Saturday, March 04, 2006


There are two distinctive (yet perhaps interrelated) reasons why I chose to make Beirut my first bona fide Middle East weekend trip - the pivotal role it has played in the M.E. turmoil of the last few decades and the reputation it had before that turmoil and has regained since the civil war as the social capital of the Middle East. Beirut did not disappoint on either account, and even exceeded my high expectations. Not only was it a fascinating city to visit, but it is a place I could definitely see myself living - given the right circumstances and political climate. Pics of the trip... here.

Lebanon was given the unfortunate fate of ending up between a rock and a hard place - both literally in Israel/Syria, as well as figuratively in Muslim/West. Basically instead of Syria and Israel fighting directly with each other at the risk of large scale escalation, they have used Lebanon as a playground to test the waters and work to increase their security. For many years the country has been pulled in all directions by over a dozen factions (Christians, Shi'a Muslims, Sunni Muslims, Druze, Palestinians, etc) some of which are purely Lebanese but most of which are controlled by another country. End result of course being the civil war that raged from 1975 to 1990, the end of which coming by most accounts only by the US coming to an agreement with Syria in order to gain their support in the Gulf War, at which time the Syrians were allowed to gain control of the last Christian controlled area within Beirut without threat of Israel attacking the incoming Syrian planes.

The subsequent chapter being Syrian control which ended only last year, and included the assassination of Hafik Hariri which most people think had Syrian involvement because of Hariri becoming increasingly anti-Syrian. The assassination site is still very evident even after over a year since the event, and there is an abundant quantity of pictures of the former PM throughout the city.

The timing of our visit was interesting in that it corresponding with an historic seven day national dialogue in which the leaders of the various factions are sitting down the address the key issues facing Lebanon regarding the assassination investigation, the implementation of UN Resolution 1559 (the departure of Syria), the contested status of current president, and disarmament of the military factions. As a result, there was some serious security in Downtown/Solidere in which the entire area was blocked off by machine gun toting army types. This put a damper on some of our touring, but provided an interesting twist as well. Nothing quite like wandering around the normally crowded but completely empty streets of Solidere, going through pat-down after pat-down as we nosed our way around the area. We somewhat successfully used them as our tour guides, although most spoke only French or Arabic, or just enough English to tell me to stop taking pictures.

How the Beirutis maintain their sanity through everything that's happened over the last 30 years is beyond me. Most seem to just try and enjoy the current peace and hope it will last. However, it doesn't seem to be something that most people are willing to really bet on. Perhaps it's just a matter of taking time to rebuild an entire city, but much of the city is still riddled with the effects of the war. Our taxi driver up to the Beiteddine Palace told us much about his fear of having to once again leave the country in the case of war, but also kept his spirits up with jokes about how Lebanon has many banana plants but that the monkeys all went back to Syria.

As far as the social aspects of Beirut, while it may be a surprise to those in the West there is no doubt that Beirut has the best nightlife in the Middle East (yes better than Dubai) and rivals the world's top cities as well. The vibrant nightlife is due to the passion of the Lebanese, the wide selection of delicious food available, the fantastic and artistic design of many of the restaurants / bars / clubs, the cosmopolitan culture, the stylishness of the people, and the influence of the AUB and LAU universities. It originated in the 60s when Beirut grew into the gateway between Europe and the Middle East when it was dubbed the "Paris of the Middle East". The civil war interrupted to festivities, but in the subsequent 15 years it has redeveloped in the areas of Solidere, Rue Monot, Gemmayzeh, and near AUB in Hamra. Oh and perhaps it's all so lively because the women of Beirut are so beautiful - and believe me they are!


At 11:45 AM GMT+4, Blogger Lulu said...

Habibi, a man after my own heart.
Beirut rocks and you're right, the ladies are HOT HOT HOT!!!!!


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