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…”  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.”  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 .”