Lebanon Is Banking On Port City Development, Proximity To Syria

Aug 1, 2017
Originally published on August 1, 2017 4:39 pm
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Investors and developers in a part of Lebanon are preparing for the business that's expected when someday the Syrian Civil War might end. It's the northern port city of Tripoli. It's well-located to be a hub for hundreds of billions of dollars in reconstruction. NPR's Alison Meuse went to meet a woman leading this effort.

ALISON MEUSE, BYLINE: The Mediterranean port of Tripoli is bustling. Cranes tower above as men unload cargo from docked tankers onto trucks destined for locations throughout Lebanon and neighboring Syria. Lebanon's economy has been hard-hit by the war next-door. And it's unclear when that will ever wind down. But the government believes Lebanon can be the hub for an eventual reconstruction worth hundreds of billions of dollars.

Because of its proximity, the hub could be here in the northern city of Tripoli.

RAYA AL-HASSAN: We're around 30 kilometers from the Syrian border. So there's a highway linking hopefully that will be completed linking this land to the Syrian border. And there is a plan to set up a railway network that will link the port to the Syrian border.

MEUSE: That's Raya al-Hassan, Lebanon's former finance minister. She's now working on a project to launch a special economic zone adjacent to the Tripoli port already being expanded by a shipping company based in the United Arab Emirates. Hassan estimates that in the past two years alone, trade activity in the port has quadrupled. And she's gotten interest from investors as far afield as China.

She shows me the port and then the site of Tripoli's special economic zone, a plot of land reclaimed from the Mediterranean.

AL-HASSAN: It took around two years for this whole area to be competed. Now we have a beautiful piece of land. It's 550,000 square meters. This, hopefully with time, will be all gated. There will be a customs office.

MEUSE: Located right next to the port, this would be a tax-free industrial zone. And she envisions.

AL-HASSAN: To see manufacturing facilities, all sorts of manufacturing facilities, maybe some logistics activities also, hoping that this will become a hub for trade going out to the gulf, to Iraq, to Syria and to Turkey and to Europe.

MEUSE: She hopes that will provide jobs in a city where youth unemployment is among the highest in Lebanon and the Mediterranean as a whole. Lebanese here are competing with impoverished Syrians for work. Hassan hopes to alleviate that by making Tripoli the conduit for Syria's vast reconstruction needs.

AL-HASSAN: I hope to see a lot of labor from Tripoli, skilled labor that are operating all the machineries, that are operating these facilities and that there are ships lined up to take all the products to the Arab hinterland or to Europe. And that's not a dream.

MEUSE: She says that's something she can see becoming tangible. In fact, she says, we're banking on it. Alison Meuse, NPR News, Tripoli. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.