Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review

Beirut Rising

Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review

Beirut Rising

Article excerpt

"In my opinion, Lebanon is the scene of a historic test that will determine the future of humanity."

-President Ahmadinejad, Iran, July 25, 2006

'Beirut's hopelessness relies upon its resilience. There are those who praise the courage of its people, their valor amid despair, but it is this very capacity for survival, for eternal renewal, that is Beirut's tragedy. If the city were allowed to die - if its airport closed forever, if its imports and exports were frozen, its currency destroyed, if its people gave up - then its war could end."

-Robert Fisk, Pity the Nation

A joke went around Beirut during the summer of 2006, as the taunting and touchbacks between Israel and Lebanon finally set off the spark of war, involving a notoriously swish section of the city called Achrafieh, a neighborhood whose idle doyennes are known for their opulent dress and fondness for facelifts. When Israeli General Dan Halutz, in the throes of an escalating duel of war drums, threatened to "turn Lebanon's clock back twenty years," so the joke goes, it was the best news the women of Achrafieh had heard in decades. Tack on a few more and we'll talk.

As it turns out, the Lebanese may be able to turn back that clock all on their own. Nearly three years have passed since the final ceasefire with Israel was brokered in the Levant, and though the bombing stopped and the bodies were returned, Lebanon's latest in a long line of violent conflicts left the country in a state of suspension, perhaps even reversal. The country's recent spiritual, economic, and political crisis, however, was already in progress when the Israeli tanks rolled in and might be sourced back to the cataclysmic blast that killed former prime minister Rafik Hariri on Valentine's Day 2005. Three years later, evidence of the explosion, which killed twenty-two others and gouged a fifteen-foot crater into the ground, still blights one of Beirut's loveliest spots, its Mediterranean promenade. The stretch of the seaside comiche where Hariri's assassination took place looks only recently repaved; the water mains still regularly erupt, dousing the decimated buildings on either side of the street with Beirut's version of a fire hydrant's jubilant summer spray. One of the more spectacular markers in a city liberally engraved with its history of suffering, Beirut seems both unprepared and unwilling to contend with what the site represents.

That most consequential breed of dreamer-the kind with resources - Hariri symbolized a hope for peace in Lebanon, the seat of his most extravagant dream yet. Having chosen the mountainous, coastal country of his birth as a pseudoretirement destination in the mid-1980s, despite the minor buzz-kill of a raging civil war, in the ensuing decades Hariri threw his sizable financial lot and professional acumen into restoring Lebanon. Derided for the ruthlessness that made him a billionaire and accused of seeking little more than glory - a political parvenu coasting on his fat bankroll and s team rolling charisma - Hariri was a Sunni Muslim, a nouveau Saudi who had left Lebanon to make it big in construction. His tenacity eventually earned him a loyal electoral base, however, and he was elected prime minister twice, from 1992-1998 and 2000-2004.

In 2004, Hariri resigned in protest over a Syrian power play to extend then-president Emile Lahoud's term beyond its legal limit, a move that soured his previously tolerant relations with Syria, Lebanon's neighbor and occupier. There is every indication that at the time of his death Hariri was plotting, with the aggression that won the hearts of his people and assured his death, for the withdrawal of Syrian troops, who had entered Lebanon in 1976, shortly after the onset of the civil war. The Syrian occupation lasted, on and off, for almost thirty years; they finally succumbed to global pressure and left in 2005 - two and half months after Hariri's blood ran through Ain-Mreisse. …

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