The German Port of Beirut Project
The German Port of Beirut Project

We now hear a lot of talk about different plans to rebuild the area devastated by the Port of Beirut and the surrounding neighborhoods by the explosion of August 4, 2020, with the first French proposals that followed the following month or even today the German proposals. .

This area also whets the appetites of Turkey, Russia, the Chinese even, and even Qatar.

An urban project that actually recalls that of SOLIDERE

A German delegation thus went, with the support of the European Investment Bank according to it, to Lebanon at the beginning of April to unveil a reconstruction project reaching an estimate of up to 15 billion dollars. in the medium term and even 30 billion dollars in the long term with 50,000 jobs to the key according to the studies which they would have carried out but of which we do not yet know the details.

For them, it would be a question of remaking “the coup de SOLIDERE” with the establishment of a residential district, skyscrapers, green areas or even public beaches in an area still damaged and moving port facilities to the northern suburbs reminding a little open-air cafes which was this area before the extension of the second and third pools in the 1950s.

A space already claimed in the past by SOLIDERE

SOLIDERE had indeed already tried to get its hands during the 1990s on the space of the first basin of the port of Beirut, the use of which was however given to the Lebanese Army during the time of Amine Gemayel’s mandate during the war. civilian at Rafic Hariri’s request. It will also be one of the many disputes between the assassinated former prime minister and the commander of the Lebanese Army and then President of the Republic Emile Lahoud, who opposed it by all the means that were put to its layout.

The SOLIDERE competitor project promoted by the Port of Beirut authority in the early 2010s. Image Source: Dar el Handassa

Faced with this SOLIDERE real estate project, the administration of the Port of Beirut, however acting for many years, had responded with a competing real estate project still at the level of the first basin.

But a project also facing opposition from a large part of the population

The plan proposed by the Germans quickly made the local population react, already bruised by the bad experience of STRONG whose contract was due to expire in 2019 and which was extended until 2029 and located 2 steps away, a downtown space ultimately where interactions between different different social classes have been put aside in favor of unaffordable luxury for those who live in Lebanon itself. The German urban project offers social diversity, but it was also a promise for SOLIDERE, a promise that was quickly forgotten at the time.

The small neighborhood grocer does not exist, just like many trades previously existing in this space. The city center of Beirut resulting from the civil war, so alive before, so dead today except during the demonstrations of the last years, does not constitute any more this space of social and economic and even community rapprochement, with the Muslim, Christian presence. but also Jewish, for example from the pre-war period, this notion of coexistence, the only one capable of reducing sectarian conflicts.

SOLIDERE was also marked by the expropriation of many people following a court decision rendered by Walid Eido, who will be rewarded by former Prime Minister Rafic Hariri by subsequently becoming a deputy. Like him, he will be assassinated in 2005. Many people will accuse the company of harassment to buy their property at below market prices, when downtown Beirut was potentially one of the most prominent real estate spaces. In addition, due to real estate prices, this SOLIDERE space turned out to be that of the recycling of large sums resulting from embezzlement for example, inducing speculation on the rise in prices, resulting in empty buildings in the ultimately to the detriment of the population. This real estate bubble is one of the causes of the current economic crisis and this factor encourages the population of the surrounding districts, Gemmayzeh, Mar Mikhael or those of the Quarantine, district rather inhabited by economically vulnerable people to be cautious.

Moreover, just like the question of the sociological fabric of the German project in relation to the SOLIDERE experience, the heritage question also arose in the same SOLIDERE. Many heritage buildings and historic sites have been demolished in the city center and the German project offers no solution to this particular problem, while the Gemmayzeh or Mar Mikhael areas are full of 19th century architectural treasures.

This German project therefore risks being a repetition of SOLIDERE, with civil society recalling the absence of a memorial to the 200 victims of the explosion of August 4, 2021, as well as the fact that in the city center itself, the pangs of civil war have been erased like the memory of the 100,000 dead and 17,000 missing from that conflict. This lack of memory, for many, constitutes an invitation to start over again errors, the price of which has however been very high.

The other players also in the race

In the case of the port of Beirut, France is not left out but remains limited to the space of the port itself with in particular the presence of the president of CMA-CGM in the stadium during the visit of French President Emmanuel Macron on September 1, 2020 on the occasion of the centenary of Greater Lebanon. The latter then proposed the reconstruction of the port of Beirut without moving it using new technologies available at a much lower cost, of the order of six hundred million $ 1 billion and this in 3 phases including 400 million to 600 million for the first 2 phases only.

