Making Spaces for Communal Sovereignty: The Story of Beirut’s Dalieh
by Abir Saksouk-Sasso
In Paul Amar’s article, specifically Abir Saksouk-Sasso’s “Making Spaces for Communal Sovereignty: The Story of Beirut’s Dalieh,” the question of “to whom does Dalieh belong?” was brought up. Its absurd to know that the largest city in Lebanon, Beirut, only has one square meter per person of open green areas, as opposed to the minimum recommendation of forty square meters per person. This has resulted from the massive form of private exploitations of public spaces in Beirut, which in turn has led to a limited number of open spaces for the public and “almost only privatized spaces.” So what does this look like? It looks like a war for the ownership of Beirut, ownership through either privatized spaces or spaces for the public.
Spaces for the public should be “marked by free interaction and the absence of coercion of public institutions.” In other words, these public spaces should be with no form of coerced privatization involved. Hamad, Beirut’s mayor, reflected this notion of “coercing public institutions” when he stated that public spaces should be used only by the modernly “appropriate public/proper public.” This idea of the “proper public” means that people need to be “well behaved” in order to be in these PUBLIC spaces, which is completely ridiculous because it is such a degrading view.
Dalieh, which is the last surviving seaside community in Beirut, illustrates a powerful example of a space for the public. Dalieh has demonstrated how the PUBLIC, not the “proper public” which Hamad has deemed to be “worthy” of these spaces, have successfully managed and maintained this space without the sovereign state.
The fight for Dalieh has started because “sovereign” state has intervened and wants to privatized one of the last spaces for the public, Dalieh. As Abir Saksouk-Sasso argued, “everyday practices, as opposed to the state, determine, produce, and sustain urban public space in the city.” So, to whom will Dalieh belong?
Of the readings, the part that stuck out to me most were the pictures of Lebanon, both the protests and the trash covering the streets. The people contest that the government is showing itself to be weak and inefficient if it is not able to properly carry out waste management duties for the country. The reading states that the main landfill in Beirut was closed down and since then the trash had been collecting for over a month. The article was from August of 2015. While I’d agree that the government of Lebanon is certainly failing to address some issues related their garbage, and more importantly their citizens, I also think that the trash crisis in Beirut is relevant to something other than rights and government abuses. I’m not sure why that landfill was shut down but it could have been that it was full. If so the Beirut trash crisis is more of a caution of human failing than just the government’s. People generated too much trash and people didn’t plan for what happened if the landfills they currently had weren’t sufficient to accommodate it. As landfills around the world fill up it seems only a matter of time before a similar situation occurs in another country. The Beirut trash crisis is just as much an environmental warning as it is an example of governmental neglect.
The article that stuck out to me most was the first one, the one that pertained to issues surrounding the privatization of Dalieh. The article went into a lot of detail about how the area was public use and sovereignty could be defined as those who use a public space. However the property was still bought by investors and the communities surrounding it were bought out. It reminds me of the after Tahir panel discussion of the government and military working with contractors to gentrify the country. It seems something similar is going on in Lebanon.
The social movement in Beirut, mobilizing behind the hashtag #YouStink, began in the Summer of 2015, and calls for reform of Lebanon’s state infrastructure and an ousting of their current political leaders whom protestors argue are more concerned with capitalist corruption than the well-being of their own people. Following the privatization of Lebanon’s garbage collection services and the shut down of the country’s largest waste landfill, trash quickly began to collect on the streets of Beirut, leading protestors to organize in a call for government reform and the rights to a cleaner living environment.
The main source of government corruption in relation to #YouStink is the relationship between the Lebanese government and the waste management company Sukleen. Sukleen has been dumping garbage in public spaces, and the Lebanese government’s completely apathetic response to this crisis has left the citizens of Beirut open to the exposure of disease caused by the multitude of waste being left to decompose in the open. It has been suggested that Sukleen has been allocated state funds in order to act as the country’s leading waste management system, yet they have been apathetic and willing to exploit the garbage crisis in order to obtain a contract extension with the government.
Although the protests in support of #YouStink have aimed to be peaceful, violence has broken out as the government has sent out riot police with water cannons and rubber bullets as a response. Although #YouStink seems to resemble the activism and beginnings that we saw with the rise of the Arab Spring, its supporters seem adamant to distance themselves from being called revolutionaries.
Uprising in the Middle East has generated high controversies. They created models to fight against the social polarization of the political-economic contexts. Basically what they wanted was the down of the regime and in a way I can understand this because being young, trying to go into the “real world” working and becoming independent and at the same time facing what they see as absolutism and oligarchy. The only option they have is to go out on the streets and join each other as a group based on the trends and beliefs they share, to try and change their countries.
To this you can add the “#YouStink” campaign which activists participated complaining to the Lebanese government and accusing them of infecting the country with too much garbage. Activism happens everywhere and in Spain a year ago a crisis like this also happened and the garbage men stopped collecting all the garbage on the streets and these accumulated all over the cities of Spain. Activists ran out to the streets to complain however it never got as degrading as it did in Beirut in 2015. This is very shocking as people are not allowed to complain and speak their minds. It’s a two way thing but if the population would manifest in a peaceful way and the authorities would allow this then everyone will at least be free to say what they wish and at least feel like someone hears them. The way that it’s done in these countries just infuriates the citizens even more. Getting shot sprayed with a powerful water jet or even being beaten up by the police is not acceptable in any way what so ever. Reaching an agreement with the population where they don’t start a fire with anything and the police act more peacefully then maybe some solutions will be taken into consideration.
Who has the most influence in a changing landscape after a major civil war? Is it the general public or the private sector that ultimately controls and influences the rules and policies? With the case of Beirut, after a large civil war that ended during the 1990’s. The power shift has been put into the hands of the private sector. More specifically over issues like land ownership and who has access to it. From the articles I read about public use of certain parks and neighborhoods were very strictly regulated by owners. For example, a popular park called Hursh Beirut, was closed off out of fear of certain undesirable activities. Actions like kissing, running on the grass, having a picnic, etc. As I read on in the article it became more and more clear to me that public space in this city is being closely controlled by the high ranking members of localized government and the private sector.
At first when I realized large chunks of land are being closed off and reorganized, my first big question is why? Further reading into text I discovered that is one of the biggest motivators to make this happen is purely profit reasons. I learned that with some of the blocked off areas of property was being reorganized as fancy, premiere plots of real estate for the private sector. They went through all the stops, security guards posted around these neighborhoods around the clock, restricting access to these open spaces, etc. This and other incidents after like the assassination of their Prime Minster has left the city more divided and monitored than ever.
Overall after reading this article the conclusions I came are some of the following: that citizens access to public space and public life as a whole in this city is slowly being crushed to death. As well as that it’s more of a heavily controlled security state rather than a city freely accessed by all.