One day you’re outside the country blogging about it, and another you’re on the very soil that torments you, unable to write much. After a horrible trip courtesy of British Airways and BMI, we made it here, sans luggage, exhausted, hungry and sick from humiliation at the hands of Heathrow operators.
Please be patient as we recharge, and prepare for the trip back. The few excursions we made generated mixed emotions. On the one hand, there’s the majesty of geography, sprawling mountains and glorious natural and historical wonders. But on the other, there’s the recklessness of the inhabitants, and the feeling of shame you get when you see it all going to waste. Downtown Beirut looked tired, though the construction efforts continue unabated. In some of the areas that witnessed clashes, giant posters of rival clan leaders mark territories invaded. The faces of Hassan Nasrallah and Nabih Berri are everywhere Amal and Hizbullah planted a flag during the May assault. Their posters are offensive, and so are their politics, which if you care to follow, makes you want to never set foot in the city again.
It’s hard to see Hizbullah’s stronghold over the country when sitting in a downtown café or restaurant. It’s easier to see it on the faces of broken people, especially Beirut residents not affiliated with the Shia militias. How do you go to what used to be your favorite gadget store when it sits in the shadow of a huge Nasrallah banner? How do you carry on co-existing with your Shia neighbors when suspicions are eating you alive? In some of the mixed neighborhoods, there are daily reports of “Hizbullah spies” getting “caught”, and vice versa. All parties now possess lists detailing the political affiliations of inhabitants. Some Shia store owners had to close shop. And some Sunnis are afraid to return to their homes in predominantly Shia neighborhoods.
And the country still has no government, courtesy of Aoun and his backer Hizbullah, which is benefiting from his insistence to have one of the main “sovereignty” ministries—defense or interior. To Aoun, it’s to make up for losing the presidency (as if it was his to own). To Hizbullah, it’s a way to make sure security officials will turn a blind eye to their activities.
And speaking of Hizbullah activities, nothing has changed as far as they are concerned. The Doha agreement may have killed their resistance status, but this doesn’t seem to matter to them. They seem happy with their new status as a terrorist militia, acting directly or through partners, instigating fights and kidnapping people whenever they sense political defeat or smell “treason”. And they continue to create a contiguous Shia territory. Correction: a contiguous Hizbullah territory. Some in my family, who are unaffiliated with Hizbullah, have been offered large sums of money to sell their properties in southern villages. So far, nobody is selling. But one fears the day they start terrorizing them out of their own homes.
In short, it’s bad. It’s always been an existential battle for Hizbullah, and as long as they’re around in this current form, the country has no chance of ever recovering. In the meantime, sedatives, in the form of beach going and barhopping seem to do the trick for a population tired of itself.