Friday, August 14, 2020

Beirut explosion: The great socio-economic equalizer

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly

The area in the port is divided socio-economically. First there are the low income neighborhoods, the old renters, the middle class or what remains of it, but also - and this much more recently - the uber wealthy living in gentrified neighborhoods. Gentrification of neighborhoods - Armenia Street, Mar Mikhael, the outskirts of Badawi has been going strong. Next to two or three-storied houses, dilapidated, old, crumbling recent luxury building and skyscrapers have been mushrooming. A celebrated Lebanese actress spoke how she went down, bloodied and barefoot, from her 22nd floor apartment (and had to hail a car to go to the hospital) while another comedian-actor is seen on the remains of his balcony overlooking the port.

Downtown Beirut, mostly a ghost town anyhow on any given day (splattered with empty, unsold buildings), had some of its very luxurious apartments inhabited by politicians, stars and extremely well to do people, is now literally a shell. Few people know that the currently upscale area of downtown Beirut which was rebuilt in faux rustic mood used to be an incredibly popular area and that women would avoid going there alone for fear of inappropriate touching.

Many stars posted videos of their downtown Beirut destroyed homes. Actually, even the tall buildings overlooking the sea on the corniche, also lost their glass facades and apartments there suffered significant damages. These buildings also cohabitate with smaller houses around them, remnants of a different social order.  

I have written extensively in the past about how income inequality was one of the triggers of war, most recently here. But the Beirut explosion has - excuse the bad choice of words as it might be read as a silly pun- leveled the field. Oh you might say, the rich do not care, they have other properties, the poor only have their destroyed homes. Not true, when you look at the images of these people's houses from what they put on Instagram or elsewhere, you realize that these places are also primary residences, better yet, their "homes". And by hitting these areas the explosion managed to touch everyone, from all socio-economic classes, the dead and wounded include people from all such classes.

As someone who escaped death that day - twice - please note am not gloating. News broke that cronies are already visiting people with destroyed houses convincing them to sell so that a new glitzy apartment buildings would replace them built by copy/paste developers. More gentrification am sure.

Yet again for all the images of Roche Bobois, Frau Poltrona, Fendi Casa furniture I saw in the Instagram stories - the result is the same. The explosion has Hurt people of all classes, and in weird, sarcastic, strange way, it became the great equalizer.