Lebanon’s Seafront Aggressors: The Names and the Details

By: Mohammad Zbeeb

Published Thursday, December 6, 2012

Lebanon’s coast has long been subject to countless encroachments on public land, but a recent report from the Ministry of Public Works shows just how far these violations extend. In a four-part series, Al-Akhbar will deliver the details of the report, including the violations that the ministry conveniently failed to document.

A recent report sent from the Ministry of Public Works and Transportation to the Prime Minister’s office exposes astonishing facts about organized and protected operations to seize public beachfront property in Lebanon.

The report names former and current presidents, ministers and parliamentarians, as well as political parties, party officials, local chieftains, and their lackeys who carry the titles of ‘investor’ or ‘entrepreneur.’

The report singles out violators using their seafront properties as touristic establishments, industrial facilities, agricultural lands, military installations, and even centers of worship.

The Lebanese coast is almost 220 kilometers long. It should be a source of wealth for Lebanon and a common space for its citizens, as well as provide a competitive advantage on the regional level. Instead, the coast is subject to constant violations, including 1,140 encroachments along the beachfront – an average of 5.18 intrusions per kilometer. Only 73 of those are ‘licensed.’

This is a flagrant violation of regulations meant to protect the unity and integrity of the beachfront from Naqoura in the South to al-Nahr al-Kabir in the North. It is also a violation of citizens’ constitutional right to access Lebanon’s beaches freely and at no cost.

The report estimates the total occupied beach and sea area to be over 2,535,788 square meters, in addition to around 1,356,938 million square meters of ‘licensed’ occupations.

The so-called ‘licenses’ are based on cabinet decisions which violate the constitution and basic laws. They give particular people and organizations the right to exploit public property at the expense of the rest of society.

The total area occupied by illegitimate beachfront encroachments is therefore just under 5 million square meters, with a current market value of tens of billions of US dollars. In the meantime, the occupiers make hundreds of millions of US dollars a year in rentier profit.

Despite the outrageous details provided by the ministry that has been entrusted with managing maritime property, the image is still incomplete. It does not include ‘legal occupations’ of vital real estate.

For example, Solidere was able to grab reclaimed sea area, facing central Beirut from Mina al-Hosn to the port, due to exceptional and unfair legislation. The area in question is estimated at 870,000 square meters. Solidere was given 291,800 square meters and the state kept the rest.

Yet this dubious scheme meant that the private real estate company had actual control of the area, through the provision of large plots for roads, infrastructure, and closed gardens. This is all in the service of land speculation, which has deprived Lebanese from their right to common use. None of the plots owned by the state had any investment potential. Some were grabbed shamelessly by Solidere.

These plots include the BIEL exhibition hall and surrounding facilities, which were unlicensed to begin with. Solidere also holds on to the western tourist port, which occupies 67,000 square meters, possessing the right to invest in it for 50 years for a paltry LL2,500, or $1.67, per square meter.

The same applies to the still incomplete eastern tourist port, sold by the state to Solidere for LL2,000, or $1.33, per year per square meter, and for the same period of 50 years.

It should be noted that several important public real estate properties adjacent to the western port changed their ownership to Beirut Waterfront Development S.A.R.L., which created what it called Zaitunay Bay.

The project is a joint development between Solidere and Stow Waterfront, whose majority stockholder is none other than finance minister and MP Mohammad Safadi.

The ministry report also fails to mention around one million square meters of reclaimed sea in Dbayeh, north of Beirut. The majority of the area is claimed by the Joseph Khoury company, which constructed a marina and various facilities.

The company is currently erecting, in consort with UAE’s Majid al-Futtaim, a luxury residential project called Waterfront City.

The ministry did not flag several other encroachments on public property, namely the sea area reclaimed to build Beirut airport’s newest runway. In Saida, the reclaimed area is meant to deal with the ‘rubbish mountain’ at the city’s entrance and build a new port.

There is also the Military Beach in Ras Beirut, Jounieh, and Tripoli, as well as several other reclamations to build fishing ports, tourist harbors, and expand highways.

The new official report follows a similar report conducted in 1990 by the Directorate of Geographic Affairs in the Lebanese Army, which showed that encroachments on the beach and sea reach up to 7,500,000 square meters.

There are serious threats of an additional one million meters being added at the new corniche between Tripoli and al-Mina. MP Robert Fadel and a group of wealthy investors are promoting a project to develop real estate in the area and reap generous profits from speculations. The plan would transform the character of this part of the city, turning it into a playground for the rich.

What leads to more concern is the timing of the ministry’s report. It was sent by Minister of Public Works Ghazi al-Aridi to the cabinet as a proposal to cover the financial deficit, estimated at LL5,000 billion, or $3.33 billion, in the 2013 state budget.

According to ministerial sources, there is a real intention to propose it for discussion in the cabinet session scheduled for 10 December 2012, alongside the bill allowing the addition of an extra floor to existing and new buildings (which is another violation of public property).

The reason behind these laws is to locate sources of funding for the revised ranks and salaries scale for public administration employees, teachers, and military personnel.

