Is Lebanon Becoming Another “Republic of the NGOs”?

Photo credit: flickr/BERNARD KHALIL

In the first weeks following the explosion at the Beirut Port on August 4, 2020, discussion about the role of Lebanon’s civil society shifted from the protests and mobilizations of downtown Beirut to the efforts deployed to support the recovery of the devastated neighborhoods. The inspiring energy of hundreds of young individuals who flocked to the downtown districts affected by the blast, armed only with shovels and brooms, fueled hope in a city where time seemed to have stood still. The youth appeared to embody the hope of a people devastated by three decades of post-civil war governments that entrenched corruption and sectarianism in every element of the Lebanese state.

As the weeks pass, however, progress on recovery seems slow. Indeed, while vibrant efforts and remarkable initiatives are set in place, weak coordination and lack of funding amid one of the worst financial crises in decades usher in a difficult winter for those who dreamed of quickly returning to their houses. This also revives echoes of earlier missed opportunities to rebuild inclusively and fairly.

Using the lens of the post-blast recovery as an entry point to explore the current conditions of Lebanon’s mobilized civil society, we argue in this policy paper that although the situation testifies to the dynamism of a society keen to recover, the delegation of the recovery to activist movements, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and international nongovernmental organizations (INGOs) within a discourse of sidelining the state should be cause for alarm. To be sure, experiences in post-disaster recovery indicate that a critical ingredient for the successful interventions of civil society groups and nongovernmental organizations is the synergy that is set between them and public agencies.[1] While state agencies cannot reach communities with the same effectiveness, their typically assigned roles as custodians of the common good and as coordinators remain critical. In Lebanon, the rampant corruption and accumulated failures of state agencies have encouraged an adversarial position among activist groups who demand the exclusion of the state from the reconstruction.

Understanding the Context: The Anti-State Rhetoric

Almost a year after the outbreak of the October 2019 uprising in Beirut, and amid a devastating financial meltdown generated by the deep corruption of Lebanon’s ruling elite, the port explosion came to consecrate what many described as a war waged against Lebanese citizens by the country’s political class.[2],[3] Anger mounted, and even those who cling to the traditional political class for protection because they fear their position as minorities in a volatile regional context can hardly ignore the responsibility of a governance body that knowingly tolerated the callous storage of explosive material in close proximity to people’s homes.[4]

In this context, the ubiquitous rhetoric among mobilized activists, organized groups, and political initiatives is to exclude the corrupt Lebanese political class and all its appointees in public agencies from the reconstruction process.[5] This position was rapidly echoed by the international community as well as by many donors and INGOs who discussed the deficit of trust and the possibility of bypassing public agencies in recovery work.[6] Since rampant corruption has been widely exposed and associated with the financial collapse, it is inconceivable, the argument goes, to trust state agencies with the funds earmarked for the reconstruction of the devastated districts.

The argument is not built on thin air. On the one hand, the pile of evidence regarding mismanagement, widespread theft, and notorious practices that have largely voided public agencies—including those at the Port[7]—of either competence or representation make the exclusion of public agencies from recovery a logical step.[8] On the other hand, the idea that a reconstruction project would not be channeled through state institutions has several precedents in Lebanon. One can see its most recent and eloquent materialization in the post-2006 war reconstruction of Lebanon’s villages and Beirut suburbs, particularly the district of Haret Hreik. Over 220 multistory residential and commercial buildings were entirely rebuilt by Waad, the private agency set up by Hezbollah, using foreign donations transited through the Higher Relief Council (HRC) that was established by the government at the time as well as money raised directly by the party.[9] Elsewhere in South Lebanon, donor agencies established their own headquarters where they managed recovery, often without coordination with public agencies.[10] Conversely, while one may recall the post-2006 war reconstruction as a relative success story in that it restored people’s access to their homes, unlike the post-civil war recovery, that process led to the further entrenchment of communities as protected constituencies of specific political groups. These factors added to the splintering of Beirut and the enclaving of its southern districts.

