Lebanon News

Municipality’s Downtown festivities a hit

People listen to a concert during festivities in Nijmeh Square, Sunday, Jan. 21, 2018. (Photo courtesy of Ahmad Azakir)

BEIRUT: Thousands of revelers gathered in Downtown Beirut’s Nijmeh Square Sunday for the first of the municipality’s weekly public events. With security barricades recently removed and off the back of a successful New Year’s Eve party, the Beirut Municipality announced earlier this month that it would host events in Nijmeh Square every Sunday.

The clock tower at the center of the square served as the focal point of the day’s events with food stalls from Souk al-Akel and foodie blog NoGarlicNoOnions radiating out through the pedestrianized square to provide sustenance. Loud music blasted from a nearby stage adorned with balloons displaying the Beirut Municipality logo. Later in the evening, musicians took to the stage to play for an older crowd who stayed to party into the night.

“In principle, [Souk al-Tayeb] is going to take place every Sunday at the square,” Dani Moawad, the owner of “Baalbake” food stall, told The Daily Star. With Moawad’s stall doing a brisk trade, customers had to wait while he replenished their specialty dishes of Lebanese mezza. “I came for the food,” Aisha, a passerby, told the Daily Star, laughing. “The square is the symbol of [the late Prime Minister] Rafik Hariri and progress, and I’m glad they reopened it,” she said as acquaintances came to say hello.

People mingled, ate and danced. Teenagers brought blankets and set up makeshift picnics on the ground, while parents sat on the sidewalks and gossiped. Others supervised their kids who were entertaining themselves with an array of activities, from bikes to blow-up slides.

A line to enter a red bouncing castle snaked along one of Nijmeh Square’s walkways. Elsewhere, young children made their own games with a mass hide-and-seek game taking place.

“We came so the kids can play,” Roula told The Daily Star. She came to the square with her sister and her kids and said she plans to return every chance she gets. “[The square] was for everyone before, but then it became for the higher class. It’s good they returned it to the people,” she added.

Others brought their dogs, big and small, to get some exercise.

“It’s a family outing,” Sibel told the Daily Star while holding her dog Bellie and pointing to her mother, Fadia.

“In every country, there’s a downtown, a place to meet, a piazza for the people,” Sibel said, adding she would be following up with the municipality to make sure the square stays open to the public.

“We’re proud of this [reopening of the square], it brings people together, people of all races, classes, religions,” Fadia said.

In recent years, security barriers to prevent protests have blocked many from entering, and with the slump in footfall, many businesses shut down or moved. Sunday’s event was the municipality’s first step to reviving the square.

The Beirut Municipality could not be reached for comment on the success of the event.

“Beirut will stay a city of life, love and hope,” Beirut Gov. Ziad Chebib said on the occasion of the Sunday celebrations, according to a statement from the Beirut Municipality.

The governor said that festivities wouldn’t have been possible if the country’s security had not been stabilized and maintained, “thanks to the sacrifices of the Lebanese Army and security forces.” Nonetheless, Army officers and Internal Security Forces were at the scene, ensuring the day ran smoothly.

“All the streets are now open without any obstacles, and this will continue ... and we’ll see a vibrant economic and social life in these streets, which suffered economically and whose liveliness declined,” Chebib added. The remaining open restaurants in the square were bustling with diners and the remaining small shops had customers coming and going.

The restrictions on pedestrian access to Nijmeh Square were lifted earlier this month on the orders of Speaker Nabih Berri. A statement from Berri’s office at the time said that the speaker’s request was intended to revive the central square and bring it back to its former liveliness.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 22, 2018, on page 1.

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