Why Marwan Kheireddine Is Trying To Save the Holiday Inn Beirut

The Holiday Inn Beirut has been viewed by many as the most powerful building in Lebanon. For more than four decades, the building’s bones, which sit in ruin on Omar Daouk Street, have been a …


The Holiday Inn Beirut has been viewed by many as the most powerful building in Lebanon. For more than four decades, the building’s bones, which sit in ruin on Omar Daouk Street, have been a sobering reminder of the Lebanese Civil War that rocked the region from 1975 to 1990. The hotel’s location also served as the divide in Beirut between the Christian East and Muslim West.  With so much history tied to the Holiday Inn, it’s no wonder businessman Marwan Kheireddine is passionate about saving the landmark. 

British activist and artist Tom Young moved there in 2009 and was instantly drawn to Beirut’s architectural wonders, particularly the Holiday Inn. “It’s so famous and so iconic, it’s like a giant tomb that remains in the center of the city like an unresolved scar,” Young told Al-Jazeera.

Young has created paintings of the Holiday Inn and has been the only artist allowed to enter the site, according to Swedish online magazine OmVärlden. Young told the news outlet he was drawn to the hotel for its mix of emotions and how it once served as a playground for jet-setters in Beirut. To enter the Holiday Inn, Young had to get permission from its owners as well as from the Lebanese army, which still controls it today. He splashes bright red paint against a canvas in his Holiday Inn Beirut pieces to demonstrate the bloodshed, fire, and anger that served as a backdrop there.

The Paris of the Middle East

In the 1950s and 1960s, according to CNN, Beirut was a hot spot for glamorous guests such as Brigitte Bardot, Omar Sharif, and Peter O’Toole. Lebanon’s extravagant hotel district first erupted in the 1920s with the opening of the now-defunct St. Georges Hotel. When the Holiday Inn popped up in Beirut in 1974, it was not only the tallest hotel in the area but also the last to open before the war, according to Al-Jazeera. 

“My paintings work on several levels. Some of it concerns the horror and violence of what happened here; some are about what the place is now and others are what it could become in the future. It’s an expression of a vision of perhaps a garden of forgiveness, symbolic of the new life that springs up,” Young told OmVärlden. “Tom Jones also performed there.”

The 26-story hotel opened in 1974 and operated for only a year before the war changed everything. It featured a revolving restaurant on the top floor, a nightclub on the 25th floor, and 400 guest rooms. According to Al-Jazeera, it was sadly turned into a prime location for snipers to hide out and unleash their hail of bullets during a sub-conflict known as the Battle of the Hotels, which occurred from 1975 to 1976. Guests evacuated the hotel and headed to Cyprus once the carnage began. Sadly, the Holiday Inn Beirut was prepping for its grand opening — which never took place, due to the fighting. 

According to theguardian.com, the Lebanese Front, which consisted of Christian right-wing fighters, continued to clash with the National Movement, which was made up of Lebanese leftist parties backed by Palestine’s Palestine Liberation Organization. The contents of the Holiday Inn Beirut, which included silver spoons and fancy curtains, were peddled on the streets of Lebanon. The Holiday Inn Beirut was once again used and abused in the 1982 Lebanon War. Much like the war that wrecked it, the Holiday Inn Beirut remains in a devastating divide as its current owners can’t reach an agreement on what to do with the famed landmark. According to Wikipedia, Compagnie Immobiliere Libanaise, which owns half, wants to renovate the resort and transform it into condominiums, and the Kuwaiti group that owns the other half wants to destroy it. 

Marwan Kheireddine Dreams of a Better Beirut

As Lebanon continues to go through what AM Bank CEO Marwan Kheireddine describes as “the worst economic crisis in the system,” he and AM Bank, of which he is the chairman, are trying to figure out how to reinject liquidity in Lebanon’s financial system and gross national product. “The biggest hurdle we have is that we cannot do this alone,” Kheireddine says. “We need to be doing it with other banks or with the government. I am in continuous contact with the prime minister, whom I served under. So the prime minister today was the prime minister that I served under between 2011 and 2014.”

The governor of the Central Bank is trying to come up with an initiative that will encourage foreign direct investments in Lebanon, according to Marwan Kheireddine. Because of the economic crisis, Lebanon has become more affordable. “If you have money and you’re willing to stomach some high-risk investment, the potential in Lebanon today is amazing,” Marwan Kheireddine explains. 

Marwan Kheireddine still has his eye on the Holiday Inn Beirut. “It’s 

one of the largest towers in Lebanon that overlooks the Mediterranean and it’s beautifully positioned on a nice hill in Beirut that is amazing,” Marwan Kheireddine says. “That hotel, well, it used to be a hotel, was an icon of the war. During the war of 1975 to 1990 it was completely destroyed and burned, but it is still there as a structure. If you Google “Holiday Inn Beirut,” you’ll see it. I’m trying to put together a group of investors from Egypt and Jordan to come and buy that hotel from one of the local banks that is not willing to budge.”

Marwan Kheireddine Would Like To See a New Dawn for the Storied Holiday Inn Beirut

Marwan Kheireddine is curious as to why nothing is being done with the hotel. “They’re not doing anything with it. They’re not repairing it and it’s sitting there,” Marwan Kheireddine says. “Real estate prices have gone down because of the economic crisis we’re going through. I’m trying to put together a group of people that will come in and buy the hotel. My bank will finance the rebuilding or the reparation of the hotel. And if I succeed in doing that, in my opinion, it would create so much goodwill, it’ll encourage foreign investments to come into the country because this is an icon. If you’re living in this part of the world, you know what I’m talking about.”

Never one to sit back and wait for deals to come his way, Marwan Kheireddine has a proactive approach to investments and opportunities. 

“If we manage to do that now, where we bring in a group of investors to buy the hotel and we lend the money to go and repair it and make it operational in the coming, perhaps, three years, this would be top news for the country,” Marwan Kheireddine says. “If I can do two to three high-level projects of that nature, and this is what I’m working on, I think I would’ve done my country a service. And I will also have created a stream of income for my institution, for my bank.” 

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