Friday, 29 October 2010


Zokak El-Blat: a step towards the preservation of Lebanese heritage?

  • Friday, 29 October 2010
  • Fouad GM
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  • After a long battle in the bureaus of The Municipality of Beirut and other government offices, the Municipality took its decision (number 977) to appropriate the 19th century mansion houses of Fayrouz and Bechara El-Khoury some two years ago. Nevertheless, it has taken the government two years since then to take a decision to enforce that. Today's daily Al-Akhbar reported that nine days ago, the dossier (number 4011) landed on Minister Ziad Baroud's office in the Ministry of Interior.

    The appropriation of the 19th century mansions aims at preventing their further depreciation and deterioration as well as their preservation as relics of an Arabo-Lebanese belle epoque.

    Lycée Abdel Kader, Zokak El-Blat (former mansion of Dr. Hyppolite de Brun)

    The two questions that spur to mind now are: (1) will the government, which has taken years to claim property of these sites, act quickly and take over control before contractors lay their hands on these houses? Or will it be bribed into slow-motion until it's too late?

    More importantly however, (2) how will the bourgeois-driven government deal with the squatters and IDPs who have lived and worked in these houses since the early days of the Civil War? Will it brutally expel their small businesses and evict their families without compensation and resettlement in something more humane? Or will they be left vulnerable and needy, and by extension, become easy prey for the political parties, multinational business groups and militiamen who divide Zokak El-Blat and Centre Ville between them?

    The shameful eviction of IDPs (muhajjarin) from Qasr Aker, Qasr Ziadé and Qasr Hneiné in the northwest of Zokak El-Blat for a proposed Solidere expansion beyond Boulevard Fouad Chehab and the subsequent predation of political parties upon them are perhaps a constant reminder of the Lebanese government's failure to put a limit to the elite's expansion at the expense of both less fortunate citizens as well as national (and pan-Arab) heritage.

    Having said that, activists and admirers of Beirut's endangered heritage will undoubtedly celebrate the good news - and they have the right to! But they mustn't get too excited!
    These two houses were only appropriated by the government because there has been no claims of ownerships by heirs of their founders and their inheritors.

    So the crucial question now becomes: will the government have the balls and the political will to enact laws protecting the few remaining relics of Beirut's heritage in private possession? Or will the government's subjugation by the elite prevent it from taking such decisions? After all, no many amongst the elite want to see their mansions classified preventing them from converting the antique houses into more profitable concrete towers!

    While living in Beirut last year I wrote a few times on Beirut's endangered heritage and I blogged on the "buying and selling of the city" as well as my reflections on the "cries of a Nostalgic Beiruti" whose cries have been translated into an active initiative: Save Beirut Heritage which, regardless of any reservations, one must commend and encourage.

    My FlickR album Zokak El-Blat : un quartier et une histoire à raconter is a collection of some photos I took (2009-2010) and older ones I collected. Combined, they explore some of the aspects of the story of a neighbourhood that was home to Beirut's nahda in the 19th century. Unlike all the other FlickR albums from Beirut and elsewhere, I have not yet had the time to add captions and details under each photo.

    You may also want to check my other FlickR sets which are a collection of some ten thousand photos I've taken throughout the past five years.

    1 Responses to “Zokak El-Blat: a step towards the preservation of Lebanese heritage?”

    onefineart said...
    31 May 2014 at 07:14

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