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Lebanese Village, Miziara Built Opulent Mansions From Wealth Made In Nigeria

Planes and pyramids, the surreal mansions of Lebanon’s Nigeria avenue found in a village known as Miziara, where the opulence of the mansions found within the municipality came from the wealth emanating from various economic sectors in Nigeria.

While these Lebanese were born and bred in Nigeria, they built beautiful mansions  back home, though these villas remain mostly inhabited for years, only occupied during holidays when their owners come home for holidays.

Planes and pyramids: The surreal mansions of Lebanon’s Nigeria Avenue

With the revenues earned in Lagos or Abuja, Lebanese expats build ostentatious villas in the village of Miziara back home

The house designed to look like a plane was built in the 1970’s. The owners currently live in Australia (MEE/ Chloe Domat)
Chloé Domat's picture
Chloé Domat
MIZIARA, LebanonThe picturesque, two-hour drive from Beirut to Miziara follows the coast up north through windy mountain roads, and crosses a familiar landscape of orange-tree orchards and olive-tree fields.

Similarly, the  main square with its stone church, local grocery stores and a large poster of the president of the Republic would make anyone think that this was just an average Christian Lebanese village.

Venture deeper though, and a surreal picture unfolds, as hundreds of extravagant villas with extraordinary designs surprise the eyes: welcome to Miziara.

             A house designed to look like a pyramid in Miziara (MEE/ Chloe Domat)

Taking pride of place is an Egyptian pyramid with small square windows that houses 21-year-old student Oussama Raymond Chagoury, his mother and five brothers, while his father works in advertising in Nigeria.

‘Building a house here costs no less than $2 million’

– Fadi Abboud, architect 

“A lot of people find our home weird; they ask about it but for me it’s normal,” Chagoury said. “Actually it has nothing to do with Egypt, my father just liked the idea of living in a house with inclined walls.”

Without a doubt, the most bizarre mansion is a perfect replica of an Airbus A380, which residents call “the airplane house”. The home was built by a couple in the 1970s that now reside in Australia and boasts two floors, 41 portholes on each side, as well as a cockpit and landing wheels.

   Oussama Raymond Chagoury lives in a house designed to look like a pyramid with his mother and five     brothers (MEE/ Chloe Domat)

Just up the road from these creative habitats, there is a four-storey castle with a mix of medieval towers, Ottoman arcades and modern windows, while another family chose to settle for a Greek temple with eight Corinthian columns.

The Nigerian link

Given that Lebanon’s GDP per capita is barely over $8,000 a year, the eyewatering prices of these houses is even more surprising than their architecture.

“Building a house here costs no less than $2 million,” Fadi Abboud, an architect from the village said.

As in the surrounding villages, Miziara’s local economy relies on a bit of tourism, modest agriculture and some services. However, it is its links to Nigeria that bring its good fortune and, some would say, its flamboyance.

                        Pierre Daaboul, the deputy mayor of Miziara (MEE/ Chloe Domat)

 

Deputy mayor Pierre Daaboul is very straightforward about it.

“Everything was built with money from Nigeria; our entire economy relies on emigration to Western Africa. Today, about 80 percent of the village works there because they make much more money there than here,” he said in a strong French-African accent.

 ‘About 80 percent of the village works [in Nigeria] because they make much more money there than here’

– Pierre Daaboul, deputy mayor of Miziara

Lebanese expatriates work in all kinds of sectors, including trade, telecommunications, hospitality, energy, and construction – even the deputy mayor’s son, daughter and three brothers are currently in Nigeria.

Showing-off

With the revenues earned in Lagos or in Abuja, Lebanese expats from Miziara like to build ostentatious villas.

“Why? Because we like to show-off. A big house is a way to show that you are rich and successful,” explained Daaboul.

‘We like to show-off. A big house is a way to show that you are rich and successful’

– Pierre Daaboul, deputy mayor of Miziara

When his cousin Elias Daaboul made it big in the Nigerian oil sector, he did exactly that. With $20 million, he built the largest house in the village: a 2,000 square-metre palace with 30 bedrooms, a swimming pool, a dome, statues, marble floors, wood carved doors and moulded ceilings.

“He didn’t even spend an hour in this house,” said a neighbour, who does not seem surprised that the mansion’s shutters are always closed.

The largest villa in Miziara has 30 rooms and costs $20 million. The owner is Elias Daaboul, a Lebanese businessman who made a fortune in the Nigerian oil sector (MEE/ Chloe Domat)

Most of Miziara’s villas are uninhabited and are a way for expatriate families to state their achievements back home, without actually ever serving as housing.

The deputy mayor feels confident that one day in the future, wealthy owners will come back.

“We see them a bit every year for special occasions like Christmas or on holidays. You know, Africa is not like Europe or the United States, it’s a place where you work, but the life is not good so we always end up coming back to Lebanon,” he said.

A country of diaspora

For most of the Lebanese, being successful abroad is an element of pride. The country has a diaspora of over 10 million people compared with only four million within its borders.

‘Building a house here costs no less than $2 million’

– Fadi Abboud, architect 

This has a crucial impact on the Lebanese economy. In 2015, almost 16 percent of the country’s GDP came from personal remittances from Lebanese expatriates.

According to a recent IMF report, “Remittance inflows have averaged almost $7 billion in the last 10 years, which places Lebanon in the world’s top 20 receivers in absolute terms (…) in per capita terms, Lebanon tops the list by a wide margin.”

If a majority of the Lebanese working abroad are in other Arab countries, the report states that remittances from Africa account for almost 15 percent of the total inflows.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs considers that there are about 30,000 Lebanese living in Nigeria, but other estimations raise this figure to 75,000.

