BEIRUT - It's a stretch of Beirut seafront precious to both developers and the public, and now Dalieh’s rocky peninsula is at the heart of a battle between the two sides.
Nestled on a shoreline dominated by high-end resorts, for decades the rugged outcrop has been one of the few remaining stretches of Lebanese coast open to all.
Things, however, look set to change.
Largely privately owned, developers enclosed it with fencing and razor wire last year, and this past May, the homes of fishermen on the site were reduced to rubble by the authorities.
Now, amid talk of hotels and construction, a group of campaigners is fighting to preserve Dalieh and hope to start reclaiming Lebanon’s coast in the process.
An uncertain future
Mahmoud el Ali fears the bulldozers that destroyed the homes of his friends and fellow fishermen will return.
Ali started fishing at Dalieh at the age of 12.  For the past 15 years, he has worked from a wooden shack overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.
“We feel unhappy and unsafe,” he said of the raid, which also destroyed a number of small cafes built by the long-settled community.
“They destroyed our neighbors’ homes," he said.  "It felt as if we were at war, as if we were on a battlefield.”
Reportedly, some of the fishermen evicted from the land were paid compensation, but Ali said he was not one of them, and would not accept such money.
“I spent my lifetime here,” he told VOA.  “It is where I earn my money.  I am like a fish; if you move me from here, I will die.”
Although the shack he shares with other fishermen remains under threat, there is a growing chorus of support for people like him.
Resisting development
Activists behind The Civil Campaign to Protect Dalieh are battling to keep the seafront open to all.   
As well as organizing protests and raising public awareness of the site, they launched a legal challenge against the government, saying a law that took effect in 1989 – during the political chaos of the Lebanese civil war – is invalid.
They also highlight the site’s limestone caves and lagoons, as well as rare flora, fauna and wildlife; a point duly noted by the Ministry of Environment, which earlier this year announced a decree to protect the site.
Abir Saksouk-Sasso is part of the group and told VOA plans to develop Dalieh, which reportedly have involved designs from famous Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, were just the latest step in the privatization of Lebanon’s coast.
“What is happening in Dalieh has been happening along the entire coast ever since the 1960s,” she said, citing efforts to attract tourists and a confluence of political and business interests as among the main causes."
“This makes up a very important part of what it means to have the right to the city, to access our beaches for free,” she continued.
Source of investment
Dalieh is understood to be split among a number of owners.
According to reports, this includes the family of Rafik Hariri, a major business figure in the redevelopment of central Beirut and the country’s former prime minister, who was assassinated in 2005.
While campaigners like Saksouk-Sasso are determined to keep the site completely accessible, others take a different stance.
GroupMed, a company linked with the Hariris, did not respond to requests for comment.
The mayor of Beirut, Bilal Hamad, told VOA he has seen proposals for the site, which he said included “boutique hotels” and apartments.
Such plans have long been rumored but are yet to be made public.
Hamad told VOA he had worked with the owners to ensure the scheme struck a healthy balance between private development and public access, saying it would leave “almost a sixth” of the current site free for the public to roam.
“This is their project; it’s private property and they’re allowed to construct there as long as they abide by building law. However, they will respect the terrain and do something for the public” he said, adding that development could help create a major source of jobs and investment.
Offering an alternative
Those who wish to keep Dalieh open to picnicking families, swimmers and fishermen alike remain unconvinced, saying the Beirut municipality should be doing more to protect the land.
With this in mind, they are prepared to offer an alternative.
The Civil Campaign to Protect Dalieh has launched a competition to come up with its own proposals for the site, focused on keeping access open and nurturing its ecosystem.
The winners, announced last month, included architect Adib Dada, who put together the plans as part of a broader team.
“We wanted to show people that there is an alternative to what is being proposed” said Dada, who suggested ecotourism and boat tours as ways that the site’s biodiversity could be harnessed for economic gain.
“People have lost hope in our institutions, and in our government being able to provide for our rights and not bend to political or financial pressure. We want to give that story of hope,” he said.
Meanwhile, for Saksouk-Sasso, the hard work has only just begun.
Within sight of Dalieh, Ramlet al Baida - Beirut’s only public beach – is also rumored to be under threat of development.
She says she believes success in Dalieh could inspire others in Lebanon to fight for their strip of shoreline.
“We intend to keep on going.  This is about challenging the status quo.”

Special Project

More Coverage