On Saturday, November 12, an image of Ramlet el Bayda that shows the excavation of Beirut’s last public beach and the start of a new project by Ashour Development titled “Eden Rocks” started circulating on social media.
The project, which was officially declared in October 2014, consists of a 22 story tower high and a five star hotel equipped with 110 chalets and 53 cabinets.
The excavation began despite a pledge made by Mayor Jamal Itani in June assuring Beirutis that the beach would remain accessible to the public with no restrictions.
“All what happened is that the General Directorate of Beaches has asked that a kiosk be removed from a private property to another part of the beach,” said Itani to the Daily Star earlier this June.
Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk reiterated this statement by specifying that the destruction was conducted “to remove illegal structures which had been built on private property.”
Shortly after the photo was published, AUB student and Beirut Madinati member Joumana Talhouk uploaded a video on Facebook portraying the construction scene.
The video, which now has over 300 shares, sparked a public outcry over the legality of the project and the people in charge who should be held accountable.
“The only thing that I could have done as an individual was to go straight there, and expose the gravity and urgency of the situation from within the site. Nothing would bring attention to the issue more than showing how irreversible it is, and how real it is,” said Talhouk. “So I decided with my friends Jean Kassir and Tarek Jaber to go there, document the scene, and hope that it would create enough outrage for people to act.”
Talhouk’s video was able to stir a protest, which took place as part of the marathon on Sunday, November 13 and another the Friday after, in response to the undergoing illegal excavations.
A campaign was also launched by political movement Beirut Madinati under the hashtags #بيروت_بلا_شط (Beirut With No Shore) and #بحري_مدينتي (My Beach, My City).
As a result of taking part in the protest, several activists were called into question on Saturday, November 20, at the Ramlet El Bayda station.
The questioning, worth $50,000, was initiated by Wissam Ashour himself, who ironically claimed that the activists were violating his private property according to the official “You Stink” page.
One activist who was severely injured by labour workers went to his Facebook to comment on what’s happening.
“To Mr Achour and all those who’ve infringed on the public shore I would like you to show me where it says that you can privatize the shore front? Why don’t your projects aim to cater to people from all walks of life?” commented Ward Ibn Jinan. “And if you’re project aims to be a touristic hub have you thought of what it means to be a tourist? Because I personally think your view is quite twisted and superficial.”
Mona Fawaz, a researcher focusing on city planning from LCPS (The Lebanese Center for Policy Studies), set out to understand the legality of what’s going on in Ramlet El Bayda. She gathered a set of documents over the span of three months, to come to the redundant conclusion that showed the lack of transparency in public records and their numerous contradictions.
For example, the 1925 law[144/S] clearly states that all sandy beaches are public and inalienable. However, another property record in 1933 lists Beirut’s sandy beaches as the private property of some individuals. And then another 1954 regulatory framework that declares all zones between the seafront corniche and the sea unbuildable. But numerous changes, revisions, exemptions and modifications of this regulation, in forms of legals texts and decrees, encourage exploitation and privatization.
In other words, all the laws and regulations issued regarding the issue of public property are regularly changed and rearranged. Activists have also previously protested the privatization of Kfarabida, Aadloun, and Dahlieh beaches.
Nahnoo, an NGO concerned with community organization, released an official statement as a reply to the Beirut Municipality.
“We would like to remind the municipality that this is only remaining public shore in Beirut, and that we have reached this drastic reality because of the municipality’s weak policies that have always dismissed public property and ignored the violations taking place upon it.”
Nahnoo also stressed that the constructions undertaken by Achour Development are within public property at the expense of the residents.
“In other civilized countries, laws are upheld to serve the people equally, and public property is deemed sacred, protected with laws and regulations even when it holds private property.”
The Minister of Tourism, Michel Pharaon, during the commencement ceremony in 2014 said that Eden Rock, “projects the image we want others to see of Lebanon.”
It becomes evident whom this project is a victory for, and who matters most at the end.