23 September 2002
Environmentalists say secret plans to develop Ramlet al-Baida ‘against the law’
Samar Kanafani Daily Star
Environmentalist group Green Line warned Sunday that the capital’s last stretch of public beach in Ramlet al-Baida is destined to be gobbled up by a private resort in violation of the law and without the knowledge of Beirutis. In a day-long rally on the beach Sunday, Green Line and other civic associations protested the privatization of the beach, demanding that the Beirut Municipal Council, Beirut MPs and concerned ministries take action to halt any development project.
Beirut MP Atef Majdalani said he knew nothing of the project or a map that Green Line obtained in 1998 which outlines a study for a marina and resort that spans Ramlet al-Baida’s 3-kilometer beach.
Although the group would not reveal the source of its map, its members said the project belongs to Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, whose Mediterranean Real Estate company owns 32,000 square meters of the 50,000-square-meter beach. The Beirut Municipality owns around 10,000 square meters, while the Boubes and Doumit families own the remainder of the property.
“Majdalani” is covering up the project,” said Green Line’s secretary-general, Salman Abbas, adding: “It’s strange that (we) should know about the project while he, a Beirut MP, knows nothing.”
A spokesman for Hariri’s media office told The Daily Star Sunday that he was unaware of the project, saying: “(Hariri) has told me nothing about it.” The project, as outlined by the map, would violate Article 33 of Law 444 of the Environmental Code, which was passed last month and printed on a banner on the beach at the rally. The law bans “maritime and river domain” development projects that obstruct free access to the coast and cause erosion to sandy beaches.
According to Karim Jisr, a Green Line member and environmental engineer, the project would bar public access to the sea, thereby violating Law 444. Jisr suggested the municipality reclaim the beach and lease it to private companies, which would demand entry fees, thereby giving the municipality funds to maintain the beach. “There are some good examples we could follow in Jbeil, Tyre and Batroun,” he said. “We know that the public sector can’t do this alone, which is why we should forge public-private partnerships.”
A regular beachgoer who participated in the rally said that “this beach is for the poor. The rich can afford any other beach in Beirut .” Seventy-year-old Sobhi Maas said he has been going to Ramlet al-Baida since he was a child. “Where do we find the money to enter private beaches?” Maas asked.
Faced with the crowd’s anger, Majdalani vowed that the beach would not disappear, saying officials were intent on opening a “safe and clean” beach at Ramlet al-Baida by next summer. The MP did not know the size or location of the beach but said events, like the Beirut Summer Festival, would continue to take place.
“We don’t care about festivities. We want an affordable place to swim and bring our families,” one man shouted at the MP, adding: “Can you explain why Hariri’s guards chase us away every time we come here?”
According to Majdalani, the beach’s public stairway was dismantled and the guards sent home, while police are preventing people from going down to the beach “because it’s a place for drug use and prostitution at night.”
Ziad Musa, Green Line’s information officer, called Majdalani’s comment “an excuse,” while Abbas asked: “If there’s someone smoking hashish in church, do you close down the church?”