Cement was Lebanon's biggest single industrial export in 1980, accounting for 15.5 percent of industrial exports. Sales to Syria at that time accounted for about 40 percent of all cement exports. In early 1981, however, exports to that country came to a complete standstill because the Syrians, then in the middle of a major program to construct their own cement works, could not reach agreement with the two principal Lebanese cement works on the terms and conditions of cement sales. Thus cement exports to Syria in 1981 totaled only Lú34 million, down from Lú119 million a year earlier. Overall cement exports dropped to Lú201 million but recovered to Lú227 million in 1982 as alternative export markets were found. Lebanon's principal cement works in 1982 were situated in the north, away from the fighting around Beirut, so the industry could continue exporting by sea from Tripoli and overland by truck.
In early 1983, when the country's political status showed signs of stabilizing, the Lebanese Cement Company (SociÚtÚ des Ciments Libanaises--SCL) secured a US$36 million syndicated loan to finance a planned US$79.3 million expansion program. Production was expected to increase to 250,000 tons a year, and unit costs were expected to decrease through a change in power supply from oil to coal (with the company running its own generating stations). The reported purchase of a 30- percent stake in the company's parent, Eternit Libanaise, by Prince Abdallah al Faisal, eldest son of the former king of Saudi Arabia, heightened international confidence in the industry's prospects.
But Syria's decision to terminate Lebanese cement imports, the return of instability, and difficulties in finding fresh export markets destroyed prospects for the revival of the cement industry. In July 1983, SCL laid off 300 workers at its Shikka works as it became clear that the industry faced disaster. By the end of 1983, the scope of the disaster was starkly apparent: total cement exports amounted to only Lú27.5 million--an 88- percent drop from the 1982 level.
In the early 1980s, the Jumblatt family established the Siblin Cement Company, building a factory near Sidon to provide cement for the local construction industry. The Siblin plant, built with Romanian technical assistance and with a production capacity of 300,000 tons per year, was formally opened just before the Israeli invasion of June 1982. The plant was badly damaged during the fighting, and it was not until 1986 that work to get the plant back into commission could begin in earnest. A fresh injection of Lú15 million in capital from local entrepreneur Rafiq Hariri made the company Lebanon's largest shareholding venture.
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