Ramlet el Bayda, Lebanon

The Ramlet el Bayda beach located on the seashore of Lebanon’s capital, Beirut, is threatened by the ongoing privatization of most of the capital’s publicly used spaces, started during the chaos of the Lebanese Civil War.

On the 18 October, 2016, an image circulated widely on social media showing that construction had started on Ramlet el Bayda public beach in Beirut, which sparked outrage among civil society in Lebanon working on protecting public spaces. The project is to build a private resort, Eden Rock Resort, on a plot of land to the south of Ramlet el Bayda, being illegally developed by Wissam Ali Achour through his real estate company, Achour Holding SAL. Of the entire shoreline of the capital, Ramlet el Bayda and Dalieh remain the last two open access spaces frequented by the poorer classes of Beirut, the rest of which has been illegally privatized and fenced off from the public. Anger at this project is not created in a vacuum, but is in reaction to the context of decreasing green and public spaces in Beirut, lack of basic services such as electricity and water, as well as an ongoing waste management crisis.   More outrage ensued on Saturday 12 November, when activist Joumana Talhouk uploaded a video of the construction site on Facebook. In reaction, some activists made use of the Beirut Marathon event the next day, where people were “running for a cause”, to run for Ramlet el Bayda, demanding putting an end to the construction. They filmed the construction on the site for as long as they could, until they were approached by men on the ground who nearly confiscated their phone and told them to leave the site. It was surprising that work was ongoing even on a Sunday, most likely to hasten the construction process that was previously halted because waves washed over the site. Of course, this only proves that the site is too close to the sea and should be classified as public property based on order 144 of 1925 which classifies the seashore as public property, defined as the farthest area reached by the waves during winter, including sand and rocky shores. Activists refer to this Order to argue that investors have no right to build on public maritime domain. The law, however, has been largely ignored, and several decrees over the years have allowed privatization and exploitation of public maritime property. As Cynthia Bou Aoun, a reporter with Al-Akhbar newspaper notes, the exception has become the rule when it comes to the coast of the capital, where this project is no different from many other projects which have encroached upon the shoreline by receiving exceptional decrees allowing development. In fact, there are currently more than 1,200 illegal structures on the Lebanese coast, mostly erected after the chaos of the Lebanese civil war.   Conflict over the Ramlet el Bayda beach is not new, and NGOs as well as independent experts and activists have been working for years to understand how the privatization of Ramlet el Bayda started. In fact, public pressure and work by the NGO Greenline stopped the development of the NARA project on the same beach in the 90s, planned by the former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. In 2012, the organization NAHNOO took up the fight for the space, and started a campaign called Bayda Ramletna, to raise awareness about the public use of the space. As a public beach, Ramlet el Bayda has been disregarded by the Beirut municipality, making the beach neither clean nor safe for the public to use. It is highly polluted, with sewage pipes flowing directly into the sea (as is the case in many other locations on Beirut's shoreline), and lacks proper design and maintenance, with no easy pedestrian access, as well as lack of monitoring and lighting, making the space particularly inhospitable to women. When it was discovered in September 2016 that a permit was given to Achour Development to develop the plot to the South of Ramlet el Bayda, mobilizations and direct actions intensified. Both NAHNOO and Greenline organized panels to discuss the details of the case, some with the presence of the Governor of Beirut, judge Ziad Chbib, as well as protests on the site. The governor seems to be shrugging off the issue, claiming he has no legal grounds to stop the development since the plots are privately owned. Ironically, back in June 2016, when public attention was drawn to the area after the wooden staircase leading down to the beach was destroyed by excavators, the governor claimed that “The Ramlet el Bayda public beach will not be closed and any form of restricting citizens from accessing the shores, be it for constructional purposes or by erecting fences to close off the area…” [1] At the time, he had called on the Ministry of Public Works and Transport to draw the borders of maritime public property, to put an end to this issue once and for all. Meanwhile, the said minister, Ghazi Zeaiter, responded that these borders are already provided by Article 2 of Order 144 of 1925 and claimed that the excavations plans are “illegal”, and called on the Interior Ministry and the Municipality of Beirut to preserve the coast.   