Magazine article New Internationalist

Beirut, My City

Magazine article New Internationalist

Beirut, My City

Article excerpt

On a September evening last year, 10 people made their way to an apartment in Beirut's Hamra district. Intrigue, curiosity and a sense of excitement filled them. One by one, they were let in and, one by one, they took their seats around the dinner table. To a casual onlooker, it looked like an ordinary dinner party. But this dinner was far from ordinary. If what the guests had in mind worked, then Beirut would become a whole new city.

The hosts, husband and wife, looked at their guests pensively. These were some of the top planning minds in the city, strategic thinkers - the Beiruti 'technocrats'.

'It is time to take over our municipality,' said Mona Fawaz, a university professor, finally. 'It is time for you to implement your plans.'

All of the guests had at one point submitted to the Beirut municipality studies about how to improve the city. Others had argued doggedly with officials about ways of saving Beirut - in vain.

'We all share the same frustrations, and protesting just isn't enough any more,' said Fawaz. 'We have to take action. We have to take Beirut back.'

The past year saw protesters taking the country by storm when they took to the city's streets objecting to the uncollected trash lining the sidewalks.

It has since become known as the You Stink campaign. Protesters included Beirutis from all walks of life - many of whom, like myself, could barely make their way home through the piles of garbage. Moreover, the protest brought to light some of the many scandals.

Most notably, a plan for developing the Dalieh, the city's last natural coastline. The culprits were the usual players: politicians turned entrepreneurs, entrepreneurs turned developers, developers turned politicians.

Nothing new, really. But this time, a new class of Beirutis - many educated in the world's most prestigious universities - had emerged. They figured out the game and were ready to take Beirut back.

And so it was that the dinner gathering turned into weekly meetings. Social media went abuzz. Hundreds joined up. Beirut Madinati (Beirut, My City) was born. 'We will run,' announced their Facebook page.

It was a movement unlike any Beirut had seen in years. No runof- the-mill candidates here. No sectarianism, religion or tribal allegiances. …

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