Similarly, global experiences in which the national state was sidelined for corruption or incompetence have generally not been successful in securing adequate recovery. The experiences of Haiti (now notoriously dubbed the Republic of the NGOs[11]) Iraq, Yemen, and others have left populations bruised, increasingly divided, and hostage to specific bodies that secured their own survival but undermined, in the process, the possibilities for communities to come together as political collectives capable of managing their affairs—in other words, the process of state building. Is there room to consider that Lebanon’s experience today may provide evidence to the contrary? If the state is to be excluded from recovery, can NGOs, INGOs, and activist community groups be entrusted with Beirut’s recovery? What mechanisms are available to them?

Which Organizations Are Participating in Beirut’s Reconstruction?[12]

At least 384 organizations have recorded entries in the Lebanese army’s official registry to signal their interest to participate in the Beirut reconstruction.[13] This count is incomplete, though: many other NGOs and groups have resisted the registration with the army, bypassing what they perceived as the unwelcome intervention of the military arm of the state, or the state altogether.[14] Lumped together under the banner of relief organizations, these various agencies that are registered or unregistered with the army differ considerably in their scope, approach, and capabilities. To decipher the meaning and implications of their interventions, below is an outline of the main actors in three categories: (1) NGOs, (2) activists, and (3) syndicates. These understandings are based on preliminary observations and a rapid desk review as well as the authors’ previous work on the issues.

  1. The Nongovernmental Organizations. Identifying generally as nonpolitical, humanitarian, and development-oriented, professional NGOs in Lebanon have a dominant presence in the devastated districts. The breakdown of the Lebanese state throughout the years of civil war had allowed for the development of capable NGOs, many of which are local, to support some of the essential aspects of social life.[15] The number of such organizations has increased over the past two decades as poverty has risen and needs increased.The profile of these organizations is quite diverse. Some are affiliated with influential political figures while claiming a development-oriented identity (e.g., the Hariri Foundation, René Moawad Foundation, and Makhzoumi Foundation). Others are faith-based but present themselves as benevolent and apolitical (e.g., Caritas and World Vision). Still others distance themselves from political or religious affiliations, focusing on the needs of vulnerable social groups through a humanitarian or development lens (e.g., Amel Association International,  Arc-en-ciel, and Offre-Joie). Many of these organizations are well established with years of experience, whereas others have sprung up recently in response to increasing needs (e.g., Beit el Baraka and Nusaned). The veterans among them can call on trusted international partners and/or expatriates for funding. All these organizations tend to navigate in specific national territories, even when they claim an apolitical and secular identity, although the best established among them have crossed multiple lines and benefited from and boasted an apolitical identity to secure room for maneuver.

    Conversely, Israel’s 2006 war on Lebanon brought the first large flow of international organizations to the country. A few INGOs’ presence in Lebanon dates back to the civil war or even earlier (e.g., Greenpeace, Save the Children, and World Vision);[16] however, the number of INGOs increased substantially after 2006, when they arrived to help in the postwar reconstruction. As projects closed, many stayed on, finding a new role to support vulnerable communities (e.g., the Norwegian Refugee Council aiding Palestinian refugees). Yet it was the influx of Syrian refugees starting in 2012 that placed Lebanon on the map of most global INGOs. Coordinated by United Nations bodies, particularly the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), these INGOs have established the infrastructure of “relief” across the country, including UN-led coordination groups, refugee registries, and interventions organized in the humanitarian silos of shelter, WASH (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene), security, education, health, and basic needs.

    While they typically work in parallel, these local and international organizations have gradually established coordination platforms through which they manage their work, with the intermittent support of the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) since 2014. The need for coordination further increased with the expanded agenda for INGOs to support impoverished members of the host communities as of 2016, across Lebanon, and to foster social cohesion.

