The subject of a great deal of controversy in the country, Solidere is the most prominent company in Lebanon today.
The joint-stock real estate company was founded on May 5th, 1994, in the aftermath of the disastrous Lebanese Civil War, to which it is directly related.
As its full name implies, the Lebanese Company for the Development and Reconstruction of Beirut Central District (English for Société Libanaise pour le Développement et la Reconstruction du Centre-ville de Beyrouth), was created to redevelop the annihilated central district of the capital.
Because Lebanon had just emerged from a 15-year-long war, and because the Lebanese government was practically inoperative in the aftermath of that war, it was found necessary to use private resources to cover the expenses of the urgent job of rebuilding the shredded district.
And thus, under the authority of Lebanon’s Council of Development and Reconstruction, and following the vision of then-Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, the private-public Real Estate Holdings Company (REHCO), known as Solidere, was born.
Since its inception, Solidere has performed urban landscaping, supervised the Lebanese government’s reconstruction plan, financed the restoration and rehabilitation of buildings and infrastructure, and constructed new structures in post-war Central Beirut.
The company draws its power from two major points: it shares a private-public partnership with the Lebanese government and enjoys the privilege of eminent domain.
These properties have given it unmatched control over (and ownership of) many private as well as public properties.
To achieve its vision and goal to revitalize the historical heart of Beirut and restore its “Paris of the Middle East” status, the company has worked to attract global behemoths of retail (such as Virgin Megastores) to the district.
The result of this was Solidere’s most remarkable project to date: the 163-squared-kilometer Beirut Souks; the most prominent commercial district in the capital.
The luxurious Souks area was opened to the public in 2009 and has since been considered the city’s main shopping and entertainment center.
Although it’s often been argued that the REHCO model that ultimately gave birth to Solidere was the only viable and practical option for the reconstruction of Central Beirut, there exists heavy opposition to the model and the company in Lebanon.
Opponents of the multi-billion dollar company accuse it of gentrifying the center of the capital.
This means that it has been “modernizing” the urban area, causing rent and property values to soar, and ultimately leading the displacement of the native working class and poorer communities by rich intruders.
Its initial renovation tactics were also opposed because they were, as critics pointed out, turning Central Beirut into a disconnected “island” that was inharmonious with the rest of the capital.
As a result of the controversy, Solidere’s plan was modified per the indications of its opposition, before being approved by the Engineer’s Union in Lebanon and later the government. However, regardless of the modifications, it is still accused of gentrification to this day.
Moreover, challengers of REHCO criticize Solidere’s substantial power over private properties and question its methods, especially the extensive demolition of structures, and the real goals behind them.
Rafik Hariri, who was the Prime Minister of the country back then, was said to be abusing his political influence to widen his company’s expropriation privileges.
The same has also been said about his son, Saad Hariri, during his several terms as Prime Minister of Lebanon. And in this regard, another controversy arises. The subject of Rafik Hariri’s share in Solidere has been a major debate in Lebanon’s political spectrum.
It is said that the late Prime Minister was the principal shareholder in the company before his assassination in 2005, after which his majority stakes were inherited by the Hariri family.
The children of Rafik Hariri have maintained and insisted, however, that he – and in turn they – only owned 6% of the company’s share. Furthermore, as per its policies, no one is permitted to own a share in Solidere that exceeds 10% of its capital.
Speaking of its status in the stock market, Solidere has around 36,000 local, regional, and international shareholders.
Among these shareholders, the majority are Lebanese citizens. The real estate company’s share price saw, as per the Beirut Stock Exchange, an incredible climb (from $5 to $39) between 2004 and 2008.
Notably, Solidere has been targeted and fiercely blasted by Lebanese protesters since the eruption of the October 17 uprising for being a “symbol of corruption.” Undoubtedly, it remains the most powerful company in Lebanon today.