Lebanon’s real estate market is one of the most lucrative in the country. The limited amount of land and the high level of foreign capital, particularly the remittances from the Lebanese living abroad, have all contributed to very high prices of property and land. This is especially evident in the capital Beirut and along the coast.
Over the past few months a piece of land on the coast of Beirut, adjacent to the iconic pigeon rocks, has caused a lot of commotion. For decades this land, called the Dalieh, was an open space that people used for various activities. A couple years ago it was lauded in the press as a “true example of utilized public space”. Makeshift cafes were operating on the strip and fishermen had built houses there since the 1950s.
Although the land was used as an open space for the public, it is not owned by the government. The cafes and houses were built without permits as the tenants did not own the land. The land seems to have been acquired 1990s and is now owned by several private entities (the map below contains the location and timeline of ownership). How the land was acquired is not clear and controversial as it contravenes with Decision 144 of 1925 which designates public properties as lands used for public interest such as public maritime domains; they cannot be sold or owned by anyone.
A few months ago the cafes were threatened with closure and the fishermen living on the plot of land with eviction and the site was fenced off. This led to a public outcry and a campaign to remove the fences and make the site open to the public permanently. More recently, the Ministry of Environment intervened and requested the Ministry of Public Works not to issue any building permits on the site before an environmental impact assessment is conducted. Decree No. 2366 of 2009 had proposed to classify this site as a natural coast with high ecological and scenic value. The Ministry of Environment has also identified the Raouche site as a proposed site for maritime natural reserves.
A spokesperson of the land owners claims they do not intend to start construction anytime soon and that the fence was put up to protect the land from squatters and encroachments. The fence is still up even though the Ministry of Environment has called for its removal. The head of the Beirut municipality Bilal Hamed said that if the government cannot buy the land back from the owners, then they should cooperate with the developers to ensure people can still have access to the beach area.
The secretive nature of the developments on this land does not help in easing the tension and allaying public concerns. People will always be critical and protest when they believe there is no transparency. Resolving this issue will probably take some time especially during the current turbulent political climate of Lebanon, but a little outreach and due process goes a long way.