    In the aftermath of the Beirut port blast, many of these organizations have been at the forefront of providing relief, repairing homes, removing rubble, recycling materials, and responding to basic needs. They have thus expanded the coordination and relief efforts for Syrian refugees and host communities to the sites affected by the blast in Beirut and its vicinities. While their roles and responsibilities are still unfolding, the organizations are relying in their interventions on the established modalities of coordination they had set in place since 2012. For example, the Shelter Coordination and Security Groups—formed across UN agencies and INGOs—that support Syrian refugees in Lebanon are the same coordination bodies used to assess the capacity of local NGOs to participate in shelter repairs after the blast.

    Despite genuine attempts, however, interviews with multiple members of INGOs and NGOs confirm that cooperation among organizations is often sluggish at best, information sharing typically reticent, and weariness high. Thus, multiple assessment surveys (e.g., of damage and basic needs) are conducted, reaching often contradictory findings and leaving residents unsettled about the safety of their homes or misinformed about which organization was assigned to fix them. This results in concerns about the competence or trustworthiness of organizations or even the process set in place for repair, on which residents should be able to rely to monitor the progress of work.

    Despite these limitations, the transition from refugee aid to recovery support for INGOs was remarkably fast. This was perhaps predictable: money has dwindled for Syrian refugee support, making it important for the INGOs to leverage a new crisis with heightened visibility. Supported by the World Bank, the European Union, and UN bodies, an assessment of damage and a road map to recovery were put in place, estimating losses at $6.7-8.1 billion according to the report cited above. However, as the threat of international sanctions mounts in the face of Lebanon’s political class’s refusal to comply with the demands of the western powers that fund these foreign organizations, there are many doubts about the ability of the INGOs to secure the funding necessary for the continuity of their presence, given that they rely on western channels of funding. Conversely, while local organizations typically count on their networks in the Lebanese diaspora, the money they can gather—albeit generous—remains too limited to support the repair of entire city districts.

  1. The Activists. A preexisting and unstructured mobilization of activists forms the other element of the nongovernmental response to the blast in the devastated city districts (and beyond). They identify as a political opposition, well informed and sophisticated, that demands accountability and seeks to position itself as the alternative to the corrupt ruling elite. Unlike NGOs, these groups adopt loosely organized arrangements to coordinate their activities, allowing for comfortable spaces to debate and experiment. Largely leaderless (a point often used against them), these activist groups frequently reject or contest hierarchical structures, sometimes erring instead on the side of impulsivity.[17] Historically, some of them have coalesced at different instances: in 2011, echoing the Arab Spring’s uprisings; in 2015, during the #YouStink garbage protests; in 2016, for the municipal elections; in 2018, for the parliamentary elections; and in October 2019, at an unprecedent scale that exceeded their preceding Beirut-centrism, when mobilization generated an inspiring—albeit short-lived—revolutionary moment.

The Beirut port blast reignited the anger of these activist movements. Having considerably reduced their organizing efforts since January 2019 in the context of overlapping financial, economic, and health crises, in addition to excessively violent repression by the state police, many of the activists poured into the neighborhoods immediately after the explosion to help residents however they could. Simultaneously, broad and unanimous calls for protests denounced and blamed the political class and demanded accountability. They led to a large protest on August 9, 2020, which was again violently repressed, discouraging further intensive mobilization. Still, these organized protesters influenced the resignation of nine sympathetic members of parliament and facilitated the staged ousting of the national government, whose flimsy position had been weakened even more by its (albeit timid) stand vis-à-vis the Lebanese political class as well as by intensive regional pressures.

The blast allowed several activist groups to revive a wider repertoire of action with which they had already experimented since the October 2019 protests. In addition to the calls for protests, the issuance of statements, targeted actions against banks or culpable bodies, and social media campaigns, relief has become an integral act of political resistance to spur a representative and reformed state.[18] In the devastated districts, the activist groups have intervened sporadically to repair homes and distribute food and basic needs, hence reclaiming a space of sharing and collective recovery. Thus, soup kitchens, associations offering legal advice, and psychiatric clinics proliferated in the first weeks after the explosion, as they did in the context of the Beirut downtown protests.[19] A number of neighborhood-based initiatives have also taken root, promising to establish a hopeful permanent presence in the districts where they expect to form grassroots community groups (e.g., Nation Station in Jeitawi, and Barrad al-Balad).[20] With differences in the scope of their interventions, respective vision, or experience in relief, and poorly coordinated and limited in funds, the activists are nonetheless united in their aspiration to emulate other models of solidarity in times of crisis and to build a political opposition as a possible alternative to the state.

