After the Beirut Explosion, the Hardships of the Most Precarious City Residents



In the weeks that follow the deadly and massively destructive explosion in the port of Beirut, Public Works Studio has investigated the spatial politics of the reconstruction, in particular in the neighborhood of Mar Mikhael, where financial predation was already at work before the tragedy. Article translated from Arabic by Fawwaz Abu Ghazaleh.

Article published in The Funambulist 32 (November-December 2020) Pan-Africanism. Click here to access the rest of the issue.

Public Works Funambulist (1)
Map by Public Works
Studio of the transfer of land ownership in the areas of Mar Mkhael and Badawi, based on research conducted in 2015.

Since the Beirut port explosion of August 4, 2020, hundreds of buildings in the neighborhoods surrounding the port have been evacuated. Old and young, born there or recently resettled, tenants and owners, Lebanese and immigrants, residents and shopkeepers alike were forced to leave due to the damage and trauma. This mass flight poses an imminent threat to the possibility of reclaiming a viable city and lively neighborhood. The fear that rapid transition will turn into permanent displacement is justified. With the absence of disaster management plans, very few can afford the luxury of waiting for a government scheme to materialize or a compensation mechanism to take effect, especially when no one is taken to be responsible for the explosion. In addition, there is the risk of landowners selling their properties to investors who have coveted these areas since before the explosion. 

Of course, fears of permanent displacement are fueled by previous catastrophic reconstruction scenarios and the compensation policies that accompanied them. Beirut and its suburbs have been previously destroyed, indeed, several times over. As we witness the destruction of other Lebanese cities, villages, and refugee camps, we understand that they were reconstructed so as to reproduce the root causes that originally led to their destruction. One example of such a root cause is class oppression, which finds its grounds for spatial division in order to serve specific interests. This has contributed to the additional displacement of marginalized people, the destruction of the local economy, and the creation of a large gap between the past and the present.