The 4 hour Alternative Tour Beirut is a captivating walk through Beirut’s neighbourhoods (Achrafiyeh, Gemmayzeh, Christian East & Muslim West). It provides historical and political context for complex subjects including the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990), the 2006 Israel–Lebanon 34 days War, Solidere and it’s special powers of eminent domain, gentrification, the garbage crisis, Beirut digital district (BAD), technology & innovation, political art & graffiti and more.
Solidere & Gentrification
Across from the Phoenicia Hotel Beirut sits the Saint Georges Hotel & Resort with a billboard-sized banner “Stop Solidere” across its face. The bullet-riddled Holiday Inn, site of the 1976 “Battle of the Hotels”, stands directly behind the Phoenicia. Key antagonists in the “Battle of the Hotels” conflict were Christian rightwing militias backed by the Lebanese army and the Lebanese leftist parties backed by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
At the conclusion of the 15 year civil war from 1975-1990, the cash strapped Lebanese legislature headed by prime minister Rafik Hariri approved a contract with the private real estate company Solidere to rebuild downtown Beirut. Property was seized from owners who couldn’t afford to rebuild through special powers of eminent domain. As a result many historic and culturally significant buildings & neighborhoods were destroyed. Post gentrification downtown Beirut is a mix of high end Porsche car dealerships, hotels, restaurants and Gucci, Chanel and Louis Vuitton stores.
2006 Israel–Lebanon 34 Days War
Tour guide Moustafa Fahs was 15 years old at the start of the 2006 Israel–Lebanon 34 days War between Israel & Hezbollah.
Fahs described receiving a thirty minute evacuation order in the form of a ticker tape message across the bottom of the families television screen. His dad was outside of the country. His mother fainted. He had been prepared for this eventuality, by his father, learning to drive at a very young age. He dumped his siblings dresser drawers into a bed-sheet, gathered his mother and siblings and drove from Beirut to Syria where they had relatives.
The Alternative Tour Beirut also includes stops at the Sursock mansion in Beirut’s Achrafieh neighbourhood, the green line demarcating Muslim West Beirut from Christian East Beirut, Mansion, a multipurpose collective space for artists, as well as, Demo Bar and the Ichkhanian Armenian Bakery.
*** These are images from an Alternative Tour Beirut I took in November 2018. Young Lebanese were fed up then and more so now it seems. Ongoing protests, economic instability and the coronavirus pandemic caused the cancellation of the 2019 Beirut Marathon. The August 4, 2020 ammonium nitrate explosion at the Beirut port may be the “straw that breaks the camels back.”
Susan M Hall is an American long-distance runner with a goal to run a half marathon in all 193 UN-recognized countries plus the two permanent non-member observer states of Palestine & the Holy See.
On her radar are the Outer Banks Half Marathon, Nags Head, North Carolina, USA; Beirut Half Marathon, Beirut, Lebanon; Radisson Blu Larnaka Half Marathon, Larnaka, Cyprus, and the Pyramids Half Marathon, Giza, Egypt.
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