In many ways, the dual efforts of activists in mobilization and relief continue the initiative since October 2019, and earlier, to form coordination platforms that would bring together activist movements and groups.[21] Despite a few breakthroughs, the earlier optimism of October 2019 seems to have waned, particularly as the heightened police violence that met the first protests discouraged many to participate; it was also because many now understand the extent of the financial crisis and its entanglement with regional and global politics. At the same time, they reckon with the difficulty to coalesce as a coherent national opposition movement amid deep-rooted challenges. While cautiously hopeful, the efforts demonstrate the tensions between a will to instigate change, on the one hand, and the difficulty of going beyond an oppositional front to constitute a viable political alternative, on the other.

  1. The Professional Syndicates. The description of the blast response would be incomplete without attention to professional unions, among which syndicates led by independent figures have taken the lead. Thus, the Order of Engineers and Architects (OEA) launched a survey of damage and structural assessments and released regular reports identifying threatened buildings. Championed by the president of the order, Jad Tabet, a veteran architect-urbanist with a stellar record of public involvement, the OEA has also established links, through heritage preservation efforts, with public bodies to set in place a heritage preservation strategy that may receive the support of UNESCO. Similarly, the Bar Association stepped in to provide legal advice to residents, setting up tents in the devastated neighborhoods. Here, too, leadership matters, since the newly elected president of the syndicate, Melhem Khalaf, an independent activist with a long history of public and volunteer work, has actively encouraged lawyers to help displaced residents. Furthermore, as several contractors stepped in immediately after the blast to remove rubble, help with rescue operations, shore up heritage buildings and/or perform volunteer repair, the Order of Contractors also encouraged its members to volunteer their work. Although impressive and important, the efforts of the syndicates have nonetheless fallen short of setting in place a viable coordination body, as they aspired to do early on.[22] The failure is largely due to the heavy pressure of political parties on the elected boards of these syndicates, preventing both the OEA and the contractors’ syndicate to initiate substantial actions.

In parallel, one could include the activism of university-based academics, which falls between this category of professional advice and applied work, with a large number serving as volunteers. Many among them have thus deployed their knowledge at the service of the city, either as individuals or within organized bodies (e.g., Khadhet Beirut, Beirut Urban Lab). Academics participate in internal sessions, provide advice to various bodies, but also act as advocates in mobilizing for the protection of the city’s heritage, the support of vulnerable social groups, and the provision of mental health counseling, damage assessments, and much more. These actors, it should be said, do not fall neatly under this category and intersect with the second category of activists, as many scholars are integral to their mobilization.

Where Is the State?

Against this vibrant scene of organized activities, public agencies have been noticeably missing. In the first days following the blast, the Beirut governor’s office (which is the decision-making body of the city’s municipality) appealed to four large engineering companies to earmark buildings threatened with demolition. Conducted rapidly and pro bono, the survey spread fear among many residents who were asked, sometimes unduly, to leave homes deemed insecure while it provided no evidence of solid reviews. Overwhelmed and inexperienced, the office of the governor was flooded with requests to which it responded through individual, ad hoc decisions.[23] These often reflected support for the protection of residents and urban heritage but also betrayed the difficulty to maneuver in a municipality heavily embedded in networks of personal interests. As for the Municipal Council, its multiple gestures of solidarity and a vote to disburse a number of funds remain weak. Three days after the blast, its doors were open to distribute brooms to activists on their way to the devastated districts. However, eloquently absent from their response is the $2 million resiliency plan that the municipality had just concluded with World Bank funding, a document that should guide evacuation and relief efforts in similar circumstances. Also glaringly absent is a city planning office, rich with evidence-based and geo-referenced data, that could have advised the governor on the city’s urban and socioeconomic needs.

