BEIRUT

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Tech hub opens in heart of Beirut

Mikati and Sehnaoui attend the launch of the Beirut Digital District. (The Daily Star/Mahmoud Kheir)

BEIRUT: On Monday a new technology center opened its doors in the heart of Beirut with the aim of creating a hub for technology, attracting foreign investment and helping retain young and talented Lebanese.

The Beirut Digital District, a high-rise building in the Bashoura district with 3,200 square meters of office space, just footsteps from Downtown, is promising to offer advanced infrastructure – including broadband Internet and state-of-the-art information technology facilities.

The hub also aims to become a center for IT startups. It will be the third of its kind, after Berytech’s facilities in Mar Makallas at St. Joseph University and near the National Museum.

“This is so that we can turn a page for all of our futures,” Karim Kobeissi, a commercial lawyer and a leading figure behind the project, said as he opened an outdoor conference inaugurating the new center, along with chairman and CEO of Berytech Maroun Chammas, Prime Minister Najib Mikati, Telecom Minister Nicolas Sehnaoui and other dignitaries.

“This is the best investment we could make. We want to create an environment of production. We want young people’s dreams to come true so that we can succeed as a society. Hand in hand we can go far together. And in five years, we can meet again and see this dream realized,” Kobeissi said.

The creation of a center with high-speed Internet that will curb Lebanon’s brain drain is certainly a tall task.

The country has one of world’s slowest Internet speeds with occasional blackouts. Power outages are a daily occurrence and a lack of infrastructure and job opportunities tend to drive the majority of the country’s most talented to find better opportunities abroad.

A year ago, the Telecom Ministry improved the DSL connection, but even this step lagged behind most countries in the region in terms of fast Internet.

For years there has been talk of creating a tech park south of Beirut in Damour. But the plans never materialized due to political bickering. Organizers of this new project hope the site’s relatively small size and central location will bring people together.

Many have argued that all it would take for Lebanon’s well-educated workforce to stay at home is to have good infrastructure.

“This is an important symbol,” Mikati said as he took the podium to inaugurate the new project, adding that similar centers could be expected in the coming years outside of Beirut.

In spite of its political and infrastructural problems, Mikati said, the country holds a special place in the region for its freedom of speech, thought and press – something that he assured would never be compromised and a cornerstone of a knowledge and IT economy.

For his part, Sehnaoui said Lebanon could catch up with Dubai in the technology field if all parties get united.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 04, 2012, on page 5.

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