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The incompetence of owners, activists and officials alike bodes poorly for Dalieh — and for Beirut

Greg Demarque | Executive

Last summer, landowners erected a barrier separating Dalieh, along Beirut’s western coast, from the city and its inhabitants. It set off a tsunami of public criticism, protest and activist organizing — likely not the owners’ intent.

But just as those who erected the barrier were clearly misguided — this beast of barbed wire, chainlink fencing and concertina wire is more suited to a prison than a city — the ensuing tizzy of activism has also stepped outside the bounds of proper debate. In their zeal to protect one of the last vestiges of Beirut’s coast from development, some activists have fallen afoul of the truth, wittingly or not. The vast majority of Dalieh is not public property. Owners’ claims to the land and development rights are, as currently legislated, valid.

Most insidiously, a narrative has emerged that evil (read: rich) forces are oppressing the poor, defenseless fishers of Dalieh. Nothing could be further from the truth — a fact that became glaringly apparent when several of the fishers accepted huge settlements in return for leaving the land. At least one other, as our report on page 20 shows, is holding out for more — more cash, not more justice. Yet after police-backed bulldozers arrived in the early morning of May 2 to demolish fishers’ homes, this narrative of the oppressed fishers of Dalieh gained new currency (see “Tales from the sea“).

Make no mistake, this magazine stands with the preservation of Dalieh and the expansion of public spaces. Beirut is already suffocating from a lack of public space, and sanctifying this scenic gathering point for families, friends and lovers through formal government stewardship would be in the best interests of the city. What mystifies us is that despite the immense popular support for a public Dalieh — find a random person and ask what should be done with the land — some feel they must resort to distorted narratives to justify their position.

Such falsehoods are completely unnecessary, and not just because the public already agrees with the activists’ position. Last month’s brutish early morning demolition was hugely unpopular — and perhaps illegal. A spokesperson for the ISF ludicrously told Executive that this extraordinary operation was “normal.” When we requested the order for the bulldozing from the public prosecutor’s office, we were told we had no right to see it, if it even exists. We are left to conclude either that landowners ordered it, or an overzealous public servant did it in hopes of ingratiating themselves with the landowners. Such opaqueness — and incompetence — only calcifies the deep distrust the public has in Dalieh’s current owners.

Listen to the masses

At this point, it is clear that both sides are playing a little dirty. But activists shouldn’t — espousing falsehoods only undermines their quite reasonable position. Activists must first realize that in the court of public opinion, they have the landowners’ backs up against the wall. Then, offer a square deal: owners invested money in their lands, they should get something in return. That is, activists must come up with a deal that allows landowners to do the socially conscionable thing. The specifics of such an agreement would likely need to be worked out between owners, the government and activists representing the public.

For their part, owners should realize the perilous position they’re in. The Hariris in particular should recognize that their name brand would be irrevocably damaged if they fail the public on yet another important public space — they are already widely blamed for Solidere’s disastrous ‘redevelopment’ of downtown. Instead, they should harken back to a better example of their family’s public service: Rafik Hariri’s laudable gift that helped rennovate the Grand Serail in 1998. If the Hariris commit to giving the land back to the public, other owners will have no choice but follow. If government stewardship is untenable, a trust could be formed to rehabilitate and maintain the area.

But if owners are not yet ready to make such a sweeping commitment, they could at least begin to show good faith. To begin with, tear down the barrier.

6 Comments

  1. Issa said:

    In one of your previous articles, I got the impression that how the landowners got their land in the first place was suspicious and perhaps un-abiding with some basic laws. The focus should be how could such a landmark become an individual’s property. Regardless if they spent money, they most likely bought it for really cheap and “under the table” as it appears to be so. Is there a record of the prices it got bought at? I found it interesting that you’re demanding yet higher standards from the activists while there are so many hidden essential documents on who owns what in Dalieh. The activists have the momentum after years of sacrifice and working tirelessly within the ambiguity that our country offers the rich and powerful. The land should remain public.

    • Ali Darwish said:

      Prior to writing to some extent insulting remarks about a significant group of dedicated, well educated and highly capable activists, it would have been simply fair to hear their opinion and not appear to be the voice of capital owners and ignorance.
      I assume that there is a name behind the “Editors” who are the voice of the magazine and it is only fair to know how this opinion was built.