A similar position is occupied by the Higher Relief Council (HRC), a committee headed by the prime minister with representatives from multiple ministries and set in place to conduct damage assessments and support the channeling of foreign aid. Having issued announcements for damage assessment and encouraged residents to file for compensation through forms and printed pictures, the HRC builds on its experience of earlier devastation but lacks the credibility to implement the action, given the bankruptcy of the Lebanese state and widespread perceptions that the agency is an integral element of the corruption that led to financial and economic failure.[24]

The central stage of the state response has come from its security arm, with the army stepping in two weeks after the blast as the main public stakeholder. Once a state of emergency was declared, the army established its management headquarters in the municipal building and imposed itself as a coordinating body. The army required all actors intervening in the districts, including international organizations, to register with its office before they were allowed access. The task, it was claimed, allowed the army to assign zones of work to NGOs or volunteer contractors, and hence to fill the critical coordination void and avoid overlaps. To bolster its claims, the army released progress reports and issued statements frequently. Yet, its allocation of districts to aid groups remains questionable. Indeed, in the absence of a qualified assessment of the capacities of each NGO or contractor, assignments often caused confusion.

Anecdotes collected from the neighborhoods revealed that small NGOs with limited capacity had been trusted with larger districts they could not cover, while other, more established organizations were left hanging for weeks without an appropriate allocation. Eventually, the coordination efforts were extended to work along with the various ongoing INGO efforts, leading the army to rework with OCHA its initial assignments. Meanwhile, none of these assignments or interventions seems to be effectively communicated to people in the devastated neighborhoods. Instead, preliminary fieldwork shows how many residents, especially the most vulnerable, are wary of the presence of the army, concerned about its militarized presence in their neighborhoods, and alienated by what is experienced as intelligence gathering. For instance, one activist complained about being harassed for taking pictures, while another derided a military parade on Armenia Street for a photoshoot. More vulnerable residents—like migrant workers and refugees—experience the army’s presence with another fear: a replication of earlier negative experiences with Lebanon’s security bodies.

Another critical aspect of the state’s intervention has been the passage of a legal proposition put forward by Christian deputies in parliament on September 30th. Remarkable in its intent to invigorate the role of public actors, the law tasks a committee headed by the army and including a handful of public agencies and two syndicates with surveying damage, assessing losses, and channeling compensation funds. Aside from this “reconstruction” arm, the law reflects the alarm with which some of the Christian parties have approached land sales in the districts, viewing them as a threat to their hold over Lebanon’s capital city. The panic of long-term displacement for the residents of the blasted districts had begun as a genuine concern of scholars and activists about residents’ ability to stay in place, brought about by decades of property speculation. Through the law, however, the threat of displacement justifies a freeze on purchases, mostly motivated by sectarian fears. Therefore, the law restricts land sales for two years and protects tenants’ rights over the duration of one year, but it fails to question the policy framework that incentivizes real-estate speculation and triggers displacement.[25] Worse, the law places the full load of recovery work on residents, limiting the coordination role of public agencies to the assessment of damage and the channeling of compensation. Finally, the law recognizes that all funds need to come from foreign aid and it reclaims the HRC’s role as the main channel for reconstruction funds—meaning that the role of the state and the process of recovery will be contingent on the approval of international supporters.

In sum, the ubiquitous presence of the army and the HRC, their coordinating roles with international nongovernmental organizations, and their position on the reconstruction committee all create a scenario in which the presence of the state is mostly concentrated in its security/military arm, one that is limited in scope to coordinating a physical response to the reconstruction rather than a process of integrated recovery, co-produced with dwellers. This reality is clearly detrimental to public life in the city, to the neighborhoods’ recovery, and to people’s everyday lived experiences and spatial practices. As noted above, militarization paradoxically increases a sense of fear and pushes people away from streets and public open spaces; it especially applies to vulnerable groups who are criminalized and discriminated against.

