The need to expand and subdivide Beirut
Posted by worriedlebanese on 19/02/2010
What is needed: For more than thirty years, people have been talking about Greater-Beirut. The question was raised about the same time as other metropolitan areas throughout the world were discussing their expansion.
Since then, Greater London came into being, Paris got itself a Mayor and there is talk of creating a Greater Paris… As for Beirut… nothing new on the horizon. The Lebanese capital is exemplary in its provincialism, corruption, mismanagement, underdevelopment, lack of democracy, and paucity in social and cultural services.
A couple of weeks ago, the FPM proposed to subdivide the capital into three municipalities, reinforcing the Prefect’s power (a non-elected state official subordinate to the Minister of Interior) and stip the mayor of Beirut of the very little power he actually has. This is certainly the sloppiest proposal for change any party could make. It was interpreted as a step toward “partition”, and an attack on “sunni interests” (the mayor has been traditionally reserved for a sunni since the 1940s, and the whole municipal council has been part of the Hariri clan’s private preserve since the late 1990s).
So here is a proposal that would have been easier to accept and that would have started a new and positive dynamic: the creation of the municipality of Greater Beirut, in which the capital is expanded, northwards, eastwards and southwards to include all of Beirut’s close suburbs. This expansion will integrate into the municipality: industrial, recreational and residential areas, that would allow Beirut to offer more services to its inhabitants. Its population will undoubtedly triple, while its surface will almost be multiplied by 10.
With the necessary administrative and electoral reforms that would accompany this move, an area such as “Dahié” would finally be integrated to the center and not remain peripheral. This would undoubtedly change the dynamic between sunnis and shiites.
What we are getting: The idiotic consensus surrounding the principle of proportionate representation seems to have infected the government that has decided to apply this principle (heavily funded by the European Union and promoted as our panacea with no real debate surrounding it) to the municipal elections. Beirut will neither be subdivided nor expanded. The parity between Muslim and Christian council members will be lost, because it was ensured by an informal agreement that is neutralised by the principle of proportionate representation. Instead of the 50% christian/50% muslim, it is more likely that we’ll have a 60% muslim, 40% christian division of the municipal council (if the sunni opposition to Hariri is neutralised), or possibly 65% to 70 % muslim share if the sunni “traditional” families and islamists receive the same support as they did in 2004. The Hariri clan will undoubtedly keep its control of the city. With the proportionate law, they can hope for 50 to 60% of the municipal council and the mayor. Most of the inhabitants of Beirut will remain disenfranchised, public services will remain poor and the divide between “Beirut” and “Dahie” will remain as strong as ever.