Foreign Firms Vie to Rebuild Ravaged Beirut Port


Eight months after a massive blast ripped through Beirut port and nearby districts of the Lebanese capital, a host of foreign companies with different national interests are competing to rebuild it.

"Everyone has their eyes on the port: the Russians, the Chinese, the Turks, the French and now the Germans," interim port director Bassem al-Kaissi said.

"But for the moment these are only declarations of intent."

The August 4 explosion of hundreds of tonnes of ill-stored fertilisers devastated the dockside and large swathes of the capital, killing more than 200 people.

A German delegation last Friday unveiled a spectacular $30-billion project to rebuild the port and adjacent areas, in the presence of their ambassador.

The ambitious plan, drawn up by companies including Hamburg Port Consulting, seeks to move the port east, and remodel the nearby area to include social housing, a "central park" and even beaches.

Former colonial power France has also been positioning itself to take on the port's reconstruction.

When French President Emmanuel Macron made a second visit to Beirut in September after the monster explosion, the Lebanese-born head of French shipping giant CMA-CGM, Rodolphe Saade, was in his delegation.

During the trip, his company presented Lebanon with a three-phase project to rebuild, expand and modernise the seaside location to become a "smart port", its regional director Joe Dakkak told AFP.

- Geopolitical influence -

The first two phases would cost between $400 million to $600 million and the firm would fund half, while around 50 companies and international organisations had also shown interest in participating, he said.

CMA-CGM has already obtained a concession to run the container terminal in Lebanon's second city Tripoli until 2041, and hopes to soon win a bid for container operations in Beirut.

Beyond the commercial interests, political analyst Imad Salamey says geopolitical influence is also at play.

The appeal includes ongoing "offshore gas exploration in the Mediterranean", "Russian expansionism" in the region, and "future economic collaboration between Israel and Arab countries" in the wake of several normalisation accords, he said.

In 2018, Lebanon signed its first contract for offshore oil and gas drilling in two blocks with a consortium comprising French, Italian and Russian energy giants, Total, ENI and Novatek, respectively.

And further north, Damascus ally Russia has started drilling off the coast of war-torn Syria, Salamey said.

The port is likely small fry for China, Salamey said.

But it could attract the Chinese "to strengthen their alliance with the Iranians", who hold sway in Syria and Lebanon, where it sponsors the powerful Hezbollah movement.

- Gentrification? -

The former US envoy for Near Eastern affairs, David Schenker, has warned against China winning the bid.

"Beijing's aversion to transparency and its ambivalence toward Hezbollah would make a Chinese role in reconstruction a worst-case outcome," he wrote.

He said Washington should work closely with whichever country wins the port bid to ensure the project is "bound to the principle of reform".

The international community is insisting on sweeping reforms, including at the port, before pumping in foreign aid to rescue the country from its worst economic crisis in decades.

But for eight months, deeply divided politicians have failed to agree on a new cabinet to launch them.

Despite this, Kaissi said port authorities were working on an action plan to reconstruct and revamp the facility, to be submitted to any new government.

There is an obstacle to the German proposal.

Lebanese activists fear its plan for a park and beaches could spell a repeat of the Beirut centre's post-war transformation.

The neighbourhood was once a historic and vibrant commercial centre where people of all social and religious backgrounds mixed.

But Lebanese company Solidere privatised downtown Beirut, converting it into grandiose real estate unaffordable to the average Lebanese.

"We will not accept a new Solidere with a foreign touch," civil society group Nahnoo has said.

Economist Jad Chaaban said that any project as huge as the port would require "national consultation".

"Foreign companies alone should not decide. Neither should the Lebanese state." 

Comments 6
Thumb gebran_sons 14 April 2021, 16:51

Economy 101: with political instability no long-term project can be funded or viable in Lebanon without drowning future generations in endless debts. First, disarm HizbIran; Second, change whole political class with honest competent talent and full transparency; then magic... the new Singapore in record time as plenty of talent and expertise gained abroad. All possible in one day this July; CEDAR REVOLUTION II FOR NEUTRALITY, NO ARMS OUTSIDE ARMY, AND REAL DEMOCRACY. We did it in 2005, we can do it in 2021. No politician needed this time.

Thumb gebran_sons 14 April 2021, 17:39

I should add, HizbIran is a paper tiger. A mile wide but an inch deep. Getting rid of the Basij will be much easier than the Syrian in 2005. The fig leaf is falling and Shia and the rest are realizing HizbIran curse on their community and Lebanon; and their responsibility of where we are today. It is Suleimani kiss of death for every country he turned into an outpost and rocket base. Being Lebanon, Iraq, Syria or Yemen... endless misery linked to this Faustian deal. From Syria's Shebaa to Israeli waters always creating excuse to permanently keep its arms. It sacrificed the South and Shia communities for this crime. This criminal organization that assassinated killed Lebanon's best is a war monger built on hate and oppression. An antidote for our culture and everything Lebanon stands for.

Thumb Mystic 14 April 2021, 22:32

Actually it is the other way around gebran_sons. By constant attacks against Shia people, and secterianism and even before Hezbollah was established, have pushed Shia communities closer to Hezbollah, and after the war in Syria, it pushed Amal and Hezbollah closer too.

Which means, shia have never been more united in Lebanon than it is today.

Missing phillipo 14 April 2021, 19:42

There is only one question facing the various Lebanese politicians regarding the granting of the contract to re-built the port of Beirut.
The question............How much will go into my pocket?

Thumb 14 April 2021, 19:55

In yours zero.... but in theirs tens of millions .

Thumb 14 April 2021, 21:28

To vie (v.)

1560s, "to bet, make a bet," (literally "make a vie, the noun attested from 1530s in cards), especially in card-playing, "to wager the value of one's hand against an opponent's," shortened form of Middle English envie "make a challenge," from Old French envier "compete (against), provoke; invite, summon, subpoena;" in gambling, "put down a stake, up the bet;" from Latin invitare "to invite," also "to summon, challenge" (see invitation). Sense of "to contend (with) in rivalry" in English is from 1560s; that of "to contend, compete, strive for superiority" is from c. 1600.