BEIRUT: Visitors to the newly renovated Sanayeh Park are less than pleased with its rules and restrictions, arguing that one of the largest and oldest public spaces in the city is not as “public” as they thought it would be.
Sanayeh Park was the object of a $2.5 million reconstruction project funded by the Azadea Foundation, the charitable branch of a fashion retail holding company based in Beirut. The first phase of renovations began in April of 2012, and the park made its long-awaited public debut on June 1 of this year.
During the opening, the beautifully landscaped park was stormed by eager visitors seeking refuge from the chaos, pollution and crowds of the capital. But since then, some park visitors have complained that private security within the park is too strict and even aggressive.
The Azadea Foundation’s security contractor, Middle East Security, provides guards that patrol the grounds during opening hours.
Feryal Ibrahim, a mother of four, brought her children to the park Tuesday to enjoy a day in the sun.
“The guards saw that I had two tennis rackets in my bag. They told me that tennis balls and balls of any kind are not allowed in the park. They took away the rackets and said that I could pick them up when I left the park,” she said.
Mid-conversation, a security guard interrupted Ibrahim to tell her that her children were not allowed to step on the grass.
“It’s not allowed for you to walk on the grass, my darlings. Go play on the concrete,” she called out to her kids.
“They should call this the garden for the elderly,” she said sarcastically.
Others have taken to social media to share their impressions of the park and its new administration.
Nizar Ghanem, was treated aggressively by several security guards upon his first visit to Sanayeh. When he sat on the grass inside, three guards surrounded him, telling him that sitting on the grass was not allowed.
“The guard lost his patience and they attacked me. ... I did not resist, I just kept screaming, ‘What you are doing is illegal. This is a public space,’” he wrote in a Facebook post.
“So yes, we have a public park. The children can play on the cement or sit on the benches, but they can’t touch the grass,” Ghanem wrote.
Despite these allegations, the Azadea Foundation is insisting that visitors are indeed allowed to walk and lay on the grass freely and that visitors are also allowed to bring their sports gear, such as footballs and tennis balls, into the garden.
“All visitors are welcome to the park, and as with all international parks, they are also allowed to walk and lay on the grass freely. The only prohibition is against stepping on the beds of flowers around certain grass areas, as this will lead to destroying them, which is something that has already occurred during the opening event,” Serene Itani, senior client servicing manager at TRACCS, Azadea Group’s public relations firm, told The Daily Star by email.
“As for nuts and foods, it is preferable not to have them, for littering purposes, to preserve the cleanliness of the public space and maintain its image,” she continued. “The park is a public space and open to all. The guidelines that have been placed are there for the safety and security of the children and people visiting the park, such as no alcohol, weapons or smoking.
“We need to make sure a safe, children-friendly green space is available and everyone is welcome to enjoy this public garden.”
Azadea Group did not address allegations of aggression from guards. According to Itani, Azadea has told its security contractor, Middle East Security, to follow the guidelines as they are and not to enforce any rules not specified.