Reclaim public spaces – the ‘Mashaa’ launch event

Everywhere in the world public property like land, water resources or minerals is being devised to few powerful individuals through corporate activities at an ever-faster rate.  The situation is more acute in regions where governance is weak or civil society is withering.

The coastline belt of Lebanon is fully built with hardly any accessible places left for the people and future generations.  What is more worrisome is that the Lebanese authorities together with some corporations are working hard to sell and exploit these last remaining pockets of public space. That means that we, as any other person, will deprived of our right to using that space for our own interest.

The Lebanese government together with the company ‘Solidere’ are turning 291.800 m2 of public backfill land – 40% of Beirut’s downtown water front –  to Solidere’s property illegally. If you do not want these corrupt partners to violate your right to enjoy the seaside area from Ajram Beach to Biel come and join forces with the ‘Mashaa’ movement. This is actually a movement to reclaim public spaces all across the country.

Mashaa Launch Event Poster

This is a call for the first Mashaa gathering, coming Friday 28 September 2012 at St Georges Bay – Downtown Beirut. You can join the talks, participate in the movement as well as enjoy a full program of live bands, stand up comedies, DJ and VJ sets with cheap drinks and food.

The story in a nutshell

Solidere can perceived as a typical ‘vulture corporation’ with aggressive business ethics profiteering from the devastation of Lebanon, a country suffering from tension and warfare since at least 1975 – let us not forget that war has provided more frequently than not flourishing business opportunities across different times and places in history. A lesser known fact is that some corporations apart from fuelling wars, they have been able to control resources previously restricted during or after wars, when communities are ruined or forced to move and corruption and lawlessness take over – examples are plenty.

In 1994, after a catastrophic civil war that lasted 15 years, where 150000 people were killed and another 900000 displaced, Solidere took hold of Beirut’s downtown in order to build and revamp. Solidere took advantage of the fact that downtown inhabitants saw their houses being destroyed and had to move to survive the war while the Lebanese government did not have the money to rebuilt the area. We are talking about a big chunk of the historical centre of Beirut, now being owned by a corporation. Solidere has made enormous profits from these projects; today it has more money and power and is seeking to annex any surrounding territories to its private domain.

The current project: a new corporate land amassed from the ruins of war

This brings us to the project in question: a backfill area built by rabbles, garbage and ruins of war gathered by Solidere. Note that 80% of the historical buildings the company levelled could have been actually rebuilt according to experts; instead they used the debris for Beirut Water Front Photobackfilling.

The whole operation is illegal as any land made by debris is public. Furthermore, everyone should be able to move freely along the seashore without obstacles like inaccessible private properties – access to the sea should be always open. Finally, water, like air, cannot be appropriated and the coastline is public and cannot be sold – it can only be rented provided that it is used for the common benefit. However, Solidere’s plan is to build skyscrapers like ‘Sky Beirut’ for private profit thereby blocking access and view to the sea.

Solidere, left to make enormous profits and increase its influence, has been consistently creating a different reality in Beirut; it has been rebuilding whole areas under its own control to make malls, expensive residencies in the place of people’s houses, traditional markets etc. thereby gentrifying a whole centre under corporate rule.  It has been systematically reconstructing the collective memory by renaming areas and streets to erase the past and fit the new elitist image.

What can be done?

A lot depends on the awareness and determination of people not only to stop the current project but also to enforce the use of the land Mashaa Movement Recliam Public Propertyfor the common interest.

Mashaa, which means “cannot be owned by anyone”, is a newly founded movement to block the current project and demand instead the creation of national park and a cultural space free for everyone. Eventually, the movement seeks to reclaim the downtown area, where Solidere has banned even the taking of pictures.  Mashaa’s objective is to reinforce inhabitants in different places all across Lebanon to regain power over their public spaces by carrying out local actions.

Join the first Mashaa event

The first Masha gathering will take place on the 28th of September at St. Georges Resort over St. Georges Bay in downtown Beirut. The event is open and free for everyone with cheap drinks and foods.

You can also swim in the pool and you can bring any one colour t-shirt to print on-the-spot, choosing from a great variety of designs contributed by artists who support the campaign. Here you can take a look at the program:

A talk with “As7ab el 7ouqouq” (telling us stories of how they were forced to sell their properties)
Live Bands: Zeid Hamdan singing SoapKills songs, Ziad Sahab, Nachaz (lebanese Rock), El Rass (Rap)
Stand up comedy : Hisham Jaber , Samkeh (men trablos)
Dj’s : Rigas & Houssam
Vj : La Mirza
Live printing t-shirts stickers & posters to take home.

Here you can find the webpage of Mashaa and here the page of the event.

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