Submit Press release  · eTN Team ·  Advertising  ·  eTN Awards  - Worldtourism Events    


Hariri death anniversary gathered thousands in Beirut

Hazel Heyer, eTN  Feb 15, 2010

Tens of thousands of people gathered in Beirut Sunday marking the fifth anniversary of the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, whose death touched off Lebanon's Cedar Revolution or Kefaya (enough) revolt -- catalyst of the end of Syria's 30-year military occupation of Lebanon.

Beirut saw a huge turnout people and the late Hariri supporters, but the count was estimated to be less than in previous years.

On February 14, 2004 around 1 pm Beirut time, Rafik Hariri and some 17 people in his motorcade were killed by a 500 kg bomb at the heart of Lebanon’s burgeoning tourism center. The powerful blast ripped through Beirut’s highly progressive, most upscale tourist district, damaging Beirut’s top landmark property the Phoenicia Inter-Continental, the Monroe Hotel on Kennedy Street, the Palm Beach, the Vendome Inter-Continental, Riviera Hotel on Ain el Mraisseh and the St. Georges Beach resort, marina and restaurant opposite the Phoenicia. All 6 hotels lie along the sea-front bin al Hassan. Most of the hotel guests left immediately.

The slain Lebanese billionaire Hariri was the vision behind Lebanon's post-war reconstruction. The architect of multi-million dollar investment Solidere, downtown Beirut rose from its Dresden-type ruins to a lucrative, world-class tourism attraction. He owned 10 per cent of the shares in Solidere and died within meters of his own empire from a bomb that was planted outside the wall on an empty hotel. Rebuilding Lebanon had been his ultimate goal since his first appointment as Prime Minister in October 1992, at the head of a government controlled by late Syrian leader Hafez Al Assad. With a profile showing strong ties with the Saudi Arabian aristocracy and the Syrians at the time, Hariri whose first term lasted till 1998 was the best bet to head the nationwide reconstruction, let alone finance portions of it.

Soon after, Solidere was born. A form of public-private partnership, it is widely recognized as the most effective mechanism implementing large-scale urban regeneration. As a private development corporation established by government decree, it has a majority shareholding of all former owners and tenants of city center property. As the company responsible for rebuilding downtown Beirut, Solidere had been the center-piece in Lebanon's recovery. Formed under Law 177 of 1991 as a private-sector company listed on the stock exchange, it is the firm responsible for rejuvenating the 1.8 million square meter war-ravaged Beirut Central District (BCD), the country's largest private sector property and one of the largest Arab firms open to virtually all foreign investors. Owners were allowed to exchange property rights in the development in return for 2/3 of the company Class A shares totalled at $1.17 billion. The project was financed through the 65 million Class B shares issued at a total of $650 million. Also raised was $ 77 million from the international community through 6.7 million GDRs. Later, it would become the barometer of the country's economy, affected by instability reflected by the stock prices.

When Hariri left office in 1998, it however saw its net profit slide by 93% in 1999 because of a depressed economy brought about by the worst recession and the government's refusal to grant permits for construction. As a result, the deployment of the so-called Beirut Souks was delayed and frozen for much of 2000. Costing about $90 to 100 million, the 100,000 square meter souk project was the jewel in the crown of Solidere's master plan, vital to the widespread rejuvination of the downtown ville. Permits were also delayed as Hariri's giant brickwall of a nemesis Saudi billionaire Prince Waled bin Talal bin Abdulaziz threatened to pull out of development plans for the Four Seasons Hotel in Beirut. Interior Minister Michel Murr caused the most delay as he was involved in a Solidere dispute on the question of ownership and payment for the Murr Tower in Hamra district. The aweful red tape saddled the economy already suffering from recession and crying out for financial help internally and otherwise. Rivalry between Hariri and the administration of the succeeding Prime Minister Selim Hoss, backed fiercely by President General Emile Lahoud, put a further strain on what seemed to look like wildfire spread of Solidere. Due to Hariri's political headbutting with the incumbent premier, land sale in the area nose-dived from $118 million to $37 million in 1999, to a further $2.7 million in 2000. But when Hariri ran again for office in 2000 and won 17 of Beirut's 18 seats beyond expectations, replacing Hoss, the company fortunes swelled within weeks of his second term. The government was merrily issuing permits once again.

The Prime Minister then set out new robust plans through Horizon 2000, a multi-billion dollar project restoring Beirut as the commercial and tourist capital of Lebanon and the region. Solidere was a major part of this huge incentive while Hariri managed to convince his parliament to approve a concept of issuing Solidere shares to former owners and tenants in downtown.

The area blossomed. Becoming the buzz place or the hub, it sprouted with a variety of cafes (earning it the name Cafe City), restaurants, boutiques, shops, department stores carrying signature collection open until midnight. Food and beverage outlets do not close until Lebanese leave just before sunrise, making Solidere a seriously hottest nightspot. More than 60 outlets mushroomed at the onset alone with international cuisine and products serving more like a status symbol for Lebos. Fortunate tenants get a prime location on the spot overlooking the ancient Phoenician ruins of Berytus, still under excavation to date.

This 2010 anniversary comes after Hariri’s son, Prime Minister Saad Hariri reconciled with neighboring Syria, whom he has openly accused of killing his father. The 40-year-old Hariri now heads a unity government that includes Syrian-backed politicians who had been part of the political opposition. Unlike in previous years, when leaders' speeches were peppered with attacks and insults against Syria, Hariri this year spoke of a new stage in Lebanon's relations with its neighbor.

Hariri death anniversary gathered thousands in Beirut
Former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri / Image via

Premium Partners