After the explosions that devastated the city of Beirut on Tuesday, August 4, causing 6,000 injuries and at least 158 deaths (provisional toll), the port was destroyed. Deflagrations – whose force is equivalent to that of an earthquake of magnitude 35– It would have been caused by some 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate stored in a hangar at the port.
Lebanon, weakened by years of civil war (1975-1990), has faced an economy in crisis for several years. while hesitating its infrastructure and public services, all in a context of strong social tensions for more than a year.
The destruction of the port marks a new turning point, laying waste to an entire section of the economy. The port manages 69.7% of Lebanon’s trade flows and also allows the storage of wheat reserves in its silo and medicines.
Public opinion vehemently denounces government corruption and the need for political renewal, while the Covid-19 crisis has only made matters worse.
The history of the Port of Beirut goes back in the 15th century BC. In XXme By the 20th century, Beirut had become a crucial port hub throughout the Levant and for the Gulf countries, especially for the oil trade, passenger transport, and cargo ships. A key element in the history of Beirut, the port is located in the center of the city, surrounded by its most emblematic neighborhoods.
From 1975 to 1990, the civil war raged in the urban space of Beirut, dividing the districts according to regional and geopolitical tensions, transforming the geography of the city.
In September 1975, at the very beginning of the war, the center of Beirut thus became the heart of the fighting between militias. A west and east sector was created, separated by a “Green Line”, redefining the demography of the city according to its religious communities: the Christian population settled mainly in the east while the Muslim population settled in the west. .
The Green Line gradually advanced into the southern districts to the western port gate. In 1981, the New York Times reported that the port had become one of the few places where the Green Line could be crossed.
After the war, the port expanded and became a regional maritime center. Very recently, it was the subject of tenders to attract international players and develop its storage capacities. It also saw its fleet considerably increased.
Development of the city center and mobilizations
But the port is also on the most expensive land in the city: the Beirut city center. In the 1980s, the area was chosen to be remodeled.
At the end of the civil war, it was the subject of an investment operation. massive, the largest in the history of the country.
This operation was particularly controversial due to its construction, but also due to the inequalities it generated with other neighborhoods, causing land prices to skyrocket, offering few public services and urban spaces.
In 2015 and 2019, the area was at the center of the mobilizations against the government. Until the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, busy protesters various buildings and squares in the city center.
Among their demands were the end of corruption, access to resources, spaces and public services. They also demanded responses from the government on its management of infrastructure, services and projects that threaten the environment.
The port of Beirut is also close to the residential areas of Gemmayzeh, Geitawi and the elegant areas of Sursock and Tabaris, barely separated by a road. To the east of the port are the trendy neighboring neighborhoods of Mar Mikhael and Quarantaine, from the Ottoman name of a quarantine site for many waves of refugeesFor example from Armenia in the 1920s and Palestine in the 1940s.
A portrait of the city
This set of districts is home to many administrative offices and public services, including the electricity provider EDL, a bus terminal, and three hospitals. Gemmayzeh and Mar Mikhael, two neighborhoods increasingly gentrified in the last ten years, have been the target of protests by residents, outraged by the destruction of historic buildings, noise pollution and rising real estate prices.
The most popular neighborhoods around the port and the rebuilt city center thus present two aspects of post-war Beirut: on the one hand, the city center targeted by the “official” reconstruction with its master plan, on the other, a process of more gradual gentrification.
Today, the port of Tripoli could take over, but it currently handles only a tenth of the country’s trade flows. The destruction of the Beirut port represents an inestimable loss, both economically and historically.
This op-ed was originally published on The conversation.
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