Looking Forward

More than two months after the horrendous blast that devastated one third of Beirut, and despite powerful demands for accountability from activists, widespread condemnation of the political class, and admirable efforts by individuals across the religious, class, and professional spectrums, it is hard to discern a recovery process at present that aims for social justice and accountability. Neither is the bottom-up approach of activists, NGOs, and syndicates providing sufficient certainty, nor is the top-down takeover of the army and the consequent militarization of the process encouraging. The answer to the question of whether Lebanon can offer a promising example of a recovery, one that is conducted without public agencies, is a resounding and probably unsurprising, “no.”

The public response and the record of public interventions provide dismal expectations for a state-led recovery. In this context, and to counter the army-INGO tandem that seems to impose itself as the main option, activists and professional unions have to carry the huge burden of demonstrating their capability to monitor works, generate accountability, and support residents in taking charge of their districts—enormous responsibilities to undertake in these dire times of compounded crises, with no end in sight. Still, attempts—even small ones—to salvage any pieces of the state so it is functional, should not be spared. Such efforts may sow the seeds for the desired state building that would preferably be developed inclusively from the bottom up by the Lebanese people as the country seeks to extricate itself from its current troubles.
 

[1] Christopher Kim, et al., “The Effect of Social Capital on Community Co-production: Towards Community-oriented Development in Post-disaster Recovery,” Procedia Engineering, Vol. 180, 2017, 901-911.

[2] See, for example, Walid El Houri, “Lebanon’s Deadly Blast: When Corruption Turned into Carnage.” Open Democracy, 8/7/2020, https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/north-africa-west-asia/lebanons-deadly-blast-when-corruption-turned-into-carnage/ (accessed 10/05/2020).

[3] For an assessment of damages, see The Beirut Rapid Damage and Needs Assessment, published by the World Bank on 8/30/2020, which estimated the losses to 200 deaths, more than 6,000 wounded, and around 300,000 displaced.

[4] For six years, 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate had been stored on the pier facing the city, less than 500 meters away from homes.

[5] https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/09/09/world/middleeast/beirut-explosion.html (accessed 10/05/2020). Also see Mona Harb, “Quick Thoughts: Mona Harb on the Aftermath of the Beirut Explosion.” Jadaliyya, August 20, 2020, https://www.jadaliyya.com/Details/41604 (accessed 10/5/2020).

[6] For more, see for example, Alex Ward, “What Lebanon needs to recover from the explosion. The people of Lebanon kindly request you do not send aid money to their government.” Vox, 8/6/2020,  https://www.vox.com/2020/8/6/21357190/lebanon-beirut-explosion-aid-recovery-help, both accessed 10/5/2020.

[7] Reinoud Leenders, “Timebomb at the Port: How Institutional Failure, Political Squabbling and Greed Set the Stage for Blowing up Beirut.” Arab Reform Initiative, 9/16/2020, https://www.arab-reform.net/publication/timebomb-at-the-port-how-institutional-failure-political-squabbling-and-greed-set-the-stage-for-blowing-up-beirut/ (accessed 10/5/2020).

[8] Mohamad Bazzi, “The Corrupt Political Class that Broke Lebanon. A Decaying Sectarian System Kindled Beirut’s Port Blast.” Foreign Affairs, 08/14/2020, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/lebanon/2020-08-14/corrupt-political-class-broke-lebanon (accessed 10/5/2020).

[9] It was done, one should recall, in flagrant violation of building and zoning regulations, and eventually legalized by the Lebanese parliament after the fact, in 2014, eight years after the war and two years after Hezbollah announced the successful termination of the project. For more on this, see Mona Fawaz, (2017) “Planning and the Making of a Propertied Landscape,” Planning Theory and Practice 18(3): 365-384; and Mona Harb and Mona Fawaz, “Influencing the Politics of Reconstruction in Haret-Hreik,” in Howayda Al-Harithy (ed.), Lessons in Post-War Reconstruction: Case Studies from Lebanon in the Aftermath of the 2006 War. London: Routledge, 2010.

