Even the Future Movement is now disillusioned with Solidere

Al-Akhbar is currently going through a transitional phase whereby the English website is available for Archival purposes only. All new content will be published in Arabic on the main website (www.al-akhbar.com).

Al-Akhbar Management

Downtown Beirut is increasingly becoming a ghost town due to mismanagement and the current economic downturn in Lebanon. Al-Akhbar/Marwan Tahtah

By: Maysam Rizk

Published Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Future Movement has joined the long list of parties aggrieved at the mega real-estate developer Solidere. “Hariri’s pride” is now drawing ire on account of the actions of the “overbearing CEO” who has disrupted projects that the Future Movement “believes would revive the dead city center,” according to its members.

In Martyrs Square, a Christmas tree stands in the barren space opposite the Mohammed al-Amin Mosque. The measly tree barely draws anyone’s attention in the dead downtown area that Solidere has only made more morbid.

Resentment against the company – the establishment of which following the end of the civil war had raised huge controversy over its legality and legitimacy – is no longer confined to the opponents of slain Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Disgruntlement with the company and its CEO Nasser Shamma has spread to the ranks of the Future Movement starting nearly a year ago.

Future Movement ministers, MPs, and party officials have found this atmosphere to be a good opportunity to express their overwhelming disillusionment with the Beirut Central District, the “crown jewel” of Hariri’s political and economic project, on account of its current dismal state. Indeed, the company that had irreversibly altered the features of the heart of Beirut “did not bother to put up decorations that would be fitting for the capital and its inhabitants, and put instead a less than ordinary tree whose cost was actually shared with the municipality,” according to a leading figure in the Future Movement. He added, “The Solidere ordinary general assembly session did not distribute dividends this year, so would a few thousand dollars have broken its back if the money was spent on holiday decorations for the city center?”

The subpar decorations in downtown Beirut, where the company is “sovereign,” is only the tip of the iceberg of the reservations some in the Future Movement have against Solidere and its performance. The Future Movement official said that there have been meetings held in the past months, bringing together Future Movement ministers, MPs, and officials, to study the era of Rafik Hariri’s tenure, and both its achievements and failures. He said that Solidere occupied a large part of the discussions and criticisms, and pointed out that there was a consensus that all that is happening the central district overseen by the company “is preventing the Beirut city center from becoming a tourist landmark and a zone that attracts investors as the martyred prime minister had planned it to be.”

Solidere CEO Shamma the ‘emperor’

Shamma received a large share of criticisms and censure from the Future Movement, with some even questioning his qualifications. Some dug up Shamma’s attack on Rafik Hariri when he was thinking of appointing current Prime Minister Tammam Salam as director of the general assembly, before luck favored Shamma and put him in the post. The Future Movement official said, “Hariri appointed the man for the sole reason that he wanted someone who did not oppose him or second-guess him.”

The official continued, “He [Shamma] has become an emperor, travelling from country to country, setting up a company here or a branch there, from Cairo to Amman to Monaco. He has left an administrative assistant in charge of the company […], turned off his phone, while retaining exclusively the authority to sign off on decisions without being held accountable or monitored by anyone, amid the total absence of the unconscious board.”

Among the reservations the Future Movement has against Solidere is the fact that the company “disrupted a number of projects designed to revive the city center.” In 2006, the Future Movement official continues, “The company blocked a project to move rubble from Dahiyeh for use in the outer parts of the Solidere zone, because Shamma wanted the area between al-Mandaloun Restaurant to the port to be the sole property of his company without any plots being allotted to the state as a result from land reclamations.” Meanwhile, the project to restore the Grand Theater, which was built in 1929, remains on hold because of Solidere’s insistence on converting it into a hotel instead of using it as a cultural space as originally planned.

Moreover, Shamma has even challenged former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, it seems. Following the latter’s visit to Oman in 2005, Siniora proposed to Sultan Qaboos a project to build a Omani cultural center funded by Muscat in downtown Beirut. The sultan approved, and a plot of land was chosen for the project. Architects proposed several designs, but Shamma eventually blocked the project, demanding more rights for Solidere in the reclaimed zones in return for approving the project.

Future Movement figures have a lot of criticism for Shamma “for blocking projects that would have revived Beirut’s city center, rather than monopolizing the area in a way that mainly serves the shareholders and financiers of the company.” Yet these objections have not gone past the closed doors of the Future Movement. Although there has been talk in the Movement’s corridors about the need to replace Shamma, “the problem is that Saad Hariri has no alternative,” or more aptly, “Solidere is not high up on the list of priorities in the era of takfir and sectarian tensions.”

The latest intrigue comes from Shamma’s attempts to expand the powers of the company’s Director of Operations Jamal Itani at the expense of the Assistant Director-General Munir Dowaidi. Shamma has reportedly even asked Itani to park his car in Dowaidi’s parking space. Though sources in the company said the latter tried to defuse the situation, he reportedly asked Saad Hariri to intervene and offered to resign if there are doubts about his role. Hariri promised him to address the situation, but has yet to do so.

However, Dowaidi, in a phone conversation with Al-Akhbar, denied that there were disputes with the CEO or that he had asked Hariri to mediate.

Sources in the company said Shamma needs Itani to implement his new business plan, whereby the company would stop hiring new people and sack a large number of personnel “who were forced on us based on requests from MPs, ministers, and political leaders, and who are a burden on the company,” the sources quoted Shamma as saying. The sources said Shamma asked his assistants not to include people affiliated to Siniora and Nader Hariri in the job cuts.

Another matter has to do with the fact that Shamma, who has no convincing answers about the company’s losses, decided to increase revenues, asking to impose new service fees and increase rents, judging that those who live in downtown or run companies and shops there have enough money to afford the added costs.

Future Movement-affiliated MPs from Beirut, meanwhile, say that they now have to ask Siniora or Nader Hariri to intervene to ensure people affiliated to them remain in their jobs or get better conditions in Solidere, adding that Shamma rarely takes their calls or respond to their requests.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

Comments

I believe solidere did a great job rebuilding downtown beirut
Of course, you might find BCD not so crowded and it s partly due to the political and security instability in lebanon
But still, you can t find an empty spot in Uruguay street and the new cinemas are always full
The souk is gaining more and more popularity
The only section that seems frozen is the one next to the parliament for security reasons
I think solidere kept beirut on the economic map

I completely DISAGREE with this article
I go to BCD almost weekly and it is alive !
Of course, you won t find people there during the Zina
Storm since it is open space ! And you should mind the political
Tension in Lebanon. Even ABC and other locations
Are rather empty. Anyway, solidere did wonderful things for christmas
Including the Beirut Turannem festival that included international artists
I hate to see that the author s political affiliation makes him make remarks that are
Not objective

Anyway, i believe that without solidere, beirut would still be rubish
Seriously, who would have done all of this ? The owners that saw their houses demolished ? Or perhaps the government ?
Get over it. Solidere is a sucess

What a joke Beirut downtown has become. Seriously the whole thing called Solidere should be reinstated and measured not just on profitability but on community building. How many designer shops can you have? It would be good to see some real management shuffle at the very top and actual city planners taking over, not just connected people.

Downtown Beirut is a national disaster. The heart of the city where all communities were mixing has been replaced by an artificial island for rich tourists, spoiled lebanese expats and plush shops.
It should be re-opened to streets sellers, beggars, streets shops and maybe it could be alive again.

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd><img><h1><h2><h3><h4><h5><h6><blockquote><span><aside>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

More information about formatting options

^ Back to Top