Concerning the surrounding districts, Paris has rather worked on heritage conservation, notably with its action at the level of the historic dwellings of Gemmayzeh and Mar Mikhael at the risk of appearing less ambitious than Berlin.

The ports of the region are the object of much covetousness due to several converging interests, such as the reconstruction of Syria which has already resulted in the Russian takeover of the port of Lattaquieh, but also, the new Silk Road sponsored by China, which is not to be outdone, already a candidate for the takeover of the port of Tripoli and already present at the Port of Piraeus in Greece but which was excluded from it by the CMA-CGM until 2041, or even the Turkish plan to reconstitute the Ottoman axis towards the Hijaz via, for example, the rehabilitation undertaken of the Tripoli station in northern Lebanon, as if to recall its influence in the region when this country was heavily involved in the Syrian conflict, and even in Qatar, which had responded to some calls for tenders for the port of Tripoli in the past.

There is also the interest currently present in the eastern Mediterranean in significant oil and gas resources, some of which could potentially be found off the Lebanese coast and are already the subject of a Franco-Italian-Russian consortium and whose exploitation could transform the port of Beirut into a prime platform.

This space is also critical for the United States, Israel or other countries which have interests in the region such as Iran too, since access to the Port of Beirut can lead for example Tehran to obtain a door to the Mediterranean, something which Israel would not want and which could lead it to exert pressure via Washington, for example, within the framework of this dossier.

However, the point with all these projects is the fact of generally wanting to exclude certain local interests which had already transformed the port of Beirut into an area where corruption had the pride of place. In a report published by the World Bank in 2016, we learned, for example, that taking goods out of the port of Beirut costs as much as bringing them from Marseille to the Lebanese capital because of the large commissions to be paid at each administrative step, for do not mention the corruption of local administrations.

Finally a local bargain too

At the local level, reconstruction is a boon for many, attracted by this opportunity which presents itself to them, after the shortness of SOLIDERE and while their coffers are empty and who will probably try, in the face of so much lust on the part of the company. foreigner, to get them to grant them the commissions they demand.

A strategic port in the eastern Mediterranean

The geostrategic interest of a commercial platform at the crossroads of roads to Asia and Africa on the one hand but also to the interior of the Arab World, quickly aroused much envy and many projects. The most ambitious was, however, carried out during the Ottoman Empire with the creation in 1887 of an autonomous port, “La Compagnie du Port, des Quais et des Entrepôts de Beyrouth”, financed mainly by French interests which will accompany this creation with the layout of the road then the railway to Damascus. Thus, in 1894, the First Basin of the Port of Beirut opened, prefiguring the Modern Port of the Lebanese capital.

At the end of the First World War, during the French Mandate, the Port of Beirut will become under French law in 1925, with a second basin which will be built in 1938 and then to be greatly extended thanks to the growth of the years. 60 with the construction of the 3rd and then the 4th basin. From then on, it became the Compagnie de Gestion et d’Exploitation du Port de Beyrouth, and the concession ended on December 31, 1990. It is therefore managed indirectly by the Lebanese State.

At the end of the civil war from 1975 to 1990 during which it had been looted in 1976 for loot, the amount of which is estimated between 1 and 2 billion dollars at the time, the Port of Beirut had to regain its place in the region from which he had been driven out by force of events. An unprecedented modernization effort was then put in place with the rehabilitation of its existing basins, with the exception of the First basin which had become too small for modern buildings and which a decision during the tenure of President Amine Gemayel led to be entrusted to the Lebanese Army which will make it a military base. Port activity will also be subject to the vagaries of regional conflicts, for example in 2006 when a blockade on the Israeli coast will be imposed, completely paralyzing the port.

Today, the main activity of the Port of Beirut consists of transshipment of goods. Equipped with 12 cranes of Chinese origin, 39 gantry cranes, over an area of 450,000 square meters reached saturation in 2009 and accommodating a maximum annual capacity of 1,500,000 TEU (Twenty Foot Equivalent or TEU in English), the container terminal is subcontracted by a consortium managed by Mersey Dock and Harbord and the Maritime Association of British nationality.

