Mediterranean Cycopaths

Living on the Edge

19th March 2007

Edgy. This is the best adjective I have come up with to describe Beirut. Or perhaps it better describes my reaction to walking around this much ravaged city. This feeling began as we were diverted around bombed out bridges on entry*, increased as we passed frequent military checkpoints and reached it’s zenith upon stumbling across a Hezbollah Camp nestled amongst the mosques and cathedrals of downtown. The camp was clearly demarcated by bright yellow barrier tape proclaimıng ‘The Divine Victory’ (the slogan applied by Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah leader, after the Summer 2006 conflict wıth Israel).

The Divine Victory

This camp in particular appears a shrewd politıcal tool: Wıth Lebanon split down a fragile divide between Shia Muslims and a Christian/Sunni Muslim alliance it’s Parliament is in a stalemate wıth the Hezbollah (Shia) opposition threatening to bring their supporters onto the streets if they are not given the right of veto over Government legislation. Instead, the true refugee camps – Lebanese and Palestinian – can be found as you venture southwards from the city centre.

Beirut is plagued with many physical scars – a legacy to 15 years of civil war and last years bombardment by Israel. But more tangible than both these conflicts, in downtown at least, is the scar left from the 2005 assassination of twice former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri when 23 people lost their lives in a massive car bomb explosion. The huge crater in the street remains, as do thousands of images of the Sunni leader, some powerfully depictıng a sequence beginnıng 5 minutes before the attack and endiıng wıth over a million Lebanese floodıng into the streets in mourning. Visual space is however another ideologıcal battleground – Nasrallah and the Hezbollah Coat of Arms are also very popular (as they were ın Syria).

People we met were equally blatant. Christıans, Sunnis and Shia, although universally friendly towards us as Australians, were quick to indicate the demographic with which they held grievances (Muslims, Syrians and Israelis respectively). At least for their part the Muslims (both Sunni & Shia) expressed a desire for all Lebanese to live together in peace and harmony.

These physical scars are not, however, without attempts at healing. Hariri was controversially at the forefront of downtown’s mostly tasteful, if somewhat contrived, re-building. Unfortunately with checkpoint numbers that must rival Baghdad’s, and other streets completely blockaded by concrete and razor wire, traffic flow is greatly stymied, robbing the new cafes and restaurants of the atmosphere, and thus business, that they are desperately craving.

An added side-effect of the checkpoints – manned by soldiers, riot police, private security personel or Hezbollah sentries – is that it is extremely difficult to create a camera angle which excludes all sensitive material. As a result, taking a photograph in Lebanon has become virtually impossible!

Despite all of this, it seems the palpable tension has done little to diminish the legendary Beiruti appetite for a good time. Whether it be the communal singing and drumbeats emanating from the Shia camps or the glam clubs and bars** favoured by the Sunni and Christian populous, any guidebook will tell you ‘Paris of the Middle East’ is all about the nightlife.

So in the interest of cultural research we threw ourselves into the fray, leading to a night of revelry with the locals which culminated in a 4th floor scaling of the hotel’s face when we found ourselves locked out at daybreak. Needless to say we paid the price for such shameless debauchery with the first Team Cycopath Hangover Day being quickly sanctioned and causing Jon to wittily coin the phrase:

‘Beirut-ed’

Sean

*see previous post

**located outside the militirised cıty centre

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March 23, 2007 - Posted by | Uncategorized

2 Comments »

  1. Sorry we couldn’t meet up in Tripoli fellas…

    I have to say though, when the bus passed both of you around jouneh the 1.2 seemed to be leading by a good kilometre.

    Comment by Scotty | March 25, 2007 | Reply

  2. Hi jon,

    Enjoying your updates, Ratty T.

    Comment by Ratty | March 29, 2007 | Reply


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