A huge explosion shook the port of Beirut in the center of the Lebanese capital, inflicting heavy damage on lives and property, the city's heritage and architecture, which mixes with modernity, and the history of bitter wars with modern art and culture.
Downtown Beirut was one of the Lebanese regions that suffered most during the civil war (1975-1990), as it was a battlefield used by the various militias on both sides of the Green Line that divided the city and its residents.
The port played a major role in the history of the Lebanese capital, with its location in the middle of the city and its surrounding neighborhoods.
In her article on The Conversation, Sarah Frigonis, a lecturer in political geography at the University of Birmingham in Britain, said that the history of the port of Beirut dates back to the 15th century BC, and in the 20th century, Beirut became a major sea port serving the oil trade and passenger and goods movements related to the Levant. And the Gulf.
Between 1975 and 1990, Lebanon suffered from a fierce and prolonged civil war, and sectarian tensions and regional geopolitics in Beirut became part of the urban space of the city, resulting in deep divisions and changes in the geography of the city.
In September 1975, a few months after the civil war, central Beirut became the battlefield for the warring militias.
During the war, the city was divided by the "Green Line" that divided it into two parts, east and west, and the demographic distribution was redistributed: People moved from one side of the city to the other side on sectarian and political grounds, as Christians settled mainly in the east, and Muslims mainly to the west from Line.
The Green Line extended from the southern suburbs of Beirut to the western gate of the port. And in 1981 a New York Times report stated that the port was one of the only places in the city where the Green Line could be crossed.
In the post-war period, the Beirut port expanded into a major seaport in the region, and bids were invited for an international tender to run a container terminal (to the east of the site of the explosion), and the port witnessed a significant increase in ship capacity.
In the New York Times report, the newspaper said that in times of civil war it was sometimes difficult to remember that only a few years ago Beirut was the "Paris of the East" and the capital of a country known as the jewel of the Mediterranean.
Lebanon was blessed with sandy beaches, deep harbors, rugged mountains, abundant waters and some of the most fertile lands in the Middle East, and it was the most daring country in the region.
Development and protest
At the present time, Beirut port is located facing an area that includes the most expensive real estate in the city, the Beirut Central District. In the early 1980s, this area was set for redevelopment, and at the end of the civil war it was the target of one of the largest investment operations in Lebanon's history.
The redevelopment was seen as a controversial issue due to concerns about a lack of sustainability, inequality with the rest of the city’s neighborhoods, high property prices, and a lack of public spaces and costly services.
And in 2015 and 2019, this area became a focal point for public anti-government protests, until the outbreak of the Corona epidemic, and demonstrators took control of many buildings and squares in the city center.
The demonstrators led campaigns against government corruption, raising slogans calling for the right to access public services and resources, and calling for the government to be held accountable for the collapse of infrastructure and services, the loss of public spaces and environmental degradation, in addition to other political demands.
A picture of the city
The port of Beirut is located near the dense residential areas of Gemmayze and Jeitaoui, and upscale urban areas only separated from it by a highway. To the east of the port, and in its immediate vicinity, are the neighborhoods of Mar Mikhael and Karantina (the Ottoman Stone Station) that served as an arrival and settlement point for successive waves of refugees, including Armenians in the 1920s and Palestinians since the 1940s.
This cluster of neighborhoods hosts many governmental and private services in Lebanon, including the electricity provider, bus station, and 3 hospitals.
The areas of Gemmayzah and Mar Mikhael in particular have undergone a development process in the past decade, which has sparked protests from residents against the demolition of heritage buildings, noise pollution and the rise in real estate prices.
The popular neighborhoods around the harbor and the reconstructed city center represented two major challenges to Beirut's post-war reconstruction, leading to widespread controversy that may be repeated after the last port explosion.
Solidere and Reconstruction
The modern district in Downtown Beirut was designed to be neutral and expresses nostalgia for Beirut’s past in the 1960s, the era in which the city was described as the “Paris of the Middle East,” and old buildings were efficiently restored and meticulous attention to detail, which brought support for this project that blends heritage originality. Artistic modernity.
Nevertheless, the new markets and their famous brands "are like American commercial centers instead of the popular Arab markets," according to the description of the Danish academician at Roskilde University Son Haugbull.
In his study entitled "Reviving Memory and Nostalgia in Post-War Lebanon ... Why did the reconstruction of Solidere in Downtown Beirut fail to build consensus and reintegrate the Lebanese society", academic Hadi Makarem considered that the neoliberal policies embodied by the "Solidere" area led to a mandate The public tasks and responsibilities of private entities, while the state and public institutions have retreated to the role of facilitating the work of private entities, which has caused negative economic, social and political consequences alike.
Makarem believes that neoliberal policies have succeeded in reconstruction and physical construction, but have failed in social and economic aspects, while he considers that any reconstruction efforts must include the restoration and rehabilitation of a state that represents and protects public interests, and protects the population from potential social and economic injustice caused by companies and entities. The private sector that places its own interests above the rest of the population And it becomes more of a priority in a country that has suffered many years of war.
In addition, the contribution of artists, professionals, writers, intellectuals, property owners, religious figures, and others should be necessary to achieve balance in the reconstruction plan for the most important plot of land in the country, as building in the post-war environment is not merely constructing buildings and infrastructure that substitute for the destroyed ones, But it includes rebuilding the war-torn state, a divided society, and a devastated economy as well, and promoting the principles of coexistence, pluralism and tolerance, according to Makarem's study.