Monday, January 14, 2008
Back in Beirut
I found Beirut much as I left it six months ago—stagnant and uneasy. At night, the army and darak (police in gray camouflage uniforms) patrol Beirut’s abandoned streets; tanks sit idly stationed at every big intersection. R. complains that –since the end of the Nahr el Bared campaign— the army soldiers have started to behave obnoxiously. “It’s gotten to their heads—all the praise. Now they’re behavior is indistinguishable from the darak.” On our third night in Beirut, a soldier menacingly trailed us through the streets as we walked home-- just a foot or so behind us, not a taxi in sight.
Billboards and advertisements tailored to the current woes of the Lebanese line the highway from the airport to Beirut: for the many citizens dependent on remittances from abroad--Western Union pledges to “Send Peace” with your money order. The city’s billboard-scape also boasts USAID’s newest PR campaign—“A gift from the American people to the Lebanese”, as well as a few new entries to the martyr hall of fame. Regal portraits of Army Commander General Michel Suleiman, the unlucky president elect, have been erected under the banner “Our Savior.” Rafiq Hariri has been dead for 1000-and-God-knows how many days, according to the gigantic counter at the entrance to Hamra; my friends joke that they want to erect an additional counter to track how many times the presidential elections have been postponed. Is it 11 or 12 now?
Prices for every day things have gone up; an Almaza beer will cost you 1250 LL, a manaeesh jubneh up to 2000LL, a one bedroom apartment in Rmeil or Jeitawe $400. Narcotic- and alcohol abuse is rampant; on Sunday afternoon the little bars in Gemayze are packed. "I drink because it makes me calm," S. says. "For twenty-five years, I lived in a bomb shelter. Now I'm free and I drink to forget those twenty-five years."
On Tuesday, then, a series of violent incidents down south—a car bomb targeted a UNIFIL vehicle wounding two Irish peacekeepers--hardly upset the routine of most Beirutis. People were preoccupied with the possibility of a surprise visit by George W. Bush. R. called. "Do you know if he's coming or not?" she asked. "How come the shit hits the fan as soon as you arrive in town?" Hezbollah threatened to bus in hundreds of thousands of protesters in the eventuality of a presidential visit, to put him under a "tight siege" but prevent any "assault" against him by Al Qaeda or the likes.
I am writing all this from a café-bar where the house specialty advertised on the menu is a “Sex with the Bartender” cocktail. More soon.
Posted by EDB at 12:00 PM