April 2, 2007
A sidewalk saxophonist jams with the incessant honking of cars. The nearby cafe trottoir is flooded with fancy coffee drinkers ogling passersby. Dozens of languages and dialects can be overheard, and the ever-present Green Peace activist passionately explains the importance of taking action. To the casual observer, Beirut might seem the same as any cosmopolitan capitol, but behind the calm facade hides one of the most complex political struggles in the world.
Aug. 14, 2006, marked the end of a 34-day-old war between Israel and Lebanon. On an individual and personal level it was just war — the who, why and how long did not matter for after winning the survival battle life goes on at full speed in the chaotic style of Beirut. Compiling a list of all that is wrong with this city shows a million reasons this place should be dead, yet it lives and progresses at a fast pace.
The aftermath of war weighs heavily on the local political scene today here in Beirut as well as across the southern border in Tel Aviv. The outcome of the summer conflict emboldened an opposition movement to move against the sitting government. Originally consisting of the mostly Christian Free Patriotic Movement, the opposition alliance more than doubled in terms of demographic representation with the addition of the Shia parties of Hezbollah and Amal.
Prior to the mass mobilization of people by the opposition forces, the string of unsolved political assassinations claimed another victim. Minister of industry and heir to the Gemmayel political dynasty, 34-year-old Pierre was gunned down in a mob-style hit in broad daylight. Tens of thousands poured into the streets for yet another politician’s funeral.
A week later, on Dec. 1, hundreds of thousands of opposition supporters flooded Central Beirut demanding the current government step down to make way for a more representative national unity government. This massive demonstration was followed nine days later with an even bigger show of popular force that, according to veteran journalist Robert Fisk, drew up to 2 million people, a surreal number considering that Lebanon’s population is just over four million.
The opposition also set up a camp around the government house to host an open-ended sit-in. The camp mushroomed into hundreds of tents that were home to the protestors throughout the winter. The sit-in continues for a fourth consecutive month in an impressive tent city with a backdrop of the luxurious downtown Beirut, a juxtaposition that perfectly exemplifies the dichotomy of Lebanese society.
Despite the massive show of popular discontent, the government was able to stay put albeit in a vegetative state due to regional political developments and their broader international implications. A complex string of international policy issues, from Chinese and Russian reservations towards expanding American influence in the region to Iran’s nuclear standoff, were leveled at the tent-dwelling protestors campaigning for democratic rights and proper representation.