Aridi titled his mail to the prime minister’s secretariat on 26 October 2012 (no.6/8990) as “Removing Encroachments on Maritime Public Property Established Illegitimately and Without Legal Justification All Along the Lebanese Coast.” But it is noteworthy that his source of the letter was a “bill sent to parliament under decree no.17079 on 29 May 2006.”

The law Aridi refers to does not aim to get rid of encroachments completely nor to prosecute perpetrators and apply legal sanctions against them. It is a copy of the “Building Violations Settlement” law, which permits such violations by allowing provisional usage as long as it had occurred before 1994 and if the perpetrators owned private property adjacent to public maritime property.

It only excludes specific cases, such as those causing grave damage to archaeological and historical sites, as well as the environment and public health.

The bill suspends all criminal proceedings initiated prior to its enforcement and all other legal proceedings if the perpetrators had received exceptional decrees allowing them temporary use of public property. But it left the state the right to collect fines, also stipulated by the law, which are estimated by the finance ministry at only LL157 billion, or $105 million, in 2013 and a similar amount in 2014.

It should be mentioned that Lebanese Forces MP Antoine Zahra proposed a parliamentary bill on 27 September 2012 to further legitimize the theft of public property and legalize its occupation. He wanted to “give ownership” to those who encroached on maritime and riverside property, in addition to government-controlled municipality land and common use land.

Zahra’s law does not only aim to turn occupiers into landlords, he wants it at half the value and without fining them for the period of ‘investment’ and generous profits thereof.

Even worse, it describes occupation and aggression as an “offense,” and not a crime punishable by law as it should be. It denies all Lebanese citizens their right to initiate legal proceedings to protect their entitlement, by considering the decisions of the evaluation committees set up by the courts as final, without any possibility of appeal.

Zahra also proposes to grant the occupiers subsidized loans paid for by Lebanese citizens, to allow them to usurp their common property. This is done by asking the central bank to include such operations in the donor projects supported by the treasury.

The report sent by the Ministry of Public Works and Transportation to the government includes lists of violators. Beginning today, Al-Akhbar will publish the main entries, along with investigations of major encroachments on public maritime property. The information to be published includes:

- Names of persons and entities who were granted decrees permitting their use of beach property and reclaimed sea to construct facilities on public property. They are 73 decrees, allowing the exploitation 1,515,215 square meters of reclaimed sea, in addition to 850,723 square meters of water surface, and land facilities taking up another 99,153 square meters.

- Names of persons and entities who violated their decrees and occupied areas larger than licensed. They are 20 violations, including 210,381 square meters of reclaimed sea, 22,301 square meters of water surface, and 37,577 square meters of installations.

- Names of persons and entities encroaching on public property adjacent to their private property, who fall under regulatory decree no.4810 (used to license temporary utility). They are 26 violations, including 100,432 square meters of reclaimed land, 18,840 square meters of water surface, and 3,490 square meters of installations.

- Names of persons and entities encroaching on public property adjacent to their private property, who do not fall under regulatory decree no.4810. They are 431 violations, including 276,523 square meters of reclaimed land, 288,140 square meters of water surface, and 96,502 square meters of installations.

- Names of persons and entities that infringed on the beach and sea without owning private adjacent property. They are 530 violations, including 602,487 square meters of reclaimed sea, 12,260 square meters of water surface, and 157,411 square meters of installations.

- Names of persons and entities that encroached on maritime public property in 2011 and 2012. They are 61 violations, including (with the exception of North Lebanon) 4,424 square meters of reclaimed sea and 11,135 square meters of installations. It should be noted that this section of the report is substantiated by documents showing that the Internal Security Forces (ISF) failed to obey the ministry’s requests to inspect violations in the north, namely the Miramar tourist resort owned by a relative of Brigadier General Ashraf Rifi (Director General of the ISF). This is in addition to four other compounds: Plage al-Hakim, North Marina, and Palma Touristic Resort.

(Google earth extraction)(Google earth extraction)

Name: Nabih Mostafa Berri (Speaker of the Parliament)
Area of encroachment: 2,100 square meters
Location: Saida, South Lebanon
Property Zone: al-Yahoudiyeh
Purpose of usage: Private/Harbor

(Google earth extraction)(Google earth extraction)

Name: Mosbah al-Ahdab (former MP)
Area: 59,700 square meters
Location: Tripoli, North Lebanon
Zone: al-Qalamoun
Purpose: Unspecified/Reclaimed Sea

(Google earth extraction)(Google earth extraction)

Name: Roger Jean Edde (Edde Sands beach)
Area: 2,578 square meters
Location: Jbeil, Mount Lebanon
Zone: Byblos
Purpose: Touristic installations

(Google earth extraction)(Google earth extraction)

Name: Youssef Kanaan (father of Free Patriotic Movement MP Ibrahim Kanaan)
Area: 2,991 square meters
Location: Kesserwan, Mount Lebanon
Zone: Haret Sakhr
Purpose: Touristic installations

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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