A special tour in Tripoli, a city of waves, horizons and anxiety


As you arrive at Jerusalem (Al Quds) roundabout coming from the Beirut highway, you can choose one of several entrances to Tripoli.

Turn right and you’ll arrive at ‘Boulevard’ and the Tripoli memorial. You’ll then have to turn left towards Karami/annour Square (coincidentally, the last incident occurred here between karami bodyguards and salafist bodyguards inflicting more injuries to the metropolitan reputation) and face the slogan “Tripoli the bastion of Muslims”, all while having passed several establishments, outlets and modern residential buildings along the way, including the charred wreckage of the once standing KFC, a vivid testament of the ineptitude of the city’s officials and the dismay of its fair and good hearted residents.

Alternatively, if you turn left while making a semi-circle on Jerusalem roundabout you’ll take the Ashir Deyeh highway through New Tripoli, passing the modern concrete blocks which contractors built in place of the once lush groves of orange and palm trees as part of an another urban migration of the city’s elite classes, alongside a host of restaurants, cafes and religious sites, in a bid to detach themselves from the otherwise ailing and degenerated parts of the city.

As you continue, you’ll arrive at ‘Nini’ roundabout and its Christmas tree. The late Oscar Niemeyer’s international fair will be to your right alongside King Fahed Park. Keep going and you’ll then pass by both the Armenian and ‘saint famille’ schools (Ibrin), arriving at the Hamati sponsord pond and the “Hallab area”. You’ll then bear witness to the aesthetical and ecological devastation that the ongoing infrastructure roadwork have caused to Riad Solh (kazdoura) street, quite possibly the most beautiful in Lebanon. This constant nightmare has been replicated in various neighborhoods of the city (Azmi, Moutran, Mar Maroun and Meetein) where construction has become a major nuisance to both the residents and the passer-byes, largely due to the greed and apathy of infrastructure contractors and the property and building transformers who have no respect for planning laws (which no one seems to be enforcing).

Now back to Karami Square, along the route of our first choice. Continue toward Tal Square and its adjacent Koura Square, Nejmeh and Zahriye and you’re in for a ecological, economic and cultural heritage catastrophe, especially when compared with decades past. Back then the area constituted the beating heart of the city, becoming a trading and attracting hub for all of Lebanon and nearby Syrian areas. This had added historical significance as the area is directly linked to the old Mamluk souks (markets), which is unfortunately at the moment going through a badly managed heritage preservation project. In fact it is so badly run it can be considered exploitation of the area’s history. This only makes us rue days gone by, when the city was a symbol of order, cleanliness and safety. Back then there was harmony, diversity and tolerance, despite the overwhelming feeling of neglect and injustice. Sadly, the urban migration of the bourgeois classes from these areas was accompanied by a similar trend of migration by schools and important establishments like the Collège des Frères, Rahbat and lycee from Tripoli…

Should you choose to complete the roundabout and take the seafront road, you’ll find the road blocked at the Olympic Stadium (permanently “in use” by the army in a similar manner to the use of ‘St Giles Citadel’). You will have to slow down as you pass by the Saladin, sword monument which is only a few meters away from Al Quds roundabout. Now take a left to enjoy the scenic natural views before a new established controversial company engulfs a million cubic meters, which has sparked a flurry of debate in every corner of the city (even though the reclaimed seafront is almost Somali-fied due to the randomness of the street vendors, the invasion of vermin, widespread offences against planning laws and recurring army bases).

The problem is evident in the new and beautiful Mina city hall which is, in itself , ironically breaking planning laws and hides a big section of Mina’s history and heritage. It could be a “fortunate coincidence” that Prime Minister Miqati has bought two old buildings full of heritage in the Sheikh Affan area, and perhaps will bring restoration to the area, especially the run-down dock and the handful of local fishermen’s boats that use it.

If you choose to visit ‘Al Kebeh’, you’ll pass by Abu Ali river which at one point resembled a part of Venice; mainly due to its ancient bridges and its natural extensions into Khan El Askar (Khans are today’s equivalent of hotels, popular during the Middle Ages as a resting place for travelers with various services on offer) and Kanaes (churches) Road. After the flood of 1955, modern defragmented road construction took place thus distorting the area’s beauty.

Passing through adjacent Tebaneh, Baal Mohsen and the adjoining tension areas will be an interesting combination of adventure and surrealism. Since the Syrian occupation of Tripoli, this tension has been well fostered, especially when the Syrian-Palestinian conflict peaked, culminating in the invasion of the city in 1985 and the subsequent systemic massacre committed by the Syrians. All of this made the area’s fair residents, whether Alouite, Sunni or other, a hostage to this de-facto situation which made the area and subsequently the whole city pay the hefty bill of the on-going political and economic crises. The situation kept deteriorating after the string of political assassinations that Lebanon witnessed after the Cedar Revolution sparked by the dramatic killing of Hariri, all the way through the Hezbollah invasion of Beirut and Mount Lebanon during the May conflict of 2007.

With the start of the Syrian revolution and its shift towards an armed struggle, deprived areas began a new agonizing journey as it yet again became an exploitable playground where the innocent and poor pay the price, often through raw blood. This has also led to a dramatic knock effect on the city’s already waning economy, especially after the destruction and forced migration of its industrial plants, corporations and services infrastructure during the civil war.

