The three story Medawar Villa in Beirut’s Badaro neighborhood, which is also known as the “Maalouf House” is currently being demolished and causing a wide debate over the blog sphere on whether the house has cultural value or not.
In the early 1960s, Amin Maalouf, Lebanon’s renowned novelist moved into the second floor of the building with his family. Maalouf left Beirut to Paris in 1975 when the Lebanese civil war began. Abroad, he wrote novels, opera librettos, and non-fiction, all in French. He received the Goncourt Prize in French literature as the author of the best and most imaginative prose of the year, in 1993 for his novel “The Rock of Tanios.” Although the novelist took up residency in Paris ever since he first immigrated, his family continued to live in the Maalouf House up until 2011 when Kettaneh Construction Group purchased the land.
Today, activist are launching a campaign against Culture Minister Gaby Layyoun and are calling for an investigation into why the ministry issued contradicting decisions related to the demolition of the house. In June 2012, the minister rejected the construction firm’s request and argued that the structure adds unique architectural value to the city. But three month later, the minister approved the destruction and stated that its architecture does not have any unique traditional techniques.
Blogger Habib Battah in beirutreport.com argues that “if preserved, the iconic century-old home could have played an interesting role in a possible rejuvenation of the historic Badaro area.” Beirut Spring’s Mustapha Hamoui on the other hand argues that the house is not a standard for preservation. He says that most Lebanese were only able to achieve greatness outside Lebanon and that the act of demolitions is a mere “recognition and an understanding that one’s physical presence in the country can hold one back from greatness.” But is that really the message we as Lebanese want to send out?
We have all had to leave our little Lebanon for one reason or another. Some of us did come back in hope of making some positive change to the country, but many others didn’t. They remained abroad, integrated into other systems, and have abandoned their Lebanese identity. There are many more Gebran Khalil Gebrans, Carlos Ghosns and Carlos Slims that we don’t know of. These people have gone far enough to detach themselves for the mere reason that their country is not providing them with anything to come back to. I once met with an American businessman of Lebanese origins, and who had never visited Lebanon. When I asked him whether he would consider investing in his home country, his answer was “why would I give my country anything, when it has not given me?”
He did make a point, what can we offer him? How can we convince him and the many more like to return, if only to visit? Of course, tearing down what is considered home to a renowned Lebanese novelist is not the best example. The Maalouf House may be of little value today, but will be of high value a generation away when Maalouf’s grandchildren return in search for their origins. Only by preserving homes of the sort, more Maalouf Houses, do we give our Lebanese a reason to return, a tool through which they can tell their story, and through which we can continue to tell ours.
We need these stories. We need more Maalouf Houses.
Follow Nadine on Twitter: @Nadine_elali