The Legal Course of the Loss of Lebanon’s Shoreline

2016-10-06    |   

The Legal Course of the Loss of Lebanon’s Shoreline

The first laws governing Beirut’s shoreline were made during the French Mandate. Decision No. 144, issued by the Office of the High Commissioner of the Republic of France in 1925, formulated the rights to access natural resources, defining public property as “all things that are by nature intended for public use. They cannot be sold and no ownership over them can be acquired with time”. The decision classified the ocean as a public, non-transferable domain, and defined the shore as extending to the farthest point that waves reach during winter, as well as sand and gravel beaches.

The decision created a legacy of legal exemptions as it provided scope for the occupancy of public maritime property. Although it set conditions underscoring the importance of preserving public rights and the shore’s character, Article 14 stated that “The state or municipalities can temporarily and revocably authorize the personal, exclusive occupancy of a piece of public property in exchange for a fee, especially if the matter concerns a certain project. The project shall be considered a concession if it is established as a public interest […] provided that the rights of others are preserved”.

The “Concessions” Accumulate
The concessions and exemptions began to accumulate in successive legislative processes, giving rise to several legal contradictions. In 1966, Lebanon’s Council of Ministers issued Decree No. 4810 – Regulation of Maritime Public Property. The first article of the decree states that “Maritime public property shall remain at the public’s disposal, and no right in favor of anyone shall be acquired allowing its closure for a private interest”. However, the aim of the decree was to allow part of the shore to be designated for the sole use of certain groups or individuals, leading to a radical change in the nature of Lebanon’s entire coastline. In this regard, the decree allowed owners of estates bordering maritime public property to use and occupy public space for private benefit, provided that granting permission to do so is “an exceptional action applicable in special cases”.

Conditions for such exemptions were established. The first dictated that the project have a public and touristic character. Naturally, the justification at the time was to stimulate the tourism and services sectors. Nevertheless, the decree’s general principles stressed that the exploitation of the shore should not constitute “an obstruction to the shore’s integrity if there are areas that must be kept open to the public”. If we were to stroll along the Lebanese shoreline today, we would find that the once-integrated shore is now full of obstructions. For example, 75% of the shore of administrative Beirut is now closed to the public because of this decree and the way it is applied.

Despite the decree’s “tolerance” of exploitation, it was seen as an obstacle to further exploitation. Hence, exemptions began arising one after another, and continue to arise to this day. The surface and total exploitation coefficients (which express a structure’s size relative to the size of the underlying estate) that the decree permitted for maritime properties, were attacked on the basis that they were too low for what were later dubbed “major projects”.

In 1995, Law No. 402 was issued, exempting the establishment of hotels from some of the provisions of the Law of Construction. Law No. 402 allowed the [maximum] exploitation coefficient to be doubled for hotel projects on estates that are larger than 20,000m², and situated between maritime public property and main coastal roads. Persons wanting to benefit from this law’s exception clauses had to apply for an exceptional decree approved by the Higher Council for Urban Planning and the Council of Ministers. The law was issued on the pretext of revitalizing the Lebanese economy after many years of civil war.

And Now Kfar Abida’s shore…
The three legislations issued in different eras (Decision No. 144 of 1925, Decree No. 4810 of 1966, and Law No. 402 of 1995) no longer express our needs today. They are no longer capable of protecting our right to freely access the shore, and the equitable enjoyment of natural outdoor spaces in our cities and towns; and, they are the three basic legislations underpinning the current investment projects that are gradually eradicating what remains of Lebanon’s shoreline.

However, during the last two years, campaigns in many Lebanese cities and villages have considered defending the coast a top priority. Such campaigns have defended Anfeh’s salt pools against the construction of a huge commercial project (a mall); defended the Armenian graves in Byblos against a planned private ocean resort; defended the Tabarja shore against a planned tourism project and marina; defended the shore of Bourj Hammoud, where there is talk of the Lenore project planned since the 1990s; defended Beirut’s Dalieh area against a mall project, chalets, and a yacht marina; defended the Ramlet al-Baida beach against privatization; defended Sidon’s coast against land reclamation occurring on the city’s two most important historic sites; and, defended Adloun’s historic beach against the threat of destruction by a yacht area project. Today, there are calls to defend the shore of Kfar Abida. These campaigns testify not only to the corruption and failure of the state institutions, but also to the problem of the existing contradictory laws, wherein private projects find legal support.

Such projects, especially that planned for Kfar Abida’s shore, are merely an embodiment of the greed that has spurred construction all along Lebanon’s coastline. Formulating exemptions from the laws to consolidate a few investor’s dominance over the country’s economy and control over citizens’ right to connect with their natural environment and base their lives and income on it has become the norm.

Given the concentration of the investments on Lebanon’s shoreline and the little that remains for the general public, we now –more than ever before– need to launch a national campaign to change the norm of exemptions, and produce a discourse of advocacy that meets the citizens’ needs and caters to their various shared desires. The law can serve as a gateway into a broad discussion about the definition of public interest and the balanced development alternatives on the pretext of which projects and plans are developed.

This article is an edited translation from Arabic.


For more about the various issues, see:

How did Anfeh Lose Its White Gold?

The Campaign to Preserve the Birds' Nest (Byblos)

A New Project to Usurp Public Property: Tabarja Beach Under Threat

The Civil Campaign to Protect the Dalieh of Raouche: Facebook page

Lil Madina Initiative (Sidon)

Save Adloun (Green Southerners)

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Articles, Environment, Urbanism and Housing, Independence of the Judiciary, Lebanon

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