It performs 23 movements per day and is planning an extension on the embankments of the 4th basin, which is currently being talked about a lot. Located on the Marseille-Singapore route, the port of Beirut has indeed become one of the main ports of call for container ships, the estimated traffic for the Mediterranean being expected to reach 130 million TEU in 2015, therefore increased traffic. where the Port of Beirut must remain competitive. It also serves as a transhipment hub for the two leading companies in the world, MSC and CMA-CGM.

Alongside this activity, the fact remains that the port of Beirut, thanks to its 4th basin, remains essential in the region and is an essential lung of Lebanese economic activity with its 12 warehouses and its unloading activity. . The large wheat silo of the Middle East, with a capacity of 120,000 tons, is thus located within it. Beirut is also a place of unloading of goods, including cars, trucks, animals for slaughter, and various cargoes of materials. raw materials, gas and oil.

It is these activities mainly present at the level of the 4th basin which are today threatened. The backfilling work already carried out has already limited the draft. The 4th basin is also essential for military operations in the region, being one of the only ones capable in the region of accommodating high-tonnage ships with strong draft (up to 14 meters). Lebanon is even under an obligation to make it available to the UN in the event of a request. Backfilling it therefore constitutes a violation of the Lebanese government’s commitments to the international community.

The current map of the Port of Beirut, source:

Since the end of the civil war, the Lebanese authorities have also developed a DutyFree activity over an area of 85,000 square meters in the port enclosure as well as a passenger transit project with a capacity of 400,000 people annually but due to current geopolitical circumstances, Beirut remains isolated from the main steamer routes. Besides its military activity, the first basin also serves as an exhibition space, in particular for Beirut Boat 2014.

The explosion of August 4, 2020

The explosion of the port of Beirut

The port of Beirut will be ravaged by an explosion on August 4, 2020 at around 5 p.m. More than 200 people are believed to have died and more than 6,500 people were injured in the explosion that devastated the port of Beirut and much of the Lebanese capital on August 4. 300,000 people are also reported to be homeless as a result of the explosion.

According to the authorities, it would be 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate present in warehouse since 2014 which would be at the origin. In addition to the hundreds of victims, especially in the surrounding neighborhoods, the many missing and the 5,000 people injured, the port itself has seen the majority of its hangars and installations blown up with the exception of the 5th basin.

The explosion itself will be compared to that of a tactical nuclear bomb.

The wheat silo, once the pride of Lebanon since it was, during its construction the most important silo in the Arab world, has become a ruin whose side has been torn off.

The explosion at the Port of Beirut was caused, according to the Lebanese authorities, by the inadequate storage of 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, an amount equivalent to that of 600 tonnes of TNT. This merchandise was reportedly seized from a ship in poor condition in 2014 and was bound for Africa. The freighter ended up sinking by itself in Beirut harbor a year later due to a dismal condition.

The merchandise had previously been transferred inside the port of Beirut, initially to be re-routed to Africa, security sources say.

The explosion set off a cloud that many compare to a nuclear bomb even as evidenced by the many videos from that moment posted on social media. It would have reached the equivalent of an earthquake of 3.3 on the Richter scale, the USGC website said last night. .

Ammonium nitrate is an explosive substance already at the origin of many tragedies, such as that of AZF factory in Toulouse, France, on September 21, 2001; of the West Fertilizer ammonia plant near Waco in Texas, in April 2013; of a warehouse in Tianjin port in China in 2015.

This substance is generally used as a fertilizer but can be used to produce explosives which seems to have been the case for this cargo which happened to be destined for a munitions factory.

The consequences at the port level are critical, with facilities that will not be available for several months and a reconstruction estimated to cost several billion dollars for the port facilities alone and from which damage outside its premises is excluded. perimeter.

The port of Beirut, an area where corruption was widespread

The Lebanese authorities’ refusal to set up an international investigation is linked to the fear that the scale of corruption at Lebanon’s main gate would be involved in almost all Lebanese political parties, including some who are now calling for the investigation, some media sources note, under the guise of a temporary authority to manage the port of Beirut whose appointments were made on official sectarian lines.

Saad Hariri, who has been in question almost because of his closeness to the former director of the port of Beirut Hassan Koraytem for more than 20 years, now denies any direct link with him.

On the spot, operators note that the transit of goods often gives rise to a racketeering. Thus, in order to be able to get goods out of the port of Beirut, important undersides must be frequently paid.

Others note that some shipments are not checked. Goods are also under-billed so as not to pay taxes due to a state in financial crisis.

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