of the Sun? Your swords are sheathed With rust, and your spears are Broken, and your shields are
Laden with gaps, why, then, do You stand in the field of battle?

Hypocrisy is your religion, and Falsehood is your life, and Nothingness is your ending; why, Then, are you living? Is not Death the sole comfort of the

Life is a resolution that Accompanies youth, and a diligence That follows maturity, and a Wisdom that pursues senility; but You, my countrymen, were born old And weak. And your skins withered And your heads shrank, whereupon
You become as children, running Into the mire and casting stones Upon each other.

Knowledge is a light, enriching The warmth of life, and all may Partake who seek it out; but you, My countrymen, seek out darkness And flee the light, awaiting the
Coming of water from the rock, And your nation’s misery is your Crime. I do not forgive you Your sins, for you know what you Are doing.

Humanity is a brilliant river Singing its way and carrying with It the mountains’ secrets into The heart of the sea; but you, My countrymen, are stagnant Marshes infested with insects And vipers.

The spirit is a sacred blue Torch, burning and devouring The dry plants, and growing With the storm and illuminating The faces of the goddesses; but
You, my countrymen, your souls Are like ashes which the winds Scatter upon the snow, and which The tempests disperse forever in The valleys.

Fear not the phantom of death, My countrymen, for his greatness And mercy will refuse to approach Your smallness; and dread not the Dagger, for it will decline to be Lodged in your shallow hearts.

I hate you, my countrymen, because You hate glory and greatness. I Despise you because you despise Yourselves. I am your enemy, for You refuse to realize that you are The enemies of the goddesses.

21 days are short …..

I will not talk about him or how and where I met him. He doesn’t need my introduction. Bachir Gemayel doesn’t need any introduction. I’ll leave you with this song …

Kataeb party and rape

"There are certain circumstances where we need to ask ourselves if women have a role in pushing men to rape them" MP Marouni
“There are certain circumstances where we need to ask ourselves if women have a role in pushing men to rape them” MP Marouni

Lebanese MP Elie Marouni blames Lebanese women for getting raped. When asked about the Lebanese penal code law that stipulates that a rapist can marry his victim whereby absolving him of his crime. His reply was as follows:  “There are certain circumstances where we need to ask ourselves if women have a role in pushing men to rape them,” Marouni said. Hey idiot, there are no circumstances. Rape is rape and its a crime. Marouni is a chauvinist pig. Rape is never the victim fault. Rape is the fault of those who committed this ugly crime and specially the fault of people like MP Marouni.

Women do not ask to be raped. Neither by the way they dress, the way they behave or their line of work. It is sickening to hear an MP blaming a victim of a crime for the crime that someone else committed against them.

Here we have, an MP that represents the Kataeb party, covering rape. What will be the position of the party? Do they agree with his position? If Marouni is not asked to resign and kicked out of the Kataeb party, then it is clear that the party, its leader Sami Gemayel and all Kataeb members are defending rapists.

My question to all members of the Kataeb party, from Sami to the newest recruit, when will you kick this chauvinist pig from the party and force him to resign as an MP?