Lamenting the Decline of Ras Beirut

We are pleased to provide a poem that was provided by Dr Zeina Geha, the wife of WLCU Sydney President Dr Shane Geha. The poem was written by Ms. Dina George Baioud and was forward to Zeina by her uncle Eddie Chehab a WLCU Sydney member. It is a very powerful expression of the tragedy that has struck the once Paris of the Middle East.

Prior to the 1975 civil war, Beirut was a centre of enlightenment, culture and tolerance that set an example for the world. Arab thinkers, philosophers, authors and publishers flocked to Beirut where freedom of the press and expression were at their zenith. And nowhere in Beirut was this more evident than in Ras Beirut where the American University of Beirut and the International College are located. The Hamra neighbourhood sits within Ras Beirut and its famous Hamra Street was the heart of Beirut’s commercial district. It is known for its restaurants, fashion stores (such as the famed Red Shoe mentioned in the poem) bars and hotels and it had a wonderful nightlife. Hamra Street was the key meeting place for both Lebanese Arab writers, philosophers and poets and was central to an intellectual renaissance and birth of literary ideology.

Dina George Baioud laments the decline of the once-glorious Hamra street in Ras Beirut and the loss of tolerance, acceptance and understanding that was Beirut’s truest hallmark and was judged as outstanding from a world perspective, let alone the Middle East.

As Dr Shane Geha said on reading this: “This is a beautiful piece I just received. It’s about the predicament of West Beirut where I grew up. Its decline is both tragic and real.”

The Arabic is below, but here is the translation of the poem by Dr Shane Geha:


“Where are you Ras Beirut?  Where did you go?

How did you walk along and leave us all behind?  What has happened?  Have we upset you?

Ras Beirut was akin to our building, cosmopolitan, elegant and educated.
Tammim Building, Tannoukhiyen Street, down St Rita Street or Abou Taleb Street.
In any manner in which we gave directions, we were pleased.

The Tammim Building was a microcosm of Ras Beirut.  It had twelve floors, all with a view of the Sea.

On the First Floor were Maronite Christians: The Rihan Family;
On the Second Floor lived a Christians of Palestinian origin, Emil Khoury and his family;
On the Third Floor was a Lebanese of Palestinian descent, an Annahar journalist: Nabil Khoury;
On the Fourth Floor lived a Druze Doctor Sami Kaidbay and his family;
The Fifth Floor was occupied by a Shiaa lawyer: Nasrat Abou Khalil.
The Sixth Floor belonged to a Sunni: Dr Youssef Habib;
The Seventh Floor belonged to a Saudi Diplomatic family;
The Eighth Floor was occupied by an Iranian family;
The Ninth Floor, Our Floor, was owned by a Christian Orthodox family;
Floors 10 and 11, a duplex, was for the building’s owners, a Sunni family from Beirut;
Floor 12 was reserved for foreign embassies.

And we must not forget the Concierge: a Palestinian refugee, who arrived and left, and no Palestine was ever returned.

The building is now vacant and its various owners have either died or sold over time.  All the floors have left, except our floor – it has remained resolute and was one of the last to leave.  Some have left and migrated.  Others have remained in Ras Beirut.  But Ras Beirut has been relinquished to strangers.  And Ras Beirut has been lost to the frightening and the unknown.  It may have even been sold off – I don’t know.

Oh what a pity about you Ras Beirut;
You were the Sunni Bakery under the building;
You were the Maronite hairdresser at the beginning of the street and the Sunni hairdresser at its end;

You were the multitude of elite schools and universities;
You were The Makassed and the College Protestant;
You were The Orthodox College and the I.C.;
You were the American University and the University of Haygazian;
And the BUC University at the top of the hill.

You were the Hamra Street and the Al Raouche and Verdun;
You were the fine boutiques and large shops and the Red Shoe;

You were the Horse Shoe Café and the Café de Paris
You were beautiful and quaint and had the finest theatres, the most famous of which was the Piccadilly Cinema.

You were the pools of the Long Beach and Sporting Clubs and those of the Coral Beach and Summerland.  And we must not omit the Riviera and the Saint Georges.

You were the Phoenicia and the Bristol hotels and the Holiday Inn  – the last two have gone: one closed its doors not long ago, the other was totally destroyed during the war.

You were the gateau at La Cigale and even they have now shut their doors.  And the Arabic sweets from Al Bahsali and Al Arisi.

You were the Shawarma at Shatila’s and the Falafel at Sahyoun’s.  You were the hamburger at Universal’s and the pizza at Bella Napoli’s, not far from Massis and Yaldizlar.

You were the daily food specials at Al Ajami and Sukrat (Socrates);
You were a conglomeration of the entire world in one small place.

