Hezbollah, the radical group supported by Iran and Syria and labeled a terrorist organization by the US Government has grabbed the moment and is driving forward redevelopment plans for southern Beirut.
Waad, roughly translated as promise, is the all encompassing commitment made by Hezbollah, an Islamic Shiite group to restore the broken community of Dahiya, an enclave of southern Beirut which took the brunt of the Israeli bombing in last summer’s war with Israel.
Soon after the ceasefire, the Lebanese government started to make preparations for rebuilding but Hezbollah, led by the charismatic Seyed Hassan Nasrallah had other plans. He quickly rallied the community, and organized an impromptu ballot which resulted in 9 out of 10 residents, many still dazed by the war, agreeing to hand over their government issued compensation cheques, typically $30,000 to $60,000USD to Waad.
Hezbollah, through Waad have now had blueprints drawn up by architects said to be from a cross section of the warring factions to rebuild some 281 destroyed and damaged buildings. The masterplan follows three fundamental principles: Waad should adhere to the basic layout of the old neighbourhood, reconstruction should be limited to pre-existing residential and commercial blocks and lastly it should seek to address some of the areas pre-existing headaches by adding parking, green space and tree lined avenues. Hassan Jeshi, a Beirut architect tipped to be Waad’s general manager said, “By next year all these will be replaced by beautiful, modern structures.”
Asked if the process was likely to bring about good architecture, Omar Harb of Omar Harb Architects + Associates Ltd in Beirut told WAN, “It could be more interesting if it was under a competition or a master plan done by one or more consulting companies like SOLIDERE project, (WAAD is a result of the situation, an internal Shiite revolution as opposed to SOLIDERE's plans run by some of the Christian radical parties: FPP, Marada, etc...) but not wanting to appear too negative, he added, “It could be a forward step and present a positive point of view for the near future to the suburbs in general and this area specifically. This project should modernise the image of the poorish area of greater Beirut, noticing that this part will be near from the new projected US Embassy zone.”
Could the tide finally be turning on the Lebanese capital once known as the Jewel of the Mediterranean? Timur Goksel, an expert on Hezbollah who teaches at the American University of Beirut (Zaha was a student here) gave a glimmer of hope to the New York Times this week; “Hezbollah is now very image conscious because the movement is more about domestic politics rather than resisting Israel and it is Nasrallah’s personal mission to move the party forward into politics.”
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