Beach blockers

Less than a decade ago, sun-worshipers could be found basking—for free—at Tam Tam, one of several public beaches in Lebanon.

Today however, Tam Tam is little more than a memory. The beach is still there, but it will cost you a hefty 33,000 LL ($22) to enter the gates of what is today Eddé Sands.

The luxurious and well-maintained resort, which has undoubtedly rendered the area cleaner, is one of many facilities springing up along Lebanon’s coast, but at costs that many can simply not afford.

“It’s as expensive as going skiing,” said Gael Abou Ghannem, a resident doctor at American University Hospital. “My friend wants to take her kids to the beach, and she’s in for $100 for the day.” 
Even though Lebanese law considers the coast public space, which should not be exploited by private companies, resorts in the country are increasing, and so are their entrance fees.

Sporting Club, one of the least fancy places to sunbathe in the capital, charges 27,000LL ($18) entrance on weekends. Beirut’s Riviera or Jiyeh’s Bamboo Bay will cost you 40,000LL ($27.67).

When those on a budget look for alternate options, they end up on badly-maintained beaches. “I ventured to the free public Nahr Ibrahim beach, and my experience was horrible,” said Najat Keiak of Amchit. “People picnicking and blasting their music, leaving garbage everywhere.”

“I was playing soccer the other day and wanted to cool off and take a swim,” said Jihad Irani. “In West Palm Beach Florida, I could easily do this. But here, there is nowhere to go.” Irani, a Lebanese who lived in the United States for a few years, is behind a Facebook campaign to reclaim ostensibly-public Lebanese beach from corporations.

Walid Honein, a lawyer from a Beirut-based law firm, and Ibrahim Nizam from the Ministry of Public Works and Transportation confirmed that according to Decree 4810 from June 24, 1966, land along the coast cannot be used for private interests, unless the parties intending to build are given special authorization via a presidential decree in specific and “exceptional” circumstances.

Another source at the Ministry of Public Works and Transport, which is responsible for the coast, told NOW Lebanon on condition of anonymity as they were not allowed to speak to the press that there are over 1,200 illegal structures on sea-front property—taking up around 37 percent of the coast. The source added that of the approximately 140 beach resorts, hotels and restaurants on the coast, only 29 have all the proper paperwork to open year-round.

Beach resorts are not the only things eating up the public coastline. Finance Minister Mohammad Safadi, according to An-Nahar journalist Nabil Abou Ghanem, built an illegal personal harbor for his yacht and the luxury boats of his friends near one of his houses in Amchit.

Honein said that the proliferation of construction along the coast is likely a result of abuse in the number of authorizations given by the government and abuse of their application by the owners.

Indeed, during a conversation with NOW Lebanon, Ayoub Bark, vice-president of Byblos’ municipal council, stressed that Eddé Sands was sympathetic to the municipality’s concern about the vanishing public coast, but that the minister of Public Works at the time had granted the resort the right to expand. 

Eddé Sands’ Roger Eddé confirmed in an interview with NOW Lebanon that the resort was legal according to Decree 5645 of 1996. The decree, which took three years of wrangling before it was finally approved, allows people who own land adjacent to the coast to build touristic sites next to the sea.

Today, according to the municipality’s Bark, only 50 of the 650 meters of Byblos’ coastline are still public. As frustration abounds, some people are attempting to change things. 

In addition to Irani’s Facebook campaign, there’s the Adopt-a-beach campaign, which was launched by Esther Lascar, a Canadian who has been living in Lebanon for five years. “How can the government of Lebanon allow this?” she said.

But by granting exceptional authorizations that circumvent the law, the government is the party that opens the door for coastal exploitation.

The state has also refused to take action against violators. Since the 1990s, parliament has several times debated a law that would allow it to remove the illegal structures (beach resorts, hotels and restaurants) along the coast, but it has received little backing, according to Nabil Saab, who wrote a book on Lebanon’s coast.

“It’s a lawless country,” said Ali Darwich from the NGO Greenline, “and the definitions of public maritime domains have become irrelative; everyone explains the way he or she wants.”

Nadine Elali and Matt Nash contributed reporting to this article.

  • Olha El Adem

    So dirty main road in Lebanon!!! all roads here are dirty!! mostly all beaches are dirty too!!! people like to throw garbage where they like!! i was in some resort in Jounie, went to swim into the sea. when i came out of the sea i saw my stomach black from oil !!! besides polution from factories and some problems with mountains!!! of garbage in some cities!!1 sooooooooo sorry because of such situation!!! soooooo sorry of such beautiful country! hope so much government will solve this problem!