More recently, social movements such as We Want Accountability (Badna Nhaseb) as well as independent activists have begun to organize protests and actions on site. For example, on November 14, 2016, a group of activists spontaneously went to the site and tried to remove the pipes that were dredging sea water from the site into the sea. They were attacked by men in civilian clothing, and one of the activists was seriously injured. The next day during a protest organized by We Want Accountability, more security men were on the site and clashes erupted again between these men and activists. At the most recent protest against the privatization of the space on 26 November 2016, organized in coordination between all the NGOs and civil campaigns working on the issue, there was a notable increase in the number of protestors, who blocked the sea road of Ramlet el Bayda, and marched from the northern end of the beach to the south where construction was ongoing. Protestors were met by riot police, who had blocked the public road leading to the beach with barbed wire leading activists to ask whether their role is to establish security or condone the theft of public property. When trying to access the beach from the shore, protestors found their path blocked by a river of sewage, that had been purposefully widened and deepened to prevent them from passing through, with riot police walling the area on the other side. With almost no light on the beach except for the headlights of a police car, and the suffocating stench of sewage, most protestors found the scene quite apocalyptic. Although some activists managed to build a bridge across the sewage from abandoned pipes and were willing to clash with the riot police, organizers managed to keep the protest peaceful, to the dismay of many who wanted their rightful access to the beach, and promised to take the matter to court, claiming the law is on their side.   Although what is happening today on Ramlet el Bayda is a clear violation of the laws governing coastal properties, the concerned ministries and authorities seem to be turning a blind eye to these violations, and jeopardizing public spaces for the sake of real estate owners who have the wealth and political power to pass exceptional decrees and receive illegal permits to develop and fence off a space that has been publically used for decades.   Much remains dubious and unclear when it comes to the case of Ramlet el Bayda, such as inconsistent decrees and regulatory frameworks, as well as “secret documents” that researchers have been uncovering, showing that public officials have over the years involved themselves “in the deliberate work of blurring records to preemptively circumvent the ability of city dwellers to formulate legally buttressed claims.” [2] What is clear however, is that little time remains to preserve Ramlet el Bayda as a public space for the citizens of Beirut and prevent the city from becoming “the first Mediterranean city without a seafront [2].” 
Basic Data
NameRamlet el Bayda, Lebanon
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Infrastructure and Built Environment
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Land acquisition conflicts
Urban development conflicts
Tourism facilities (ski resorts, hotels, marinas)
Wetlands and coastal zone management
Specific CommoditiesLand
Sand, gravel
Project Details and Actors
Project Details
The Eden Bay Resort, being developed by Achour Development, consists of 110 chalets and 53 cabins, as advertised on the company website. The plots on which development is ongoing are numbered 3689, 3690, 3691, and 3692 on the Southern end of Ramlet el Bayda. These four plots, similar to the rest of the coast of Beirut, were historically owned by various Beiruti families, but the beach was always publically used. It was protected by Article 2 of Order 144 established in 1925 during the French mandate, which declares that the beach, defined as the farthest high-water point on the beach, is public property. The public nature of the space is evident in the urban master plan established by the French in the late 1940s, where zoning codes designated the area between the road and the sea as public and prohibited any construction that would interfere with the continuity of the Beirut coast. In 1949, the big sandy plot which was the sandy beach of Ramlet el Bayda, designated as plot 2230, was partitioned in 54 parts, and the four plots being currently developed were eventually purchased by Eden Rock in the 70s, where the Agha family holds the majority of shares. The area between the newly constructed public road at the time and the sea, although privately owned, was classified as “non-aedificandi”, meaning construction on it is prohibited, except for temporary structures with a very low exploitation factor, making it impossible to develop a profitable project on the site. Records show that Wissam Achour started purchasing plots on Ramlet el Bayda starting 2011. [3]
See more...
Project Area (in hectares)0.5188
Level of Investment (in USD)Unclear
Type of PopulationUrban
Potential Affected PopulationUnclear
Start Date10/2016
Company Names or State EnterprisesAchour Development from Lebanon
Relevant government actorsThe Governor and Municipality of Beirut

