Lebanese authorities on Tuesday dismissed public concerns over a controversial road project, according to The Daily Star, even as protests inspired by a similar issue rock Turkey.
Public anger erupted in Turkey five days ago, sparked by outrage over the planned demolition of a beloved public park in Istanbul. The protests soon spread throughout the country, united in anti-government anger seen as a broad rebuke to ruling Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
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Similar frustrations are now on display in Lebanon, with civil society and activist groups coming out against the government's ambitious plans for a new four-lane road that would flatten 30 homes, an orchard, and cut right through the Beirut's historic Hikmeh neighborhood, according to The Daily Star.
The local mayor told the Star on Tuesday that while he was aware of concerns at the "end of the day, the decision is ours.”
Activists have drawn up alternative plans for the area targeted by the $75 million dollar Fouad Boutros road project, but deputy mayor Nadim Abu Rizk told the Star "alternative proposals are not considered at this stage."
As for the neighborhood in question, The Star describedit as home to a mansion with "a vast stone-terraced orchard," whose "olive grove, giant oak and sprawling berry bush are overseen by a two-story stone farmhouse, a rare living example of Beirut’s vanished agricultural livelihood and one of the few remaining green spaces in the exhaust-choked city."
“It’s a lost paradise,” 25-year-old activist Giorgio Tarraf of Save Beirut Heritage told the Star. “It has survived by a miracle. What a shame to see it all demolished by the state.”
It is unclear whether or not construction has begun, but activists have been tweeting photos of the area:
The American University of Beirut's Mona Fawaz, Associate Professor at the Graduate Urban Planning, responded to the city's road plans by saying: “Terrible news!"
"If you implement the highway now, you will be destroying one of the only remaining historic urban fabrics of the city, a heritage that can potentially bring lots of economic investments to Beirut and particularly to the handful of neighborhoods where one can still speak of some kind of heritage," she said in comments posted by Lebanon's iloubnan information site.
Harvard professor Hashem Sarkis, who runs the university's design program, was so enraged that he wrote an open letter to the mayor in protest last month in which he called the road plan "ridiculously obsolete," said the Star.
An online initiative against the project has gained considerable attention over the past several weeks, with 872 people sharing the "STOP FOUAD BOUTROS ROAD ON GEMAYZEH/ MAR MIKHAEL" petition.