  2. Sarah Lily said:

    Dear Executive Editors,

    The Dalieh Campaign active for more than a year and a half has been clearly advocating for the safeguarding of Dalieh el Raouche as a natural cultural landscape heritage for Beirut. Beyond its socio-cultural significance in what it embodies of tangible and intangible values to the city and its memory, Dalieh presents many layers of environmental, ecological, geomorphological and archeological features that according to many heritage specialists are unique in the region and some international heritage experts are beginning to speak about the possibility of preserving it as a cultural landscape.
    The Campaign never claimed that ownership of Dalieh was public, instead we always used specific terminology -‘shared spaces’ or ‘coastal commons’ – to reflect its contested legal/property status, yet its public use. In the history of urban planning and zoning, practice very often dictates ownership, and our investigation into Lebanon’s urban planning history demonstrates that. While the legal/property aspect is of course the most contested especially in the context of what else has happened on the Lebanese coast from encroachment on the public maritime domain, it is noteworthy that Executive Magazine never addressed those aspects of the site.
    I am struck by your use of terminology ‘ tizzy of activism’ and incompetence to describe the Dalieh Campaign various initiatives be it the thorough research into all aspects of the site ( legal, institutional, geological, archeological, landscape, ecological) and production of publication to document that, working with the Ministry of Environment who has in March 2015 drafted a proposal to declare Dalieh a ‘natural protected site’ , legal court case to revoke legislation, and most recently an international design ideas competition with an international jury to propose alternative visions for Dalieh, only to site some of our efforts.
    Has the Magazine contacted any of us for an interview for instance?
    Public or Private, Dalieh is a site that should be remain unbuild, unscripted, and open for all the reason that I listed.
    The Dalieh el Rouche site was recognized as a distinguished natural area of utmost importance by the below studies that we suggest you consult for further reference:
    (a) The Plan Vert de Beyrouth (2000) proposed by renowned architects and urbanists
    (b) The National Physical Master Plan of the Lebanese Territories (2009) that called for its protection
    (c) The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Lebanon’s Ministry of Environment (2012) as one component of the Network of Marine Reserves along the Lebanese Coast (2012).
    The Campaign would be happy to meet with you for further discussion but undermining a year and a half of efforts of a very large eclectic, multi-generational group of people (urban planners, architects, landscape designer, researchers, artists, lawyers, environmentalist, heritage experts etc..), using such terminology is offensive.
    http://www.dalieh.org/
    http://www.dalieh.org/assets/CompetitionBrief.pdf
    Sarah Lily Yassine – Dalieh Campaign

  3. moonsear said:

    Quite disappointed by the Op. Ed. I am not an activist but have been following the issue closely. two points:

    1- I read these lands have been distributed to Beiruti families for administration back in Ottoman days – As such these used to be pubic properties…whether this is true or not, the second point is more important

    2- These plots were initially classified as non edificante…there is a history in Lebanon of powerful land owners/politicians curbing building laws in favor of their interests …changing them for one day to be able to get permits, than canceling them again… we should realize this and as such we need aggressive activists matching the arrogance of rulers

  4. Moushka said:

    Bravo Issa, you nailed it in your comment..

    What would be positive for the goal to achieve, keeping Dalieh public, is suggest, comment and encourage on the activists’ work and not only criticize, they have come a long way for a matter that concerns all the public.

    They are a small group, so what would be in the interest of Dalieh is to really work more on making this issue a PUBLIC one, and help them exposing all the shady proceedings that led to the situation, it is first and foremost a public matter, and should not seen as “alternate activists” vs “private developers” battle..

  5. Rolfen said:

    Activists and owners should get together, they will have a much higher chance of obtaining what they want, both of them. Activists a better city to live in, and owners better handling and proper compensation, protection of their property and the area surrounding it, and better infrastructure. They should help each other get what they want, instead of finghting each other.
    It’s the government’s work to do city planning and keep the general population happy, and to keep the owners and investors reasonably happy as well.
    It would all have been running much smoother if the country instutions wer doing their job.

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