Lebanon News

Mohammad Chatah Square to be inaugurated Saturday

The Mohammad Chatah public garden in Downtown Beirut. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: A year on from the powerful car bomb that took the life of former Minister Mohammad Chatah and left behind piles of shattered glass and crumbling facades of buildings, the assassination site in Downtown Beirut has been transformed.

Young trees that were charred by the blast have been revitalized. The glass and other building materials were long ago swept up and have now been replaced by stylish modern designs that inspire. The sidewalk – which in the aftermath of the attack was seemingly tattooed with destroyed cars, plants and structures – has been cleansed of the physical damage and replaced with new and clean structures. What remains from that fateful day is only a memory.

“The decision to name [the square] after [Chatah] was taken a long time ago, after the assassination,” Beirut Mayor Bilal Hamad said. “The council met and decided to name the court just beside the assassination spot after him.

The Beirut municipality-owned open space of around 100 square meters is tucked away behind the sprawling edifices of Downtown Beirut’s Starco area – named for the famous Starco building where a popular dance hall attracts Lebanon’s high society. It faces a Rolls Royce dealership, a construction project on a new luxury building called ‘B11,” and a still closed coffee shop – rocked by the explosion a year earlier – called News Café.

The contrasting black and white blocks that make up the grassless park’s walking space artistically intersect. A modern metal sculpture and a fountain, fed by a stream of water that runs underneath a foot bridge, are straddled by black benches.

A large tent is under construction for a ceremony to be held Saturday, when the Mohammad Chatah Square will be officially unveiled to the general public. Representatives from the Future Movement as well as the local municipality, among others, are expected to attend.

Born in Tripoli, Lebanon’s northern capital, in 1951, Chatah crafted a successful career as an economist, diplomat and politician. He served as ambassador to the United States from 1997 to 2000 and returned to Lebanon in 2005 to work as an adviser to Prime Minister Fouad Siniora following the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Little did he know that less than a decade later he would meet a similar fate.

He also served as finance minister under Siniora. He often grabbed fewer headlines than those he advised, like Rafik’s son and successor Saad Hariri, but his behind-the-scenes work was considered vital to the party.

“[Chatah] will be remembered by Beirutis and Lebanese because he represented a man of dialogue and negotiation, and he was always depended on by the Future Movement to reach out to other political parties,” Hamad said.

The open space that will be named after Chatah, where teenager Mohammad Shaar also lost his life on the same day inspiring a social media campaign labeled “I’m not a martyr,” has turned heartache and destruction into a scene of beauty.

“It’s a beautiful open space in the heart of Beirut city,” Hamad said. “[Chatah] had so many ideas about bringing people together. He will always be remembered.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 27, 2014, on page 3.

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