Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Behind that green background

When walking in downtown Beirut the other day, i stumbled upon a road sign mounted on a green square background. I walked along and noticed that all the road signs have that same green background.
It was something i may have noticed quickly in the past, but never actually stopped and thought about. Most importantly, i've never realized the statement that these road signs make, and what they symbolize.

To outsiders, downtown Beirut is also known as Solidere area. Solidere, according to their website is "The Lebanese Company for the Development and Reconstruction of Beirut Central District, that was incorporated as a Lebanese joint-stock company on May 5, 1994. Its business is the reconstruction and development of the Beirut city center. Providing a broad range of quality land and real estate development activities and services, it combines the business independence and acumen of a private company with global vision and a sense of public service." * (as quoted directly from their website )

So, in other words, Beirut central district has a name, the name of a private company that bought it.
It no longer belongs to the Lebanese people, but to a company that reconstructed it, and privatized it.

In sixteen years, Solidere has reconstructed downtown and made it one of the most beautiful, one of the cleanest and one of the most touristic attractions in the country. With the Lebanese Government lacking the resources and funds to restore the "centre-ville" Solidere is solely responsible for the renovation of Downtown Beirut and had it not been for the private funds the company provided, the area would have remained in ruins up until today; 19 years after the Civil War has ended.
However, a very important factor would have been kept in tact: The people. Much more was wiped out with reconstruction than the ruins. ‪If the area was in need of an intervention, it should have been oriented towards the public good rather than earning sky-high profits.‬

The downtown area became more of a showy touristic area, lacking traditional saje bakeries, old fool and hommous restaurants and other vital cultural aspects that characterized the city. ‪Instead you often find yourself window shopping in front of expensive shops and sighing at virtually empty luxurious residential buildings.‬

Although this is a political topic, I'm going to refrain from making any political judgement, as this is in no way my argument. ‪I cannot accept, nor can I absorb the fact that my own city's city-center, its sidewalks and its walls, have been privatized to such an extent that the road signs need to differ from the rest of the country's signage.

This is a s‬mall detail, with a big meaning.


  1. Tu as raison d'interroger les détails qui révèlent les forêts cachées derrière. "Petites" et "grosses" choses appartiennent à un même système qui possède de la cohérence. Ici, comme tu le dis: l'expropriation, le détournement du public au profit du privé. Vive le Liban!

  2. Very interesting article my dear Sista.
    But I'd like it if you'd go further with that issue.

    It is a small detail, but it has a HUGE meaning.

    Maybe you should ask Khalo, the Ministry of Interior or Solidere itself why the color is different. There might be a simple reason behind it or it might be a bigger issue.

    Both cases, I'd like to know :)

    Talk to you soon Sista

    Michel Boulad

  3. Bravo Dima pour ton observation mais surtout pour ta sensibilité à ces problèmes qui paraissent futiles mais qui petit à petit peuvent ronger et ébranler un système. Je respecte surtout ta prise de position. Le beau ne doit pas nous berner et nous faire oublier ce qu'il y a derrière les coulisses.

  4. Very very interesting post!!
    Love it

  5. I was actually walking the other day in SOUK BEIRUT with my parents and uncle who lives abroad and havent been to Lebanon for few years now .
    The first time i have been to the souk i was so amazed and impressed with the result of turning a "war square"into a beautiful "souk"'. H&M...D& name it! All in a well reconstructed and preserved old architecture that gives the souk a sense of what it used to be. and HEY! did u realize they kept the old names of the old alleys? how many times did we hear our parents say "sou2 el hamra"and "souk el tawil"and "sa7it el 3entable"...
    but then while i was walking with my parents and uncle and felt the "nostalgie" behind their disappointed smiles and faded excitement to see the souk, i was kind of disapointed myself. We walked street by street, alley by alley and they kept on bringing memories back of what used to be there and what they used to do and what they used to buy and how good the juice of 3entableh used to taste...
    and i realised that though the names might still be the same but nobody really notices or cares about that...however we all know by heart that oppoiste to massimo dutti there is D&G and next to D&G is Aishti ( i hope im right).
    Point is, yeah there used to be foul and hommos little kiosks and sage bakeries but do we still really value that? would we really hang around el 3entableh fontaine and drink freshly squeezed juice on saturday afternoons? would we do it every saturday afternoon?
    Solidere might have been benefiting from sky high profits...its a fact. But the more truthful fact is that we allow it, embrace it and cherich it...and its...S.A.D

  6. Great post Dima :)

    The Devil (and everything else) is in the detail.

    A lot of what was said above resounds with the way i feel about 'Downtown / Solidere'.

    Before the war(S) it was called, simply,
    'el balad'.

    Now it is 'downtown', 'solidere', wil 'aswe2 el tijeriyyi'.

    It is true that the area was reconstructed in the same grand old style, but the resemblance stops there. Behind that failed attempt at portraying an ever glittering Lebanese identity, there is a vast hollow; the same void that is there in the relationship between the Lebanese (or the majority of) and their 'balad'.

    I agree to the logic of the comment before: "would we really hang around el 3entableh fontaine and drink freshly squeezed juice on saturday afternoons? would we do it every saturday afternoon?", but:

    are 3intabli and solidere the only two options?

    3intabli might have been the result of a collective choice at the time. we can not say the same about Solidere.

    not all of us "embrace it and cherich it", but i agree that, in one way or the other, we have all allowed it.

  7. I would add to the numerous points you have raised that the "restored" downtown only targets a very small segment of the Lebanese population, whether consumers or potential inhabitants. Until this is addressed, downtown will not be back to what it used to be during our parents' time and I would always think of it as a touristic attraction.

  8. Haboooool. This is a debate that people have had about solider and the whole downtown projec for a while. Hariri was th one responcible for the project and it is credited (or criticized) as a primary factor for the massive jump in national debt. During his term in office.. being a privae company, this huge investment was at the expense of the country, and mostly benefiting a handful of shareholders and priveledged indeviduals. People either hate or love hariri for this decision. Ultimately, the question is wether or not rehabilitating the city center, an iconic move that marked the end of the war an an attempt to boost th economy and te image of the country, was worth the huge debt. With regards to the signage, it's not uncommon for places of interest, historical significance, or city centers, to have their own signage system to demarcate the location. U can find such examples in a lot of countries, so maybe your making more of this particular example than it really deserves... But yes, the debate about public vs private spaces and the for whom these places are built and to whom they belong is a vali one... One that a lot of people will continue to Discuss... But money talks and poliicians seem to always have their way in Lebanon :p so we can all argue and talk, but I'm not optimistic that that will change anything... ;)

  9. Someone's been looking around her :)

    We will have to expect (in the very near future) "solidere citizens" with dyed dark-green hair and all the branding of elements to follow:
    our own cedar-on-the-flag maybe?

    Akh ya baladna...

  10. very interesting how you noticed and connected the street signs with your topic damo...habeit! and i agree that downtown does not have the character that other downtowns in other countries have or that some other places in lebanon have (like souk jbeil or souk kaslik)...i guess its because it only targets the rich...dont know what can be done about that though now!

  11. To the anonymous person who posted the comment on March 12, 2010 1:50 PM THANK YOU!!!

    People in Lebanon always blame the system, the politicians, the corporations and forget that they are the only ones responsible for everything happening

    By the way great Blog Bouladz!