Nejmeh Square in Downtown Beirut
Nejmeh Square in Downtown Beirut Source: WikiMedia

Beirut's central Nejmeh Square area was cordoned off by security for several years, limiting access to the downtown area where Lebanon's parliament is housed. 

This week, Nabih Berri, the Lebanese parliament speaker, ordered security barriers to be removed around the square, according to An-Nahar.

Just a few years ago, the downtown district was one of Beirut's highlights, frequented by tourists and locals who enjoyed the area's numerous cafes and retailers. However, as a series of bombs rocked the city from 2013 through 2015, security measures increased around the square.

With the rise of the anti-government "You Stink" demonstrations in 2016, spurred by the country's ongoing trash crisis, the area was blocked off entirely, with security forces stationed at all entrances.

With such restricted access, most of the restaurants and shops in the area were forced to close as the formerly busy area became nearly devoid of people.

"There were many times we thought about closing, but we said ‘no, maybe things will pick up’,” Zeina Hasbini, who runs a chocolate boutique near the square, told Reuters.

Although Lebanon's political scene remains fraught with tensions, since the formation of a unity government in 2016, under the leadership of President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Lebanon has remained relatively stable. 

The Lebanese military defeated the last pockets of the so-called Islamic State (or Daesh) in September and, in May 2018, the country plans to hold its first elections since 2009.

Re-opening the downtown area is a move aimed at attracting businesses to return to the area as well as tourists. The move comes just after a massive New Year's Eve celebration was held in the square as well.

Easing security also suggests Lebanon's return to greater stability following years of turmoil, exacerbated by the Syrian conflict.

"The country ground to a halt: you no longer saw tourists, or people from the Gulf countries, so we closed for about 6-7 years,” said Muhammad Faris, manager of The Petit Cafe, which re-opened in the square last year.

Faris said he believes removing the barriers will allow Beirut's iconic downtown square to “flourish again."