Ministry of Environment

Ministry of Public Works and Transport

Directorate General of Urban Planning (DGU)

Council of Development and Reconstruction (CDR)
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersNAHNOO: http://www.nahnoo.org

Greenline: http://greenline.me.uk

Social Justice and the City program at IFI: https://www.aub.edu.lb/ifi/programs/social_justice/Pages/sj_city.aspx

Beirut Madinati: http://beirutmadinati.com/about-beirut-madinati/?lang=en

Beirut Madinati:http://beirutmadinati.com/?lang=en

We Want Accountability: https://www.facebook.com/BadnaNhaseb/?fref=ts

Civil Campaign to Protect Dalieh: http://dalieh.org

Citizens Within A State: https://www.facebook.com/mmfidawla/

Legal Agenda: http://www.legal-agenda.com
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
When did the mobilization beginPREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups MobilizingLocal ejos
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Recreational users
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of MobilizationArtistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Other socio-economic impacts
OtherLoss of public access
Project StatusUnder construction
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCorruption
Criminalization of activists
Land demarcation
Strengthening of participation
Development of AlternativesRecognize the right to access public spaces, including seashore
Do you consider this as a success?Not Sure
Why? Explain briefly.Some activists consider the campaign successful so far, while others disagree. There seems to be an agreement that it has succeeded in driving the subject forward and increasing knowledge among citizens that public spaces are shrinking in Beirut. However, the campaign is not large enough yet, and not enough people have been mobilised. The issue is very complicated and activists are struggling to frame it in a simple way to be able to mobilise more people. Most activists agree that they can only claim they have been successful if they manage to stop the project.
Sources and Materials

Pollution on Ramlet el Bayda
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Minister of Public Works and Transport promises that Ramlet el Bayda will remain public
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Article detailing the violations on Ramlet el Bayda
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Greenline's response to the Governor of Beirut
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Beirut Begins Destroying the City’s Last Public Beach
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Response of the civil coalition of NGOs to the governor of Beirut
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Important article detailing the violations that led to privatization and building permits on Ramlet el Bayda
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Theft of coastal sands from Ramlet el Bayda
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Excavators destroy the stairway leading to the beach
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An article critiquing civil society
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Beirut Report: Beirut’s stolen coast and the growing fight to get it back
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The Governor of Beirut protects private property over public interest
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Plans of the project by Achour Development
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[1] Officials rule out the closure of Ramlet el Bayda Public Beach
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[2] Dr Mona Fawaz on the inconsistencies of the case of Ramlet el Bayda
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[3] How developers are positioning themselves along Beirut’s western waterfront
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Eden Rock Project is launched, with the full support of the Ministry of Tourism
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Ali Darwich of Greenline on the criminalization of activists
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Report on the earlier protests on Ramlet el Bayda through a campaign entitled الشط للسباحة مش للاستباحة
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Media Links

Music and bonfire at Ramlet el Bayda
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Video by the Legal Agenda on the Destruction of the Lebanese coast and theft of public property
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Video by Beirut Marinate showing the violations of the project
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Architect Mona Hallak on Zone 10 in Beirut
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Picnic day organized by NAHNOO on Ramlet el Bayda
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Video by NAHNOO showing how most of Beirut's coast became privatized
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Other Documents

Widely circulated photo showing the start of construction at Ramlet el Bayda
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Map from 1956 showing the plot 3689 was under the sea
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The Governor of Beirut orders stopping the project and allows it to continue a few months after
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GDU forbids construction on plot 3689
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Map showing plot 2230 before partition
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Recent map of Ramlet el Bayda
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A banner from the most recent protest on Ramlet el Bayda
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Picture from the construction site
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Picture from the construction site
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A picture from earlier protests
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Protestors are met with riot police on the public road
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Riot police by the river of sewage
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Meta Information
ContributorCatherine Moughalian, The Asfari Institute, [email protected]
Last update05/12/2016