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.