Beirut

My first trip to Beirut was as a little kid in 1991, a few months after the war ended. Of all my travels it left the biggest impression in my mind. I always wondered how little the average Lebanese seemed affected by the status quo. I had never stopped at so many checkpoints as I have with my family in that summer.

Every area in this tiny country seemed a country of its own. Passing through Syrian checkpoints added to the confusion in my little mind. I seem to recollect that my Why’s seemed to have a success rate of around 50%

-Why are there so many holes in those buildings? 
-Those are bullet holes, this was a front-line 
-Why did they fire at each other? 
-That was a different time, it was war 

Or 

-Why are they always singing “Raje3 yet3ammar Lebnan?” (Lebanon will be rebuilt) 
-People want to fix the country, they want to live like every other place 
-Why did they break the country, then? 
-It was war, people didn’t want to break it, it happens in war 

My father seemed to always know “someone” when it mattered, and he always seemed to know what to say or what not to say. He knew when he had to be Jordanian and when Palestinian and it mattered. In the post-war mishmash of ethnicity and loyalty, it mattered whether we were seen as an ally, a foe or a neutral. Not that my father was ever involved in the politics of the war. Yet, he knew that it mattered not to people who were used to killing based on an ID Card.

It seemed to me that this “War” thing was always the reason, but the kid in me could tell, it was just another adult excuse

Central Beirut

Some call it the eminent-domain land-grab. Others call it the destruction of the heritage and the antique. Modernisation of Beirut was the slogan of the rest. That mattered not, it is clear that things changed. For better or worse, I noticed the difference. A multitude of buldings replaced War . Their architects are a who’s who list of global architects. 

That the list of architects span from neo-classicists to post-modernists, is eclectic enough. The blend was eerie, eerie not because the individual buildings and areas are askew in any way. Each was beautiful by its own right. The collective rush to hide the past was the eerie part. Nostalgia, it seemed, is anguish in the collective mindset of the Beirutis. They all seemed in a rush to erase the past with an eraser. 

Whether the ’souk’ seemed sterile or desolate mattered to no-one from the looks of it. They were not ’souks’, they were malls, full-blown western malls with the layout of old city souks and stores. I don’t recall a single Lebanese brand or shop in the many hours I spent in the center. You might call globalization, I call it white-washing.

Some Imagery

The first picture I took below is one of a Gaudian style in terms of curves and patterns, yet classical in terms of colors. This fountain, I may recall, was next to Mohammed Al Amin Mosque and the St. George Cathedral.

Tolerance and co-existance are symbolized by their mere proximity to each other.

King Abdallah I mosque and the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate in Amman are similar.Though, no war was necessary for the Imagery to be used as  that of solidarity

Fountain near Mohammed Al Amin Mosque

The new Corniche of Zaytouna Bay, a Dubai-like development transformed into a Marina with nice sights, food and beverage outlets and hang-outs. 

The sterile and almost metallic buildings contrast to the St. Georges hotel that was designed in the 1920’s. Almost a century later, the development company that was run by Hariri had disputes with the hotel and landowner

History that lives

Stop Solidere

This is not unlike the dispute that was ongoing between the TAG group and the Abdali project, in which the Hariris also participated

Another image that is almost famous to the modernist hating

On the right is another image of the same contrast. It shows the renovated Phoenicia Hotel which shows clear Levantine influences in its architecture on a backdrop of the Holiday Inn Beirut. 

The bullet wholes and charring on the building are visible from miles away and keep the war imagery vivid in the sights of the people

Beirut was flush with such examples and my wife didn’t have enough energy to follow me as I tried to plot what I read about the battle of the hotels and the green line on the streets of Beirut. 

Holiday Inn Beirut

Phoenicia Hotel Beirut on a backdrop of the Holiday Inn Beirut. The burnt and charred Holiday Inn is in need of renovation

The abundance of the war scars seen in my trip to Beirut on the facades and buildings shows that war reconstruction, no matter how well-intentioned, takes longer than a generation or two.

Radi Radi