    September 6, 2011

  • Dr Ehud Galili

    Dear neighbors: we have similar problems in Israel. Public access to the beaches and along the beaches should be protected by national and municipal laws. Because of similar problems we recently established a new law - "the law for the protection of the coastal environment" A special national committee of experts was established and they check every new plan in the coastal environment, including the territorial waters and up to 300 m inland. The problem is about enforcing the law on old violations. It is a question of public pressure on governmental and local politicians. If you don't take actions you will find yourselves very soon with no coasts left for the public.

    August 15, 2011

  • Gabriel Mitri

    FOR Our cause in all Lebanon for a green and healthy Lebanon Big thanks for Jihad Irani on his article You know I think we should bring a dictator to force Lebanese people to respect other peoples or their neighbor: 1. To really to force Lebanese people to respect the freedom of other people and to know that their own freedom stop when start the neighbor or other people freedom start 2. To really to force Lebanese people to respect to stop POISONING with ARGILE OR CIGARET smokes other people in public area, restaurant, Pub, supermarket, etc… 3. To really to force Lebanese people if they want to smoke TO DO IT IN THERE OWN HOME OR HOUSE AND STOP TO POISONING OTHER LIFE 4. To really to force Lebanese people TO CARE AND RESPECT environment 5. WE NEED really a dictator to force Lebanese authority to work really on the nature and environment protection 6. WE NEED really a dictator to force Lebanese manufacturer to stop spading there waste in the nature area and in the see 7.

    July 24, 2011

  • ALain choeri

    Walid Honein, a lawyer from a Beirut-based law firm, and Ibrahim Nizam from the Ministry of Public Works and Transpiration Traspiration? SHAME ON YOU!!!

    July 22, 2011

  • Tim Lebanese

    About the price of entry to private beaches, oh please people. That is actually low compared to other countries on the Med. If we want to complain about anything is how dirty our water is. It's simply embaressing. I was in Lebanon a week ago and I truthfuly was shocked of how dirty the water is, and I went to expensive resorts mind you. Off the coast of Greece, I was at a level where I can't touch the seabed and I could see all the way to the bottom of the water. The mediterranian countries should sue Lebanon for gross negligence and carelessness. This sea is not only a property to the Lebanese but many other countries.

    July 22, 2011

  • micho

    Another critic article with no solution. Instead of attacking the resorts, start please attacking the ... constructions on the beaches! this should be a priority to address !!

    July 21, 2011

  • Olig

    ...Yarayton kilon mitel Mr. Edde at least its preserved in a beautiful way but unfortunately I know well by the time I will have kids I won't be able to afford it. Thank you for the great article and I really hope we tackle the issue from all its sides.

    July 20, 2011

  • Olig

    Along all the Jouniyeh coastline there is illegal coffee shops turned into public beaches for 2000 L.L. mainly visited by Syrian workers, Ethiopians and the rest of migrant workers in Lebanon in addition to all the hotels on the same coastline that were built illegally during the civil war in parallel to that going South one of the most beautiful beaches in Lebanon is Jnah by Summerland which is taken over by illegal construction and thugs living under the patronage of a group same case as in Jouniyeh but the only "small" difference that in Jouniyeh it stopped growing as the political influence of the people in power there decreased and it shifted to the people "incharge" Jnah area that are until nowadays are building houses (to rent of course and not to live with as they have private villas somewhere else) with the most beautiful scenery into Beirut, the beach and the airport. Yarayton kilon mitel Mr. Edde...

    July 20, 2011

  • Sunflower

    Sara, ur article is spot on; you read the mind of so many Lebanese; a day on a private beach costs a family of 4 a minimum of $230, the cost of a plane ticket !!!!shame on us all for being silent on such a catastrophy and shame on our government for protecting the outlaws.

    July 19, 2011

  • oscar

    I am all for public beaches in theory, however I do not think we as Lebanese deserve to have access to public beaches. The term public comes with a certain responsibility that both the Lebanese Government and the Lebanese themselves are supposed to "take care" of the public areas, we obviously do not do so, so rather privatize the beach and have a clean one, then look at the filth that accumulates on public beaches.

    July 19, 2011

  • Sami

    why fight Israel before fighting those who occupy our public land? Why do we send some people to prison for violating the law and we don't send others? The laws in Lebanon were created to be violated. Is not interesting that those responsible for enforcing these laws live in castles and drive $100,000 cars?

    July 18, 2011

  • aladin

    excellent article.....am sur many of us miss tam tam beach ..... you should have written it ages ago....I hope something will be done and keep what's left in its naturall set up

    July 18, 2011