Tag Archives: Writing

New signs remind revelers that people live in Gemmayzeh, too

22 Nov

New signs remind revelers that people live in Gemmayzeh, too
By Dalila Mahdawi
Daily Star staff
Thursday, November 20, 2008

New signs remind revelers that people live in Gemmayzeh, too

BEIRUT: Blue signposts declaring that “Gemmayzeh is a residential area” sprouted up all along the popular nightspot’s main road, Gouraud Street earlier this week. The metal signs follow months of growing friction between the area’s residents and bar owners over noise levels, the lack of police presence and access to parking places.

Every weekend, thousands of cars cruise down Gemmayzeh’s narrow roads in search of parking spaces, causing heavy congestion. By midnight, Gouraud Street, a mere 730 meters long and home to dozens of bars and clubs, is positively throbbing with life, and the sound of drunken party-goers, car horns, music and over-enthusiastic valets fill the air. With a serious lack of parking spaces available, people park their cars wherever they find a space, often illegally, or in nearby neighborhoods.

Aida Azouri, a resident of Tabaris, south of Gemmayzeh, said party-goers were transforming her area into a parking lot on a nightly basis. “It would be better for everyone if they pedestrianized” Gouraud Street, she said, “or at least banned cars there after 9 p.m.”

Following a sit-in by disgruntled residents in March over what they dubbed the “hijacking” of local parking spaces and unbearable noise, Tourism Minister Joe Sarkis shut down over 20 bars said to be operating without licenses and imposed a curfew on the remaining establishments.

On April 14, those curfews were officially dropped, and although agreements were drawn up between the government and Gemmayzeh establishments to ensure the neighborhood was kept quiet for its sleep-deprived residents, the long-standing dispute soon resurfaced.

“We love Gemmayzeh, but we’d also love it to be a bit quieter after midnight,” said Huguette Sfeir, who has lived next to Gouraud Street’s busiest cluster of bars since 1983. “Thursdays to Saturdays, it is very noisy until 2 a.m.,” said Sfeir, who admitted she used to throw eggs and water at raucous pedestrians. “I would like those people making noise to come to my house so they can hear what I hear.”

But while Sfeir wanted a quieter neighborhood, she had reservations about how effective the signs were. “I thank the Beirut Municipality for putting up the signs, but actually I think they’ve wasted their money,” she said.

What is needed in Gemmayzeh is a police presence, added Sfeir. “Two weeks ago, there were two women fighting late at night, beating each other up and shouting. Last week, there were people with pocket knives fighting.” During both incidents, the police were nowhere to be seen.

Makram Zene is president of the Committee for the Development of Gemmayzeh, which comprises Gemmayzeh bar owners and residents, and owns a number of the area’s bars and restaurants. Echoing Sfeir’s sentiments, he said that while the signs were put up “to make people aware” of the area’s residents, “people will not really respect what the signs mean unless they are enforced by the police.”

For things to improve in Gemmayzeh, said Zene, immediate action on two vital points had to be taken. “The Municipality [of Beirut] has to open the Charles Helou parking lot as soon as possible, and traffic police have to be present in the area … We need the police here to regulate traffic and maintain security.”

The Charles Helou car park, an unsightly three-story building at the edge of Gemmayzeh, was built in the 1980s to serve the Beirut Port and the nearby areas of Saifi, Medawwar and Martyrs Square. But it has since stood derelict, with only the structure’s facade functioning as an unofficial bus terminal. Rerouting parking from Gemmayzeh to Charles Helou “would bring money to the municipality,” which owns the lot, said Zene. “The [acting] governor [Nassif Kalloush] is working on it and we ask him kindly to hasten the procedures because we are sure it will solve 50 to 60 percent of the area’s problems.”

When contacted on Wednesday by The Daily Star, the head of Beirut Municipality Michel Assaf said that “Gemmayzeh was of course a residential area not intended for pubs and restaurants,” but declined to comment on future Municipality policies in the area or the Charles Helou parking lot.