Oh Ras Beirut!
You were a rarity and you were envied
A place of cosmopolitan living
In a natural way that was not contrived;
You were the Queen of the Globe and you only wished that a big nation would protect you;
But regrettably our nation has been troubled for a long time;
And sadly we are still the puppet of other nations.

Sadly you have perished with those that have perished;
Our grandfathers have gone; our parents have gone and soon we will be gone also;
And like Gibran Khalil Gibran, we will leave with a knot in our heart called Lebanon and another even bigger knot called Ras Beirut.



كيف تركتينا وراك ومشيتي؟
شو لصار؟ زعلنيك؟
رأس بيروت كانت مثل بنايتنا
مشكّلة، أنيقة ومثقّفة
بناية تميم شارع التّنّوخيين
نزلة السّانت ريتا أو نزلة أبو طالب
مثل ما كنّا ندلّ مبسوطين
بناية تميم كانت صورة مصغرة لرأس بيروت
كان فيها ١٢ طابق، كله بطلّ على البحر
الطّابق الأول مسيحي ماروني بيت ريحان
الطّابق الثاني مسيحي فلسطيني الأصل بيت إيميل الخوري
الطّابق الثالث مسيحي فلسطيني الأصل صحافي النّهار نبيل خوري
الطابق الرّابع درزي بيت الدّكتور سامي قائدبيه
الطّابق الخامس شيعي بيت المحامي نصرت أبو خليل
الطّابق السّادس سنّي بيت الدّكتور يوسف حبيب
الطّابق السّابع عائلة ديبلوماسيّة سعوديّة
الطّابق الثّامن عائلة إيرانيّة
الطّابق التّاسع طابقنا مسيحي أرثوذكسي
الطّابقان ١٠ و١١ دوبلكس لأصحاب البناية سنّي من بيروت
والطّابق ١٢ كان محجوز للسّفارات الأجنبيّة
وما بدنا ننسى البوّاب أبو كامل لاجيء من فلسطين
اجى وراح وما رجعت فلسطين

البناية هلّق فضيت وأصحابها ماتوا وباعوا
كل الطّوابق تركت مع مدى الزمن
وطابقنا صمد وكان من الأواخر لتركوا
البعض ترك وهاجر
والبعض بقي برأس بيروت
بس رأس بيروت راحت للغريب
ورأس بيروت راحت للمجهول المخيف
ويمكن انباعت، ما بعرف

يا ضيعانك يا رأس بيروت
كنتِ الفرن السّنّي لتحت البيت
كنتِ الحلّاق الماروني بأوّل الشّارع والحلاق السّنّي بآخره

كنتِ المدارس المتنوعة والجامعات المميّزة
كنتِ المقاصد وال collège protestant
كنتِ المدرسة الأرثوذكسية وال
كنتِ الجامعة الأمريكيّة وجامعة هايغازيان
وجامعة ال
BUC بآخر الطّلعة

كنتِ شارع الحمراء والرّوشة وفردان
كنتِ البوتيكات الأنيقة والمحلّات الكبيرة وال Red Shoe

كنتِ ال Cafés de Paris و ال Horse Shoe
كنتِ حلوة ومهضومة وفيك أفخم مسارح، أشهرهم
مسرح وسينما البيكاديللي
كنتِ مسبح ال
Long Beach و ال Sporting Club
Coral Beach وال Summerland
وما بدنا ننسى ال
Riviera وال Saint Georges

كنتِ أوتيل الفينيسيا و البريستول وال Holiday Inn
آخر اثنين راحوا، واحد سكّر بوابه مش من زمان
واحد اتّدمّر كلّه بالحرب

كنتِ الكاتو من عند ال La Cigale وهلّق هيدا سكّر كمان
والحلو العربي من عند البحصلي والعريسي
كنتِ الشّاورما من عند شاتيلا والفلافل من عند صهيون
كنتِ الهامبورجر من عند
والبيتزا من عند
Bella Naopoli
ومش بعيد عن أطيب بيتزا كانوا
كنتِ المطبخ اليومي عند العجمي وسقراط
كنتِ ضامّة العالم كلّه ببقعة صغيرة

آخ يا رأس بيروت
وجودك كان نادر وكنتِ محسودة
منطقة فيها التعايش المشترك
طبيعي جدّاً وغير مصطنع
كنتِ مالكة الدنيا وما كان بدك غير دولة تحميك
بس للأسف دولتنا فاسدة من زمان كتير
وللأسف ما زلنا كمان لعبة للأمم

للأسف رحتي مع يلّي راحوا
راحوا جدودنا، راحوا أهلنا ونحن كمان صرنا رايحين
وكلنا مثل جبران خليل جبران
رايحين بغصّة بقلبنا اسمها
لبنان وبغصّة بعد أكبر لرأس بيروت

المحبّة دينا جورج بيّوض

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