Reconstructing Space, Re-creating Memory: Sectarian Politics and Urban Redevelopment in Post-war Beirut

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For fifteen years Lebanon endured a civil war that transformed its capital city, Beirut, from the ‘Paris of the Mediterranean’ to a bloody battleground of rival sectarian factions. More than a decade after the civil war, Beirut is in the final stages of a multi-billion-dollar reconstruction effort that has attempted to re-create the ‘old’ cosmopolitan Beirut. This reconstruction process has represented not only rehabilitation of physical infrastructure, but, equally, an attempt to reinterpret Lebanon’s tumultuous past and to create a new collective memory for the Lebanese ‘nation.’ In this respect, and despite corporate efforts to recast Beirut as a stable, unified place, the city remains a site of struggle over the meanings of Lebanese identity and nationhood. The physical remains of war may be expertly hidden by gleaming new structures, but Beirut is a politicized space of competing meanings rooted in the region’s turbulent history.

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