Those who designed the statue celebrating the life of late Prime Minister Rafik Hariri may have never imagined that it would gaze upon a massive billboard condemning his legacy.
The giant “Stop Solidere” banner, draped over the battle-worn St. Georges Hotel, has gone up and been taken down several times over the past few years, most recently this summer.
Its placement embodies an epic real estate battle between the St. Georges hotel’s owner, Fadi Al Khoury, and Hariri– a war that began while the former Prime Minister was still alive and now continues well after his death in 2005.
Though Hariri is often celebrated today as the architect of Lebanon’s rebirth (including by American diplomats who saw him as an ally against Syria) his project to rebuild downtown Beirut, known by the French acronym SOLIDERE has been heavily criticized within Lebanon. Among his staunchest critics is Mr. Al Khoury, who claims the multi-billion dollar project is unconstitutional and governed by corrupt interests. (To be clear, it also limited St. George’s access to the sea, and thus hurt Al Khoury financially.)
In a bizarre twist of fate, the blast that ripped apart Hariri’s motorcade (just steps away from his memorial site) also blew off the entire front facade of the St. Georges, an iconic 1960s Beirut hotel which had been under reconstruction at the time.
For its part, SOLIDERE denies any wrongdoing. Supporters say the project serves as an important investment magnet, attracting much needed foreign capital and tourism to Lebanon by restoring the capital’s image from that of a bullet riddled ghetto to that of a modern glass and steel metropolis. Turning downtown Beirut into a de facto private corporation, with the largest shareholder as prime minister, does seems to hint at a conflict of interest though.
Nevertheless, and despite several lawsuits and Hariri’s brutal assassination , Solidere is going strong today. Apartments in the area are selling for $5 million and up (way up) and hotels under construction or nearly complete include the Four Seasons, Hyatt and Hilton. In fact, Hariri’s statue now looks out onto a sprawling mega yacht marina, a testament to the wealth that has been drawn to the area.
But for journalists, Solidere has always been a tricky subject.
As the biggest corporation in the country, its hard to ignore. Yet because of its large shareholding by the late prime minister and now his son (who is also set to become prime minister) covering the subject can be somewhat problematic, to say the least. I hope to share more of my personal experiences– both with Solidere and Mr. Al Khoury at some point. For now, to read more about the controversy, check out some of the articles on this site.
Problematic? To criticise the ruling regime? Isn’t Lebanon supposed to be a democracy? 😉
Nice article, seriously. I had no idea about the St George – Hariri row.
good post. but isnt it true that SOLIDERE and Hariri-era legislation for rebuilding in downtown are preventing St Georges from fixing the hotel? I thought that this is the big beef that st georges has with solidere.
Justimage: The argument that the St. Georges owner made to me (during an interview that never got published), and one which is also contained in remarks on his website says that the renovation of the hotel has been “paralyzed” due to Solidere’s effort to take over the marina area, which can be seen in a couple of the pictures in the post.
Basically after the war Solidere built a new marina, replacing the old marina that was part of the St. Georges since the 50s (or even earlier), hence the famous old title “St. Georges Yacht Club and Marina.”
The St. Georges owner quotes laws dating back to the late 1930s that gave his hotel rights to have its own marina. He says solidere had no rights to create a “monopoly” over the Bay of Beirut. Whether or not that’s true–one would think the rights to the Bay should be those of the state–and whether or not that state can be considered solidere–are interesting legal questions.
On the other hand, to say the hotel is “paralyzed” by its inability to have a private marina seems to be a separate issue. See Al Khoury’s website for details on this argument and other feuds he has with solidere at: http://www.stgeorges-hotel.com/en/index.html
Solidere has basicaly no rights over the water! It has been created, in my view illegally, to clean up the mess left by the war and rebuild the city’s infrasturcture. Its limits end on land between the Phoenicia and the Monroe Hotels. Besides all the illegal action taken against Saint George who’s marina was force fully removed and destroyed there has been writen instructions from the late Prime minister Rafic Hariri’s office to stop the municipality from issueing a reconstruction permit! Today the situation has not changed the Saint George was not indemnified after the bomb and the present Mouhafez of Beirut by interim will not issue a permit! We have repaired the South facade damaged by the 14th of February 2005 explosion without money from the government who has paid every one else but us and without permit!
The intention of Solidere is to land fill the marina in front of the hotel and that is mainly why the Saint George has been fighting that and the fact that the right over the water front belong legally only to the Saint George! The governement under pressure from Solidere is stopping the Saint George from being rebuilt! All was set for the Saint George to open its doors on the 31st of December 2000!
I am working on the Saint Georges Hotel as my architecture diploma project and i am trying to find the solution by the integration of an architecture that works on the podium of the hotel and mark the value of this space in the city of beirut and the importance of the protection of our modern patrimony; i am reconnecting this space to the city and working on the interface of city-sea by the improvment of the image of beirut and of its diaspora by the st georges hotel.
Please M. Fady Khoury, if we can have a meeting because i am trying to fix an appointment with you but all your secretaries are avoiding my calls and trying to push away the calls.