In the case of Miziara, Lebanese migrants first settled in Nigeria during the 1930s. Among them were the parents of the village’s allegedly most famous person.

Gilbert Chagoury: Miziara’s child prodigy

Born in Lagos in 1946, Chagoury heads the Chagoury Group, a multi-faceted conglomerate that employs over 10,000 people in a variety of sectors including real estate, telecommunications, healthcare and flour mills.

The group is currently in charge of developing Eko Atlantic, the largest real estate project in West Africa. Spread over 10 million square metres on the coast of Lagos, this brand new luxury district is expected to accommodate 400,000 wealthy residents as well as corporate offices and retail businesses.

Chagoury’s personal assets are valued at over $4 billion, making him one of the wealthiest people in Africa. The skilled businessman is also a man of influence with close ties to the Clinton family in the United States.

Chagoury has other surprising lines on his CV. He has been ambassador of the Caribbean Island of Saint-Lucia to UNESCO in Paris as well as to the Vatican; and economic adviser to the former president of Benin, Mathieu Kerekou.

In his spare time, the billionaire claims to be an art amateur whose generous donations to the Louvre Museum in Paris have ensured a gallery has been named after him.

But there are also dark sides to his career. One major element of controversy was his relationship with former Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha, who allegedly stole $4 billion worth of public money during his mandate.

The Swiss judiciary opened a legal case against Abacha’s family, relatives and colleagues after Abacha died in 1998, including Chagoury, who was involved in the case and convicted for money laundering. He paid a fine of $600,000, and gave back $65m to Nigeria, according to the LA Times.

In Miziara, Chagoury’s activities are no longer the subject of debate. He is by far the number one employer in the village and his reputation is untouchable. Out of gratitude perhaps, the main street was recently renamed “Boulevard Gilbert Chagoury”.

                   Miziara is a village located in the mountains, north of Lebanon (MEE/Chloe Domat)

 

Like everyone in Miziara, the local hero owns a mansion, the relatively modest Villa Alexandra. He stays there occasionally with his wife – who is also from the same village – and his family.

According to municipality figures, more than 300 houses were built in Miziara since 2008, but with the recent drop in oil prices and an economic crisis in Nigeria, new projects are slowing down.

But Chagoury’s status as the village’s benefactor is untouchable it seems.

“He was there last week – you missed him!” said the deputy mayor. “He is like a godfather to us. He can do whatever he wants at the municipality, no need to be elected,” he added with a large smile.

MiddleEasteye

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JUST IN: Israel Reportedly Launches Strike On Syria As Tension Rise

 

Joshua Mitnick
This Thursday, Dec. 29, 2016 photo shows an Israeli Air Force F-15 plane in flight during a graduation ceremony for new pilots in the Hatzerim air force base near the city of Beersheba, Israel.© AP Photo/Ariel Schalit This Thursday, Dec. 29, 2016 photo shows an Israeli Air Force F-15 plane in flight during a graduation ceremony for new pilots in the Hatzerim air force base near the city of Beersheba, Israel.

 

TEL AVIV, Israel — An Israeli aircraft reportedly launched a strike into Syria on Sunday that left one person dead, in what appeared to be the second cross-border attack in three days as tensions between the neighbors escalated over the weekend.

The Israeli attack was reported by the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which said that the strike targeted a car traveling on a road between Damascus and Quneitra, a town in the Golan Heights near the border with Israel. An Israeli army spokesman declined to comment on the report.

The Lebanese news service Al Mayadeen said the attack killed Yasser Hussein Asayeed, whom it described as a member of a militia aligned with the Syrian government. It said he was based in Golan.

Just two days earlier, Syrian forces shot several several surface-to-air missiles at Israeli jets that were carrying out an attack in Syria against what Israel said was a weapons shipment bound for the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah.

Israel fired its Arrow interceptor missile to knock down one of the surface-to-air rockets headed for its territory, forcing the nation’s army to issue a rare confirmation that it had carried out an attack inside Syria. It marked the first time Israel had used the Arrow missile, which has been jointly developed with the U.S. over years to defend against long-range missiles from Iran.

After the incident, Russia’s Foreign Ministry summoned the Israeli ambassador to Moscow to protest the attack. Russia is a close ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu, meanwhile, vowed to continue to carry out attacks in Syria against weapons shipments that it believes to be bound for Hezbollah.

On Sunday morning, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman responded to the incident with a saber-rattling warning. “The next time that the Syrian air defenses fire at us, we will destroy them completely without thinking twice,” he said in an interview with Israel Radio.

The heightened tension highlights how Russia’s assistance to Assad has raised the stakes along the border with Israel. For most of the Syrian civil war, Israel has watched from the sidelines, except for occasional strikes against Hezbollah weapons shipments that it says could be strategic game changers in the balance of power. Those attacks haven’t been challenged by Syria, for the most part.

Since Russia’s entry into the war, Israel and Moscow have come up with an understanding mechanism to avoid clashes between their militaries.

But as the fighting tips in the Assad government’s favor, Israeli officials have expressed concern that Iran and Hezbollah may gain a permanent foothold in Syria and possibly establish a presence along the border in the Golan Heights. This month, Netanyahu traveled to Moscow to try to convince Russian President Vladimir Putin that Iran shouldn’t be strengthened by the war.

Putin is unlikely to be persuaded by Israel’s entreaties to rein in one of his allies, said Eyal Zisser, a professor of political science at Tel Aviv University. The attacks over the weekend highlight the question of whether Moscow will continue to tolerate Israeli forays into Syria against its Shiite allies, he said.

“We need to ask: Will Russia accept the continuation of Israeli activity in Syria, or will it decide to put an end to it?” he said.

Los Angeles Times

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