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Dubai invades Lebanon

Apparently it's not just unemployed expat workers who are leaving Dubai, and their cars, for greener pastures.  Lebanon appears to be inheriting a project from the Emirate's trademark "island" series of luxury developments, too. 

The Emiratis have made it a mission to expand their coastline by constructing giant palm tree and continent-shaped islands. But, in Lebanon, the plan below seems to have taken many people off guard. 

The proposed project is called " Cedar Island," and it's a massive, 7.2 square kilometer (4.5 square mile) island in the shape of, well, the country's national symbol: a Lebanese cedar tree. 

The Lebanese flag - the blueprint for the "Cedar Island" proposed project south of Beirut, extending into the Mediterranean Sea

The project would be constructed off the Lebanese coast just south of Beirut, near the town of Damour, where it would jut out into the Mediterranean Sea.

The project's website says the developer, Noor Holdings, met with the Minister of Tourism on January 23, who "expressed his blessing" for the project. 

The same day, the site says, the company visited the "Office of Investment Development Authority of Lebanon (IDAL) and met the Chairmen Dr. Nabil Itani.  The delegation provided a detailed explanation of the project and applied for legal license."

Not everyone in Lebanon has blessed the project — and in fact,  most seem to be hearing about it as I write.  As the project has gained more publicity, many Lebanese are aghast — so much that a Facebook group opposing it has garnered 600 members in the last three days.  Some thought the project so ridiculous they assumed a design student must be trying to gain some publicity.

"Is this island a joke or is it for real?" wrote Philippe Massoud on the "No for Cedar Island's Wall" on Facebook.  "If it's for real then it's a tragic mistake as it will alter Lebanon for ever." 

Rola Sinno Safieddine echoed Mr. Massoud's disapproval.  Lebanon suffered billions in damage from a 2006 war with Israel, and the country is just now recovering.  It's also a country suffering from daily power cuts, bad roads and a national debt nearly twice the size of the country's GDP.

"Really, an island?? why?" Safieddine wrote on Facebook.  "Did we fix all the roads? build all the hospitals? have 24 hour electricity?????"
In announcing the project, the head of  Noor Holdings, Muhammad Saleh, told the project will bring 50 thousand jobs to Lebanon.
"The overall idea of Cedar Island is to develop a planning scheme for a residential, commercial, recreational, and touristic site made for luxurious experience," the website says.
And the Lebanese being a feisty and technically  savvy bunch, several other Facebook groups have sprouted, one with 3,000 members, which has served as an informal place to debate the project.  Another group, strictly supporting the Cedar Island, has accumulated just over 100 members.
"Best idea ever," wrote Sana Aridi Dakdouk.  "Hope it works out...It would be soo beautiful."
Noor Holdings says it has drawn interest from several Gulf companies and governments interested in  investing in Cedar Island.
The company appears to be familiar with investing in unstable environments like Lebanon's.  The company's website currently trumpets the upcoming launch of a giant project in Erbil, northern Iraq, called "Erbil Towers."
But Lebanon may be even more politically fragmented than Iraq.  In addition to objections from Lebanese who see the project as an aesthetic, environmental or cultural catastrophe, anyone building a project this size will have to charm, and probably pay off, those who hold power at many levels of government.   They'll also have to convince Lebanese like Walid Samaha.
"The only reason dubai did the palm islands is because they have no esthetic landscape whatsoever, so they had to build it," Samaha wrote on one of the Facebook pages.  "Can somebody explain to me exactly why do we need to build something so revolting and tasteless, when we can actually invest on land; develop our existing natural reserves, do green projects.  Tourists and lebanese people would much rather go to the mountains or the beach than to a concrete jungle."
Over the last thirty years, Israeli jets have repeatedly pounded the area around where the proposed Cedar Island project would be located.  That led some war-weary Lebanese to point out that even if the project is built, its luxury branding wouldn't protect the Cedar in the event of another conflict.
"Great," wrote Rima Nasrani.  "So israel will have next time an island to distroy." (sic)