[10] Several case studies appear in  Al-Harithy (ed.), Lessons in Post-War Reconstruction.

[11] Kevin Edmonds, “Beyond Good Intentions: The Structural Limitations of NGOs in Haiti.” Critical Sociology, May 2013, 39(3):439-452.

[12] Excluded from this overview are religious institutions (e.g., the Church of Mar Mikhael and the personal office of Iraq-based Ayatollah Ali Sistani providing relief) and political parties, whose role so far has been timid in the recovery.

[13] Rola Ibrahim, “Al-jaysh ‘yunassik’ faqat! Jam’iyyat majhula tastafrid bi’l-hibat” (in Arabic). Al-Akhbar, 9/9/2020, https://al-akhbar.com/Politics/293633 (accessed 10/5/2020).

[14] Daleel Madani’s more recently published survey of mostly local organizations lists at least 130, a sizable number particularly as it excludes most of the large-scale international organizations and UN agencies.

[15] Names like Arc-en-ciel, Amel, or Offre-Joie are well known to many Lebanese communities.

[16]Save the Children and World Vision have been in Lebanon since the 1960s/70s.

[17] See a full description in Mona Harb, “New Forms of Youth Activism in Contested Cities: The Case of Beirut.” The International Spectator 52(2): 74-93, 2018.

[18] Examples of these include Khadhet Beirut or Mintishreen.

[19] Initiatives like Matbakh el Balad started in downtown Beirut, feeding the poor; it has since expanded its work beyond downtown and launched a crowd-sourced funding effort after the blast. See https://www.facebook.com/matbakhelbalad/. Covering this, for example, are Kareem Chehayeb and Abby Sewell, “Local groups step up to lead Beirut blast response.” The New Humanitarian, 10/18/2020, https://www.thenewhumanitarian.org/news-feature/2020/08/18/Lebanon-Beirut-explosion-local-aid-response (accessed 10/5/2020).

[20] Nation Station and Barrad al-Balad are good examples of community based organizations. Nation Station started after the blast and has received solid attention and coverage for its initiatives.

[21] For reference, check AlMubadara, https://www.facebook.com/almubadara.drabzeen.

[22] “Itlaq al hay’a al-wataniyyah li’i`adat ‘i`mar Beirut,” Al-Modon. 8/20/2020.  https://www.almodon.com/society/2020/8/20/إطلاق-الهيئة-الوطنية-لإعادة-إعمار- (accessed 10/05/2020).

[23] The Governor of Beirut was appointed only weeks before the blast. Prior to his appointment, he was a judge and had no experience in urban planning

[24] For a description, see https://www.general-security.gov.lb/ar/magazines/details/77 (in Arabic) (accessed 10/5/2020).

[25] Research at the Beirut Urban Lab has shown that between 1999 and 2011, at least a dozen laws were issued to incentivize the flow of capital into the built environment. These include changes in property laws to facilitate the purchase of land by foreigners and reduce property registration taxes as well as changes to urban and building regulations to intensify construction and increase profit for developers. In addition, between 1999 and 2019, the Central Bank issued multiple circulars designed to ease its reserve requirements for banks investing in real estate, facilitating the provision of housing mortgages, and lifting restrictions that previously prevented banks from investing directly in real estate. For more on the topic, see Beirut Urban Lab, “Beirut: A City for Sale?” https://www.beiruturbanlab.com/en/Details/612/beirut%E2%80%99s-residential-fabric (accessed 10/5/2020).

 

Mona Fawaz is a professor of urban studies at American University of Beirut. Mona Harb is a professor of urban studies and politics at American University of Beirut. They are both lead researchers at the Beirut Urban Lab at AUB.