19 June 2009

* Lebanese resilience encourages investors at Project Lebanon

The exceptional resilience of the Lebanese economy to the global financial crisis and the political stability that has been prevailing following the June 7 Parliament elections encouraged a great number of investors to participate in Project Lebanon 2009. "I believe that there is a great potential of investing in Lebanon, and Arabs are going to be much more interested in our country after the stability that has followed the elections," said Mike Kamel, Middle East manager of Simonin.
Simonin is a French company specialized in wood structures and wood roofing systems, and Kamel added that Lebanon's climate is suitable for the kind of wood they are using especially in the mountain areas mostly visited by  tourists.
At a time when development projects are being cancelled or put on hold across the Middle East region, the exhibition brings together Lebanese, international business people, traders, project managers, engineers and professionals to forge partnerships and broker business deals aimed at contributing to the prosperity of the Lebanese construction sector. 
Bouygues, one of the top construction companies in the world, came to Lebanon 10 years ago to develop the waterfront in the solidere area but then disappeared because of the lack in the demand for construction projects back then, said Bouygues Business Development Manager, David Labardin,
"Lebanon is getting more and more politically stabilized, so as we are now building the new Larnaca airport, we are traveling back and forth to keep an eye on Lebanon and grab any opportunities that may come up," said Labardin.
"We are exploring what we can do in Lebanon in terms of new projects. The peaceful end of the elections is a good sign and I believe investors will be more interested in the country now.  Actually, we already have a lot of contacts with Arab investors who are very much interested in doing large projects in Lebanon," he added.
According to the Lebanon economic report issued by Audi Bank, real estate and construction sectors have so far managed to appropriately face the impact of the global crisis. The report said that the construction permits totaled 2,265,006 square meters in the first quarter of 2009, up by 4.4 percent from 2,170,234 square meters in the same period of 2008. 
It added that this increase looks modest when compared to the yearly rise witnessed in the first quarter of 2008, which was close to 35 percent.
Samer Sultan Ajami, chief financial officer at Sultan Steel, believes that there is a good potential for business in Lebanon and that there is a good demand for construction materials but not the same demand that was available two years ago.  "The boom that has happened in the Gulf a couple of years ago before the financial crisis had negative repercussions on our country to a certain extent, and people were seeking to expand from the Gulf to nearby countries," he said.
"Our industry is not booming but just moving. Today we are not seeing too many foreign investors in our field of business but Lebanese investors are working on a steady base," he added.
"We usually supply contractors with steel materials for their projects but what I can say is that there is no great demand nowadays because people were waiting for the end of the elections," he said. "The fact of elections and establishment of the government is taking a big chunk of their decision," he added.
Ajami said that Lebanon's construction sector was not affected by the global financial meltdown as much as the Gulf region, but added that companies that export to the Gulf and other regions such as Sultan Steel have been affected to a certain extent.
However, the Audi Bank report stated that building activity appeared to be maintaining a positive growth according to the statistics of cement deliveries, which increased by 9.1 percent over the first quarter of 2009 as compared to the same period of 2008, reflecting the launch of many construction projects.

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Lebanon Time-Line

Introducing Lebanon

Coolly combining the ancient with the ultramodern, Lebanon is one of the most captivating countries in the Middle East. From the Phoenician findings of Tyre (Sour) and Roman Baalbek's tremendous temple to Beirut's BO18 and Bernard Khoury's modern movement, the span of Lebanon's history leaves many visitors spinning. Tripoli (Trablous) is considered to have the best souk in the country and is famous for its Mamluk architecture. It's well equipped with a taste of modernity as well; Jounieh, formerly a sleepy fishing village, is a town alive with nightclubs and glitz on summer weekends.

With all of the Middle East's best bits - warm and welcoming people, mind-blowing history and considerable culture, Lebanon is also the antithesis of many people's imaginings of the Middle East: mostly mountainous with skiing to boot, it's also laid-back, liberal and fun. While Beirut is fast becoming the region's party place, Lebanon is working hard to recapture its crown as the 'Paris of the Orient'.

The rejuvenation of the Beirut Central District is one of the largest, most ambitious urban redevelopment projects ever undertaken. Travellers will find the excitement surrounding this and other developments and designs palpable - and very infectious.

Finally, Lebanon's cuisine is considered the richest of the region. From hummus to hommard (lobster), you'll dine like a king. With legendary sights, hospitality, food and nightlife, what more could a traveller want?

Introducing Beirut

What Beirut is depends entirely on where you are. If you’re gazing at the beautifully reconstructed colonial relics and mosques of central Beirut’s Downtown, the city is a triumph of rejuvenation over disaster.

If you’re in the young, vibrant neighbourhoods of Gemmayzeh or Achrafiye, Beirut is about living for the moment: partying, eating and drinking as if there’s no tomorrow. If you’re standing in the shadow of buildings still peppered with bullet holes, or walking the Green Line with an elderly resident, it’s a city of bitter memories and a dark past. If you’re with Beirut’s Armenians, Beirut is about salvation; if you’re with its handful of Jews, it’s about hiding your true identity. Here you’ll find the freest gay scene in the Arab Middle East, yet homosexuality is still illegal. If you’re in one of Beirut’s southern refugee camps, Beirut is about sorrow and displacement; other southern districts are considered a base for paramilitary operations and south Beirut is home to infamous Hezbollah secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah. For some, it’s a city of fear; for others, freedom.

Throw in maniacal drivers, air pollution from old, smoking Mercedes taxis, world-class universities, bars to rival Soho and coffee thicker than mud, political demonstrations, and swimming pools awash with more silicone than Miami. Add people so friendly you’ll swear it can’t be true, a political situation existing on a knife-edge, internationally renowned museums and gallery openings that continue in the face of explosions, assassinations and power cuts, and you’ll find that you’ve never experienced a capital city quite so alive and kicking – despite its frequent volatility.