Sectarianism and real estate speculation keep Beirut slaughterhouse in limbo

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Food samples from restaurants around Lebanon are being inspected at the Ministry of Health's laboratories. Results have already lead to the shutdown of the Beirut slaughterhouse and several food establishments. Al-Akhbar/Haitham Moussawi

Published Saturday, November 22, 2014

The decision to rehabilitate the Beirut slaughterhouse [in Karantina] has led to renewed disagreement between members of the Municipal Council, after the 12 Christian members threatened to submit their resignations if the slaughterhouse was reopened after the end of the rehabilitation period.

Were it not for the mediation of Governor of Beirut Ziad Shabib and his intervention to keep them “content," the municipality of Beirut would have become “illegitimate.”

During the past years, a number of members succeeded in delaying [the implementation of] the rehabilitation decision, leading to the deterioration of the slaughterhouse and the exacerbation of its health and environmental effects (this preceded the food safety campaign currently underway by Health Minister Wael Abu Faour).

Their refusal to reopen the slaughterhouse was to avoid the “extension of its residence,” as a member of the municipal council has said. It is the same reason why they have delayed the rehabilitation decision during the past years. If their objection to the rehabilitation of [the premises] is on the ground that "the slaughter practices will not change and that the restoration of the metal hangar will not solve the problem," then why object to building the new slaughterhouse in the same location?

This is not to mention that all of them assert that the city needs an advanced and modern slaughterhouse that is "worthy of the people of the capital," as Deputy Mayor Nadim Abu Rizk has said, which reflects the opinion of the Christian members of the municipal council.

Abu Rizk reiterates that their rejection of building the new slaughterhouse is based on "a service, touristic, and cultural vision they have for that area, a vision represented in several projects being planned for that area in order to "rehabilitate" it and turn it into an "upscale" area.

Ziad Abs, leader in the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), says there is a proposed project to build a huge sports stadium close to the sea (including a swimming pool, sports center, and a large stadium, etc.), which would serve as "an outlet for the city’s residents." This project is supported by several civil associations and a few current members [of the municipal council]. Abs adds that there are several potential projects for the rehabilitation of the Karantina area.

"There hasn’t been serious discussion regarding these projects yet," confirms Abs, because disagreement over the "fate" of the slaughterhouse is the main obstacle. Thus, the “position” of the members on this issue stems from developmental considerations for the area, thus the main focus will be on the "service and tourism vision" for the Karantina area.

The "rehabilitation" of this miserable area may seem "rosy" for many. However, the municipality’s practices and "developmental" vision with regards to public places only implies additional "conquests” and speculation in real estate and tourism private investment. Contrary to the concept of public spaces and property, these places will not be available to all citizens. The Horsh Beirut public park is still closed to many citizens, allegedly out of concern about "damaging municipal properties," and pending the issuance of a decision regarding the proposal to assign the management of the park to a private company.

Zaitunay Bay – the area which, according to the design guideline, is supposed to be a public space – is proof of a stance that opposes common spaces, for public spaces have become symbols for class discrimination, corruption, and the destruction of the state.

The main debate is not in defence of keeping the slaughterhouse in its current location, but rather focuses on the possibility to have the Karantina area "adhere to” the general model that applies to the rest of the city's neighbourhoods.

Architect Rahif Fayyad says that moving the slaughterhouse from that area will definitely raise the price of land. While municipal sources assert that most real estate in the area is public property that is under the jurisdiction of the municipality, Fayyad notes that the establishment of large tourism projects on real estate that is subject to the municipality would also lead to an increase in property prices and turn the area into a center for real estate speculation.

Fayyad confirms that there are no mechanisms in place to prevent the acquisition of real estate for the purpose of speculation in the municipality of Beirut, through the purchase [of these properties] or unifying their prices. He noted that "the municipality itself has adopted the policy of real estate speculation."

The reason why the Christian members have been recently “calm” is that they received a serious promise from Shabib regarding the examination of the proposed places, and it appears that the current location will not be among them.

(Al-Akhbar)

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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