Meanwhile, as the bickering between residents and entrepreneurs continues, Beirut’s Hamra district, rapidly growing as a rival to Gemmayzeh, looks set to benefit. Most recently, Molly Malone’s, a bar that had been long-entrenched on Gouraud Street, moved to Hamra, leaving behind at it’s former premises only an angry banner complaining that annual rent had jumped from $30,000 to $130,000. With demand for property in Gemmayzeh at an all-time high, rent has sky rocketed.

Another resident sit-in is slated for 23 January, said Sfeir. The priority is to push for a solution to Gemmayzeh’s parking problems. “We are going to block the road to push for Gemmayzeh’s parking spaces to be only for the use of its residents. Rules must be made,” she said.

Beirut nightspot looks to end sectarianism

10 Jun

Beirut nightspot looks to end sectarianism

Doubling as an NGO, Club 43 wants to bring Lebanese from different walks of life together
By Dalila Mahdawi
Special to The Daily Star

BEIRUT: Hidden away on the second floor of a residential building, it would be easy to overlook Gemmayzeh’s most unusual bar. Club 43 is perhaps one of the area’s best-kept secrets, offering more than the usual fare of drinks, music and food. The club is also a non-governmental organization (NGO), and the first in Lebanon to combine social activism with a bar and restaurant.

From the entrance lined with bright plastic flowers to the club’s choice of paint, Club 43 lacks the formal atmosphere that plagues many other NGOs and cultural clubs. “We wanted to create a place where you could come, have some drinks and laugh with your friends. I believe culture is better expressed with some music and a few beers,” says president Imad Geara.

Originally established in 1967 by lawyers as a cultural club for members of the legal profession, Club 43 opened up to the public shortly after. Run solely by volunteers, the club generates its entire income through its bar and restaurant services. Club 43’s refusal to accept donations, whether by organizations or individuals, is fueled by a refusal to be compromised by a sectarian or political agenda. Indeed, from its inception, the club has focused on social welfare activities and has continuously campaigned against sectarianism.

Two Club 43 members, lawyers Sami Chkifi and Marcel Geara were the men responsible for the court case that saw the word “sect” removed from Lebanese identity cards.

Although Lebanon’s 18-month-old political crisis was solved by the Qatar-mediated Doha agreement, sectarianism is still widespread and many of the confessional militia groups that fought in the 1975-1990 Civil War are still functional in Lebanese politics today. After the May clashes between opposition and pro-government gunmen in Beirut and other cities, Club 43 replaced the international flags that normally hang from its windows with the flags of Lebanon’s numerous political factions.

“Some people don’t like what we’ve done. But we have put all the flags together to try and say, ‘We are all Lebanese and we must accept each other.’ We are trying to send a message of peace and tolerance,” Geara said.

In line with that message, the club also produces stickers that read “Say No to Sectarianism.”

Every Friday at midday, the club opens its doors to 70-100 homeless people and provides them with free meals. During this time, they can receive free legal advice from the many lawyers who volunteer. In the past, Club 43 has also offered them free blood and cholesterol tests.

“Interestingly, 90 percent of them did not have any health problems because they walk everywhere and don’t eat junk food,” Geara laughs.

The weekly lunches have provided otherwise excluded members of society with a chance to engage with others, and according to Helene Ata, a psychologist who volunteers with the club, numerous close friendships have been formed as a result.

Geara is emphatic about the secular nature of the club, remarking: “We never ask their religious or political affiliations. They just come, feel at home and have lunch.”

Club 43 has also offered itself as a meeting space for other NGOs, such as Nahwa al-Muwatiniya, Khallas! and Rotar-Act, the youth branch of the Rotary Club. The Club is also in the process of launching an NGO FM radio station, to be launched this month, which will replace KISS 104.9. The station “will play music, give free airtime to NGOs to make public service announcements and have three interviews daily with different NGOs,” says Geara.

Adorning one of the walls in the club’s bar is a framed Daily Star article dated October 1968 and quoting the club’s then-president, Marcel Geara: “‘We decided to call the club 1943 because it was then that Muslims, Christians and Druzes were united in establishing an independent Lebanon.’ But, he pointed out, 25 years after Independence, there is still enmity between the religions.