Al Tal Parking project in Tripoli: non-viable and fuels political tension

Mon, 05/18/2015

Political circles in the northern capital of Lebanon were in the past few months very busy quarreling over a project aimed at turning the traditional Jamal Abdel Nasser square located in Al Tal area, in the center of Tripoli, into a parking lot. Similarly to other economic initiatives, and despite its questionable economic feasibility, the project fueled heated political exchanges and reflected deep conflict of interests. Furthermore, this matter acted to deepen civic and political cleavages in Tripoli, a city which has historically suffered from deprivation, poverty and unemployment and had witnessed during the past few years several rounds of violence, only to come to an unexplained close.

The proposed venture which jumped to the top priorities list of the Cabinet, was faced from the start with fierce oppositions especially concerning its viability. To note, the project provides for the construction of four underground levels car parks at an estimated cost of USD 20-24 million and is to be implemented by the Council for Development and Reconstruction. However, close observers point out that the actual cost of the project should not exceed USD 7 million.

The said project has elicited diverging responses from two opposite camps. The anti-project camp includes former PM Najeeb Mikati, former Minister Faisal Karameh, former MP Misba7h al A7hdab, the City Mayor, Al Jama3a Al Islamiya, other Islamic groups political groups and personalities, in addition to the majority of civil society groups in the city. The pro-camp comprises the Future Movement, Minister of Social Affairs Rashid Derbas, Council for Development and Reconstruction, and city council members affiliated with Future Movement.

The dispute over the project developed into a public confrontation between former PMs Mikati and Saad Hariri, and was finally settled in favor of the latter, while bringing about the resignation last month of Mayor Nader al Ghazal. Informed sources disclosed that the resignation of Ghazal came as a result of strong pressures exerted by former PM Hariri, and behind the scene negotiations with hesitant municipality members. Theses political maneuvers succeeded in enlisting the support of the hesitant members, in exchange for Ghazal’s resignation, particularly since the majority of theses members were staunch opponents to Ghazal.

With the project now on its way to implementation, serious questions remain as to it feasibility and impact. What is disturbing is the fact that the project is being described as developmental, while a closer look indicates that it is purely services-oriented, at a time when Tripoli is in dire need of serious economic development initiatives that can reduce unemployment.

The car park project is typical of Government’s poor developmental orientation, ill thought priorities and focus on projects which serve narrow economic interests rather than those of the majority of people. Another example of this faulty approach is the Tripoli special economic zone, which was approved in 2008 by the government of former PM Fuad Siniora, and which recently received a boost with the appointment of its administrative committee, an appointment which clearly was drawn along confessionals lines.