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Matt Nash

State to stop wedding works near cedar forest

Ministry of Culture has ordered all work to stop, unclear if order has yet been implemented

Amphitheater in one of Lebanon

William Tawk’s wedding plans may have to change.

 

The son of former Bcharre MP, Gebran Tawk, is planning an August 24 wedding next to one of Lebanon’s few remaining cedar forests near the city of Bcharre. A construction team has been on site adjacent to the forest for around a month moving soil and rocks – but leaving the trees in the area untouched – to build an amphitheater that can accommodate up to 4,000 guests. The ceremony is expected to last three days, one of the owners of the land told NOW.

 

Construction so close to the protected forest – which is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site – prompted outrage from activists and was the center of several news reports suggesting the forest itself was in danger.

 

“No trees have been ripped out,” Andrew Tawk, whose grandfather Antonios Maroun Tawk owns the land next to the forest and whose family gave William Tawk permission to use the land for the wedding, told NOW in a telephone interview. “No cement was used on site. Nothing has been done to destroy the environment.”

 

Not true says the Ministry of Culture.

 

“I’ve asked the Internal Security Forces to stop all works there,” Culture Minister Gaby Layyoun told NOW over the phone. “It’s private land, but it’s protected,” he added.

 

Assad Seif, coordinator of the scientific departments in the Directorate General of Antiquities, explained the legal status of the land in more detail.

 

“The land [of the wedding site] is private land, but according to the management plan for the area, the land is part of the world heritage site and intended to be replanted [with cedar trees]. So, the [works] were done within the premises of the world heritage site,” Seif said.

 

According to Seif, on Wednesday Layyoun called the ministries of Interior, Environment, and Agriculture to tell them the work must be stopped. Because Thursday was a holiday, he did not fax the official work stop orders to the ministries until Friday. Seif said the work should stop immediately, but Andrew Tawk said that, to the best of his knowledge, the police had not yet come by to shut the operation down.

 

Seif said that the amphitheater had damaged the soil in the area.

 

“On the eastern entrance of the forest [where the amphitheater is being built], we have a terrain intended for replanting. In that environment, [soil is not very thick]. It’s one and a half to two meters thick. The soil has been removed until the bare rock,” he said.

 

William Tawk, Seif said, will have to pay for putting the soil back the way it was.

 

Andrew Tawk, whose family owns the land, is surprised by all of the commotion concerning the wedding. His grandfather, he said, has planted 6,000 cedar trees on the land and the family plans to plant a further 4,000.

 

Environmental activists, meanwhile, are dedicated to stopping the wedding.

 

Aline Tawk, president of the Conservation Committee of the Environment of Bcharre, told NOW that the group recently met with Gebran Tawk (the former MP and father of the groom-to-be, who is not related to Aline or Andrew).

 

“He said he didn’t know it was illegal,” she said. “He said he will try to limit the damage and after the wedding try to restore the site.” Gebran and William Tawk could not be reached for comment.

 

Those promises, however, did not placate the activists.

 

“For the marriage, there will be fireworks and sounds. There will be three days of festivities for this marriage,” said Paul Abi Rached, head of the Lebanese Ecological Movement. “And we have to see if there’s parking for 3,000 people. It is a big impact on this forest.”

 

There are even fears that the work may impact the World Heritage status of the cedar forest. A UNESCO representative told NOW that the organization is aware of the works but is waiting “until there is an official report from the Ministry of Culture” before taking any action or making any comments on the activities.

 

Asked if the orders of the Ministry of Culture will interrupt the wedding plans, Seif said: “What we are concerned with is the World Heritage site and the environment there. This is our mission. We don’t work as marriage counselors.”

 

Read this article in Arabic

An amphitheater is being constructed of soil near one of the country’s few remaining cedar forests. The Minister of Culture ordered a stop to the works. (Image courtesy of Aline Tawk)

"'I’ve asked the Internal Security Forces to stop all works there.'"

  • Bashir Al Mukadameen

    He is doing this for a wedding and not for a militia base. Whats wrong with that??? Its just bored people that concentrate on things that bring no harm to them and neglect the real problems in our country... Leave the bloke alone its his land(private land) and not the governments he should be allowed to do anything on there thats going to make him happy and the fact that he is not removing any trees and is in fact planting more trees gives him the honour to go ahead with this celebration. Good on you Sheikh Gebran!! Why dont all you bored protesters go and worry about something more important like security because security is one of the true things that might not only threaten our Cedars but could delete them off the face of the earth. Think!!!!!!!

    December 29, 2013

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    Typical OSTENTATIOUS and display of wealth and power by Lebanese feudal families. What is to be gained from a wedding ceremony for 4,000 people other than to display our consumerism, our stupidity, our mercantilism, our "better than the Jones" mentality as Lebanese? Never mind that this may be his land and his money, and never mind that it is right next to the Cedars forest. Just the fact that the land is being reworked and mutilated for the sole purpose of self-aggrandizement and showoff is an insult to us as a people who have lost a sense of humility, a sense of community, and we are on our way to losing our country and ourselves. In a country ravaged by war for 40 years, a war caused in large extent by those same feudal families today robbing us blind and stealing our resources is revolting at best. Shame on the Lebanese people who are not rebelling against the status quo. We have a lot to learn from the Egyptian people who no longer accept to be treated like cattle.

    August 17, 2013

  • habib.battah

    Is this the actual cedar "Arz" site in the background with the paths? There is an ancient rock wall on the site, is that it, crossing near the stage of Mr. Tawk's amphitheater?

    August 17, 2013

  • geb

    Hello Plant Cedar, We want to plan a protest at the site on the day of the wedding. Maybe we can join forces with you?

    August 17, 2013

  • Plant a Cedar

    A small note to all those who are listening to the false accusations of people who were always hiding the truth, and are the true reason behind the corrupt system in our village Becharre. These works that are being done at the Cedars, are within the PRIVATE land of Antonios Maroun Tawk, this man has planted over 6,000 CEDAR TREES in his own land, took care of them for the last sixty years FROM HIS OWN MONEY. In 1998 HIS FOREST has been declared as a FORMAL PRIVATE FOREST in the presence of the Lebanese beauty queen back then, JOELLE BOHLOK and many prestigious number of parliament members, ambassadors, politicians ect... Until this day his kids and grandsons (I am one of his grandsons) are still taking care of the forest, still under their own expenses, without any support from anyone for more than sixty years. These people that are throwing accusations randomly have been dragged to courts and humiliated for thousands of violations concerning the nature, and ESPECIALLY violations related to the Holy Cedar Forest, one of these violations is related to CUTTING DOWN Cedar trees (within the Holy Cedar Forest) that were thousand of years old, just for selling them. This is only the tip of the iceberg that shall be revealed in the correct time, putting every single one of them in JAIL.

    August 16, 2013

  • Metnman

    PLANT A CEDAR...YOU ARE NOT CLEAR. ARE YOU AGAINST THE WEDDING?

    August 18, 2013

  • Bashir Al Mukadameen

    100%. I dont know the status on this currently but hope that it is allowed and goes through. Good Luck!

    December 29, 2013