On the final Saturday in August, Horsh Beirut - the Lebanese capital’s largest park and pine forest - was open to the public for three hours.
This should have been anti-climactic news; after all, what is public space if not space intended for public use? But the park, which is practically the only green spot that catches one’s eye when looking at maps of Beirut, has in fact been closed to the majority of the city’s residents for over 15 years.
The park was devastated during the Lebanese civil war of 1975-1990, with much of the damage inflicted by the invading Israeli army in 1982. It was subsequently rebuilt in collaboration with the Île-de-France region, which comprises Paris and surrounding areas, and remained closed to allow replanted trees to grow.
Nagi El Husseini, previously a coordinator for the French municipality’s urban planning and development activities in Beirut, described to me the scenario that followed the completion of the park in the 1990s. At first, he said, only French citizens were permitted entry - a fitting tribute, no doubt, to Lebanon’s former colonial masters.
The list of permitted park patrons gradually expanded to include all foreigners, or at least all foreigners meeting the definition of human being as conceived of in Lebanese society. Ethiopian housemaids and Bangladeshi sanitation employees, for example, need not apply. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.