Once upon a time, I would scoff at those who suggested that Lebanon was becoming an appendage of the gaudy, godless Gulf. I’d roll my eyes as shrill Lebanese communists whined about Solidere, bitter Christians accused Hariri of confiscating Lebanon for the Sunnis, and hypocritical socialites complained about Khaleeji tourists, while making money hand over fist, year after year.
Sure, I thought, Lebanon is getting a drastic face lift. Sure, our public debt is staggering, but this has a lot to do with corruption, reconstruction, and political instability. Yes, Beirut and its suburbs are becoming increasingly estranged from the rest of the country, with their opulent restaurants, mountain resorts, bars, beach clubs, and high-rises. But this, my friends, is the price of economic growth and prosperity, which in turn is the salve that will heal the wounds of war. You know… a rising tide smushes all sand castles, or something like that.
Mostly however, I — like most Lebanese — detested comparisons between Beirut and Dubai. “You must be joking,” I’d spit, when well-meaning foreigners, eager to imply that they read the newspaper every now and then and could probably find Lebanon on a map, expressed their satisfaction that Beirut was rebuilding itself and may one day even look like Dubai.
“Dubai?!” I’d shriek. “That postmodern funhouse nightmare?! That soulless tourist trap?! Beirut would never stoop so low!” Even as recently as a few days ago, I found myself grimacing while listening to Georges Corm complaining about the Dubai-ification of Lebanon, on a Sunday afternoon talk show. “Come on, people,” I’d mentally chastise his listeners. “We may be flashy and superficial, but we’re not as bad as Dubai! Dubai spends tens of millions of dollars on fireworks displays! Dubai builds an indoor ski slope in the middle of the desert, just for kicks! Dubai builds the tallest skyscraper in the world even though there is no real reason to build multi-level structures when you are surrounded by miles of barren wasteland! Dubai built Palm Jebel Ali, the ridiculous housing development in the shape of a giant palm tree that can be seen from space.
Far from demonstrating such gauche sensibilities, we Lebanese have culture, history, and taste. We have cafes, newspapers, intellectuals, universities, people who speak Arabic, service taxis, Sayyed Hasan, Abou l-Abed, and Fairouz. How can we be Dubai? We’re Lebanon!”
That was then. This is now. We are Dubai, people. Take a look:
In case you can’t make sense of this picture, it’s an island in the shape of a huge cedar tree. Yes, that’s right, an island in the shape of a huge cedar tree. No, no… I said an island IN THE SHAPE OF A HUGE CEDAR TREE!!!!
If you find yourself checking a calendar to make sure that it’s not April Fools, please be assured: this is the real thing. Noor Holding, the developer, has announced that the $1 billion project has already been approved by the Lebanese President (Lahoud, not Sleiman, judging from the picture on their website), and will be completed by 2012. It will feature all kinds of lovely amenities including a lagoon, fitness centers, shopping malls, a commercial district, and of course, plenty of room for luxury neighborhoods with views of the Mediterranean.
More pictures of this stunning feat of landscape engineering are available on the project website, whose design reminds me of a Cedar Wings magazine circa 1986. As if to lend a sense of finality to the initiative, there’s even a fake webcam which is supposed to document the construction progress, which is slated to begin fairly soon off the coast of Damour, just south of Beirut International Airport.