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TRIPOLI,May 23 — It goes without saying that Lebanon has been highly affected by the civil war in neighboring Syria, with the country’s northern capital Tripoli transformed into a battlefield due to violent clashes between supporters and opponents of President Bashar Assad.
But even though a security plan to calm the situation was implemented last month, Tripoli is still in dire straits.
The city, whose residents have constantly protested against the violence, suffers from poverty, a lack of investment and high levels of unemployment. All of this in a city that could be one of the backbones of Lebanon’s economy.
Clearly, rejuvenating Tripoli has become urgent, and as a result, initiatives are underway to launch construction projects in the city.
Recently, Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi presented Prime Minister Tamam Salam with a $4 million donation from Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri to rebuild Syria Street, the road that separates the two warring neighborhoods of Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen where residents support the Syrian rebels and President Bashar Assad respectively.
Rifi, who hails from Tripoli, believes the time has come to carefully spend the $95 million provided by the previous government, which was headed by fellow Tripolitan Najib Mikati. Rifi would also like Tripoli residents to be given compensation, which requires the help of foreign donors.
“As economic actors we wanted businessmen whose shops were destroyed to receive compensation” said Tripoli’s Trade Association President Asaad Hariri. “Especially those who were on the front lines.”
“A development plan would eradicate clientalism, which politicians indulge in,” said Anwar Khanji, a social activist. “This makes such a project a necessity to remove the city from its political, social and economic misery. This plan would restore Tripoli to its former glory.”
The current government, headed by Tammam Salam, now has the chance to revive the city’s economy, residents agree, and the same goes for Mikati, who can use his influence to support his hometown’s economy.
“We must find a solution for this problem,” said Toufic Dabboussi, chairman of Lebanon’s Chamber of Commerce. “The solution revolves around treating the residents’ social and economic problems.”
Those whose businesses, lives and livelihoods were affected by the cycles of clashes are now calling on the government to take serious action. They suggest that rehabilitating Rashid Karami International Fairground, the port and the Qleiaat military airport would give a vital boost to Tripoli’s ailing economy. Other possibilities include reviving the Rene Mouawad Airport, Bedawi’s oil refinery and Tripoli’s train station and building a unified structure for the Lebanese University to restore the city to its previous glory.
“Tripoli’s reality is painful and tense; any development plan would be a way to pull the city from the gutter,” said bookshop owner Radwan Yassine. “It is important to rehabilitate the factories in Bohsas, which would provide thousands of jobs. They used to function 24 hours a day but now they are completely out of action.”
But with a number of projects currently on hold, it seems the road to recovery will be paved with obstacles.
Up until now no firm strategy has been put forward for any of these projects, a situation that has been exacerbated by problems within Tripoli’s municipal, chamber and commerce councils.
For Dabboussi, the goal of prosperity and growth can be achieved through joint projects between the public and private sectors.
In collaboration with the Central Bank and other public associations, Dabboussi has been collecting money for small businesses. The amount, likely around $10,000, will be distributed in a manner suitable for the business owners.
Dabboussi said that any developmental plan needed to be coupled with a clear economic vision in order to find a radical solution to the current problems.