Yet despite this grim and painful reality, we’ve always had an optimistic view to the future, especially in the medium term. This optimism is expounded when we look at the city’s human resources and their potential largely due to the historical, economical, geographical and touristic factors. This is in addition to the resilience of the city to the negativities, despite the hesitation and reluctance of its elites coupled with the conscientiousless of officials and political forces on the ground. Most of these officials have forever dealt with Tripoli and its problems in a superior and profiting manner, which often leads to calming the tension down instead of containing and resolving it through the state’s institutions, both on a security and social level. This requires the completion of the ‘reconstruction and reconciliation’ project which was started in 2008, and which unfortunately currently looks directly tied to the speed at which the Assad regime will fall and not the will to save and protect the poorest and most deprived areas of the city, which makes us worry even more.

Perhaps the way the current political deadlock at Tripoli municipality was handled largely sums up what can only be described as a “sub-political” approach to crises in general. Since the pseudo-democratic alliance that created the coalition currently in city hall broke down, the municipality and its board have been in an increasingly deteriorating state causing wide atrophy and chaos in the main role of the most important municipality in Lebanon. This is because the powers of its council are the widest and furthest reaching amongst all in Lebanon, certainly more than that of Beirut’s municipality due to its overlap with the governor’s powers. It’s therefore best for the council as a whole to resign alongside the failed alliance that brought it to power; this could give the city a chance to re-elect a more representative council that fairly represents it’s economic, social, civil and political fabric.

The fact that the political divisions are reaching breaking point has made Tripoli’s realities even grimmer on every front, especially security and development-wise. And in this vein, the mayor’s “supposed resignation” and its knock on effects take center stage at the moment, as we will be faced with a diminished council no matter what the workaround maybe as the ideal scenario is for the entire council to resign, but this seems like a hard ask. Perhaps the only positive effect from the municipal crisis is the throwing of authorities, local politicians and citizens’ cap over the civil activism windmill. That is because one of the direct results of the crisis is the decline in essential services in the city, therefore the forums at the graduates Club(nadi ajjamiyin), Cultural Institute of Tripoli(rabta thakafie), Nawfal municipal Mansion and the various cafes, offices, and universities are almost constantly heaving with gatherings, wrangling and debates about the city and its council’s realities. They all cross paths in the agreement for the need that the council as a whole resign and let the city elect a new council.

Digging deeper into the reality of the ongoing civil movements in the face of violence, extremism and exploitation, the aim must be for more cohesion among the unions(Naqabat), economic and social institutions. The movement suffers from lack of sustainability and proper planning alongside a wide array of issues including reductionism and cronyism. Note that the city has passed through the excellent social gathering experience (“the national gathering”) which went on through the late eighties, where the Cultural Institute of Tripoli was a breeding ground for poets. The institute fostered the ‘ten artists’ and was a hub for creativity, music and theatre, in addition to hosting a wide array of educational and intellectual conferences including the ‘Solidarity with the Lebanese University’ movement alongside being a platform for protests and campaigns, even in the face of Syrian regime hegemony.

It is this tight coupling and cooperation between the forces of the civil society and the adherents of democratic actions such as Sit-ins and protesting that we should work towards, so we can develop initiatives between the various groups no matter how small so that it doesn’t become ineffective. The delusions of some, no matter how good their intensions may be, to tailor ready-made molds that reduce the civil action, present the other side of paralytic tendency. This means we must operate within these two boundaries to mobilize the civil forces, both in its public and elite facades to pressure officials, particularly governmental ones. Personal ambitions are legitimate as long as they don’t turn into obstructive selfishness. The elected bodies can therefore play a pivotal role in a city under various imminent threats, as it appears that leaving the city is no longer restricted to youths in search of security, a better lifestyle and to build their careers; it also affected the city’s enlightened Mufti after constant death threats.

Despite the reference to the disintegrating bonds within civil society, it hasn’t been fully marginalized, since if the arriving “tourist” at Al Quds roundabout looks right towards Mont Michel, he will see the insistence of adventurers within this civil society militants to persevere and pursue the fruits of the hard labor embodied in the ambitious University City campus project which will provide academic and developmental jobs and reflect unity by reattracting various community youths, in the face of ignorance, misery and separation (they were told from the start “you are like that who digs the mountain with a needle”).

The movement of these militants sparked various modernist movements throughout in the city, some in the form of mural art as in the case of Bauzar’s peace wall and monument in Qobbe and elsewhere, which one national paper boldly noted “bauzar erases Tripoli’s demarcation lines”, since in the face of the extension of these lines inside the worried city, the elements that make up the civil society communicate on the bases of historical Tripoli-and openness, and not on the basis of the “shelter or bastion theories” which even if it came from different sectarian, religious or regional and politically conflicting backgrounds, crosses path on the issues of hegemony, segmentation(even segregation, specially toward non Lebanese) and elimination; the ongoing discussion on electoral law is a reminder among many other subjects of the integralism and depth of these issues.


Article written by Talal khawaja and translated by Firas Khawaja


Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Samir Kalajieh
Samir Kalajieh
11 years ago

A special tour in Tripoli, a city of waves, horizons and anxiety
The last picture reflects Tripoli sickness.

Samir Kalajieh
Samir Kalajieh
11 years ago

A special tour in Tripoli, a city of waves, horizons and anxiety
The last picture shows who distroied Tripoli,why tens of years ago most families run to live in Tripoli , now running away from it.Thank you Dr. Talal for this wounderfull article.

hind al soufi
hind al soufi
11 years ago

A special tour in Tripoli, a city of waves, horizons and anxiety
excellent story texte, beautiful round in the city….


Discover more from Middle East Transparent

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading