BEIRUT, Dec 2 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Construction of
a new luxury resort on Beirut's waterfront could enclose the
city's last free public beach, leaving only wealthy residents
who can afford lofty daily fees to enjoy the Mediterranean
The battle for Ramlet al-Baida beach on the Lebanese
capital's highly developed shoreline is at the centre of the
latest conflict between residents and municipal authorities.
It follows tensions last year over the closure of urban
landfills and the continuing accumulation of garbage on the
Locals say Beirut could become the first Mediterranean city
without a beach open to the public after developer, Achour
Development, began building its Eden Bay resort, scheduled to
open in 2018.
During the most recent protest at the building site last
weekend, protesters were met with a heavy police presence.
"People have become numb," said Bana Kadi, a demonstrator
from Beirut. "It's terrible. The beach belongs to the public and
belongs to the people, which is the way it should be legally."
Kadi said Beirut's coastline and beaches are already
polluted by sewage and it was often impossible for residents to
"Now we can't even enjoy the shore because there are no
public spaces, and a city without public spaces is a city that
becomes suffocated and eventually dies."
The development will cover around 5,000 square meters -
larger than an average football field - on the southern end of
the beach. Achour Development's website describes it as a "prime
spot on the seafront that ensures that bustling city life
remains outside the gated community".
Many resorts built on Beirut's predominantly high-rise
waterfront charge up to $20 a day for access to beaches and
facilities. The cheapest day rate is $10.
"We all grew up playing football on Ramlet al-Baida or just
coming here to swim," said Elias, who did not give his surname.
"It's not first time that the public beach has been taken
for investments," he said. "I think it's important that we don't
let it happen again and again."
Residents and grassroots organisations have led several
protests in recent months to highlight the loss of public open
spaces, parks and beaches in Beirut.
In the May municipal elections, a grassroots group, Beirut
Madinati (Beirut My City) campaigned strongly on protection of
local parks, public amenities and services.
The group also campaigned for the protection and
preservation of Ramlet al-Baida beach as public property for
all, citing an order issued in 1925 which states that beaches
cannot be bought or sold.
Achour Development directed the Thomson Reuters Foundation
to the company lawyer who did not respond to requests for
Construction on the south end of the beach was approved by
Beirut's governor Ziad Chebib in September. The area is now
patrolled by police and blocked to the public.
The construction area takes up a section of the south end of
the beach, though the main expanse is so far untouched.
The municipal government issued a statement on Nov. 15
stating the land earmarked for the resort had always been deemed
private and that the remaining beach would not be encroached on.
The building site was located "outside the premises of the
public beach and more than 300 metres south of it", it said.
Many joining protests over the beach development said they
had also taken part in last year's garbage protests. They said
poor public services and over-development were symptomatic of a
dysfunctional political system.
Parts of Beirut face daily power cuts, they said, as the
city is unable to generate enough electricity for its population
of more than one million, while the crisis over trash services
has yet to be resolved.
Lebanon has just emerged from a 29-month period of political
instability. Michel Aoun was elected president by parliament in
October, ending a political stalemate that had left the post
empty for more than two years.
The nation's infrastructure has also been overwhelmed by the
arrival of more than one million Syrian refugees.
Uncertainty over the interpretation of laws governing public
land has added to confusion over the future of the beach at
Ramlet al-Baida, lawyers say.
In Lebanon, any coastal area touched by waves is deemed
public land although arguments over the detail of this are long
running, they say.
"It's the general problem of public spaces. Drive up the
whole coast and you can see there's a violation of the coast
law; there are already hotels that are constructed on the
beach," Marwan Maalouf, a lawyer, said.
Maalouf said activists are building a legal case against the
new beach development, which will include aerial photos showing
that the blocked-off area was once on the shoreline.
Other activists involved in the anti-development campaign
say their biggest concern is the environmental impact of the
Rima Tarabay, vice-president of environmental campaign
group, Bahr Loubnan (See Lebanon), said the loss of sands would
lead to damaging erosion.
Tarabay fears what she described as "ecocide: killing
ourselves, not by bombs and by war and by creating pollution".
Demonstrator Kadi said many residents had local business
interests and would be reticent about speaking out against the
privatisation of public spaces and beaches.
"The average citizen is being very much hurt by what's
happening yet he's also concerned with keeping food on the
Beirut governor Ziad Chebib did not respond to requests for
(Reporting by Sally Hayden, editing by Paola Totaro and Jo
Griffin; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the
charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian
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change. Visit news.trust.org)