Beirut is not for sale

Publish date 15-11-2020

by Anna Galvagno

On 2nd September, almost a month after the explosion on 4th August that wiped out the port of Beirut, an online debate organized by the local Impact Lebanon association talks about social inclusion and urban planning. The question that the participants ask themselves is: what principle should the reconstruction of the port and the center of Beirut apply to?

My thoughts turn to 1990 : the post-civil war reconstruction took place under the sign of a savage expropriation by the Solidere real estate company. Neoliberal urban development, supported by corrupt institutions and without a minimum of democratic participation, has led to the expulsion of small owners from the center and the creation of an exclusive social space, projected towards luxury tourism.

It is therefore necessary to look at this reconstruction with new eyes . How to integrate social justice, the democratic re-appropriation of a space that returns to the hands of the inhabitants, that is lived?

It must be considered that the Lebanese economic and political landscape is very different from the 1990s. There is no such strong private speculation, there is no influx of foreign capital of the past. This leads to greater internal mobilization: many local NGOs and trade unions of some professions, such as architects and engineers, have taken steps to break the circle of reconstruction from above. The Beirut Urban Lab network aims to involve even the most vulnerable categories of the population, such as Palestinian and Syrian refugees.

Plus, you don't have to do everything yourself . There are already plans for post-war reconstruction that are inclusive and reasoned according to principles not linked to profit. The reconstruction of Aleppo, Syria is following a methodology studied by the United Nations that includes community and inclusive workshops. It is certainly a slower reconstruction process, because it is not based on the principle of economic growth, but of human and community development. Alongside the anger, frustration and pain, there is an ecosystem of change in Lebanon. It is already felt in this conference, which ends with two points to be resolved.

On the one hand, the effort of civil society is not enough . The institutions must once again become allies of the Lebanese people, through a new electoral law and a reform of the judicial system. On the other hand, even if private capital is not to be opposed a priori, it is necessary to keep those interests entirely devoted to the profit of a few away from the reconstruction process, and open the way to investors open to confrontation with the real protagonists of reconstruction: the inhabitants of Beirut.

Anna Galvagno
NP October 2020

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