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.

Leadership

Dr. Charles Malek once wrote about Leadership:

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.

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 …

Great President

On August 8, 1987 a great Lebanese President died away. He was 87.

Camille Nemr Chamoun was elected President of Lebanon from 1952 to 1958, and one of the country’s main Christian leaders during most of the Lebanese Civil War. Lawyer by profession, Chamoun was first elected to the Lebanese parliament in 1934. One of the fathers of Lebanon Independence, he was arrested on November 11, 1943 and was imprisoned by the French authorities in Rashaïa castle, where he was held for eleven days, along with Bishara el-Khoury and Riad el-Solh, who were to become the first President and Prime Minister, respectively, of the new republic. Massive public protests led to their release on 22 November which is now commemorated as Independence Day. He served as ambassador to the UK and the UN in the late 40’s. Chamoun served as president of Lebanon in 1952–58.

When President Bishara el-Khoury was forced to resign amid corruption allegations in 1952, Chamoun was elected to replace him. Near the end of his term, Pan-Arabists and other groups backed by Gamal Abdle Nasser of Egypt, with considerable support in Lebanon’s Muslim Sunni community, attempted to overthrow Chamoun’s government in June 1958 when Chamoun tried to seek another term as president. At the time Chamoun appealed to the United States for help under the new Eisenhower Doctrine, and the American marines landed in Beirut. The revolt was squashed, but to appease Muslim anger, Gen. Fouad Chehab whom, though Christian, enjoyed considerable popularity in the Muslim community, was elected to succeed Chamoun.

On his retirement from the presidency, Chamoun founded the National Liberal Party (al-Wataniyoun al-Ahrar) NLP. As the leader of this party, Chamoun was elected to the National Assembly again in 1960, much to the consternation of President Chehab.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Chamoun served in a variety of portfolios in the Cabinet. This was during the Lebanese Civil War (1975–1990), in which Chamoun and the NLP participated through the party’s militia, the “Tigers” (in Arabic, nimr means tiger). He servived several assassination attempts.

In the early stages of the war, he helped found the Lebanese Front, a coalition of mostly Christian politicians and parties, Chamoun was chairman of the Front in 1976–1978. In 1980, all christian military factions were joined in one group which was called the Lebanese Forces.

Chamoun was one of the rare man of state. He is a giant in politics comparing to the politicians we have today.

“We are not a nation that likes war. We just want everybody to be on his own side.” Camille Chamoun.

Camille Chamoun, people of your caliber are really missed today.

August 7 2001 … August 7 2016

On August 07 2001, a massive wave of unrest was launched by the Lebanese Security Forces against opponents of the Syrian occupation. These arrests paved the way to the second republic and the withdrawal of Syrian Forces from Lebanon. 17 years after and none of those responsible for these arrests and tortures was brought to trial. In addition, most of those who were in power (president, ministers, deputies, ….) are still in power or are free to live free. It is to note that some of these politicians died either a natural death or assassinated when they decided to flip on Syria. When these arrests took place, some politicians who call for freedom and democracy today, didn’t even resign. I’ll name  few: Fares Soueid, Nazem el-Khoury, Farid al-Khazen, Naamtallah abi Nasr, Ghazi al-Aridi, Nabil De Frej, Pierre Helou, Nadim al-Rasi, Elias Murr, Sleiman Franjieh, karam Karam, Fouad Saniora …..

No country will advance if it doesn’t deal with its past let it be the executioners of the security system or the politicians that covered it.

SSNP more democratic than the LF?

The Partisan Court of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP) agreed unanimously to the appeal submitted in front of it to refuse to extend to Assaad Hardan for a third term in the presidency of the party, after the party constitution was amended. The recent election which was won by Hardan is canceled, and it must be held at a further date. The court’s decision is not subject to appeal.

In return, if we look at the Lebanese Forces (LF) party bylaws, article 86 states: “The duration the President term is four years commencing from the date of announcement of the last results. The president has the right to run for several consecutive terms in a row.”

Did the SSNP party became more democratic than the LF? Doesn’t the LF pride itself as defender of democracy in Lebanon?

Furthermore, in June 2011, Samir Geagea, president of the LF party, announced the bylaws of the party. If the party laws took effect in June 2011 and the article 86 states that the president term is 4 years, doesn’t this make Samir Geagea an illegal president because his term ended a year ago and no election was held since?

To be true to its claim as defender of democracy, the LF must put a limit on how many times a president has the right to run for election and elections should be held as soon as possible. Maybe its time for Geagea to follow the steps of Michel Aoun.

 

Sami Gemayel did it !!!!

6 days ago I asked Sami Gemayel, head of the Kataeb party, to stop threatening and if he is serious, he should ask his 2 ministers to resign from the government and to stop covering theft… Today, Sami did it.

The Kataeb Party has decided to ask its two ministers Sejaan Qazzi and Alain Hakim to resign from Prime Minister Tammam Salam’s government, Kataeb chief MP Sami Gemayel announced on Tuesday.

“The Kataeb Party has decided to resign from the government because Lebanon needs a ‘positive shock’,” said Gemayel at a press conference.

“For a while now, they have been trying to suppress us through cabinet mechanisms that were created with the aim of stifling our opinion and preventing us from stopping their deals,” Gemayel added.

“They are not concerned with protecting the banking sector against the verbal attacks and they did not care about the economic plan that was submitted by the economy minister (Hakim),” Gemayel went on to say.

“They are only concerned with passing suspicious deals,” he said.

Bravo Sami. Geagea and Aoun should reach out to Sami and include him in their project.