Amid massive neoliberal development in post-civil war Lebanon, most of Beirut’s shoreline has been privatized and fenced off by upscale resorts that are inaccessible to the majority of Beirut’s citizens. The Dalieh of Raouche remains one of the last stretches of the shoreline that is still open to working class Lebanese and non-Lebanese citizens alike. Postwar privatization, however, has reached the shores of Dalieh, and the site is threatened today by potential development plans.
The Dalieh of Raouche is known as such because it looks over natural arches, the Pigeon Rocks or the Raouche rocks, which have become symbols of the capital. For generations, Beirutis, poor Lebanese from all regions and sects, tourists, and migrant workers alike have enjoyed the seafront without having to pay for access. It has been the site of weekend picnics, afternoon swims, local diving competitions, and annual Kurdish Newruz festivities. Fishermen and their families residing there for decades kept the area alive with coffee shops, seafood restaurants, and boat rides to the nearby caves. Dalieh is not only significant socio-culturally, but represents a natural heritage as well, with its coastal cliffs, rocks islands, and natural pool enclaves providing natural habitats for native plants, insects, birds, and marine fauna, leading environmental scientists to identify it as an area worthy of protection in Lebanon.
The fears of real estate development on Dalieh materialized when the eviction of fishermen and demolition of their homes started in March 2014. In response to these evictions, a coalition of NGOs and independent activists working on local environmental and public space issues started to form on 13 March 2014 to resist the privatization of Dalieh. Meanwhile, in September 2014, activists discovered that renowned Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas had been contracted to draw up plans for a resort to be built on most of the site, through leaked pictures of the designs. This confirmed that there are potential development plans for Dalieh, and the coalition announced its launch in November 2014, under the name Civil Campaign to Protect the Dalieh of Raouche. This Campaign is a coalition of environmental, cultural, and civil groups, including independent individuals, committed to preserving Beirut’s public spaces and its ecological and cultural diversity. The initial launch was done through social media through a petition entitled Lift Your Construction Site off Our Raouche (ارفعوا ورشتكن عن روشتنا) and throughout the year various direct actions and on-site demonstrations were organized. The campaign sent official letters to relevant ministries, organized rallies and activities on the site, such as music performances and children’s activities on Sundays, all the while also supporting the fishermen in their mobilizations.
Sadly, however, fighting the privatization of Dalieh becomes complicated when looking into ownership rights of the space. Although the area has been historically owned by various Beiruti families since the 1920s up until 1995, it was always used as an open access public space, to the extent that citizens had not even considered whether the space is privately or publically owned up until that date. This is particularly because building regulations had protected the seafront over the years, considering the seashore public property and forbidding any sort of real estate development on it. However, research into legal aspects by experts in the field has uncovered dubious modifications and exemptions to laws that have allowed the gradual privatization of the seashore, both in Dalieh and Beirut in general, and made possible potential development plans that would otherwise be illegal. Such modifications to laws and theft of public property have also been possible because the primary shareholders of private companies that own the coastal properties are senior politicians who use their power in office to blur property records and pass exceptional decrees. In this particular case, the Dalieh of Raouche was privatized in 1995 by three private real estate companies owned by the same high profile politician, allegedly Hariri, who wants to build a tourist resort on the site.
Today, most of the fishermen have been evicted from Dalieh, and only one fisherman, Dany Moussa, has managed to stay on the site. The cafes and restaurants are still there, however, and the site is still accessible to the public for now. Moreover, a major victory for activists after a year of campaigning came when the Ministry of Environment announced in March 2015 that it drafted a decree to classify Dalieh as a national protected area. The decree is now pending approval from the Shura Council, the legislative court in Lebanon, after which it will be voted on by the Council of Ministers. However, the decree contains loopholes that will make it possible for real estate developers to build on the site, although it will create a significant obstacle. The fate of Dalieh remains unknown, and the area remains largely fenced off since 2014, serving as a reminder to the public that they are encroaching upon illegally privatized property.