On the upside (or not) people in Lebanon seem to be paying less attention to assassinations. In the old days, (early 1990s) shops would close down in mourning and local broadcasters would air classical music for several days following the death of a prominent figure. Not so on Friday. Hours after the massive explosion that killed Captain Eid—now reported to be one of the biggest since the Hariri killing in 2005— Lebanon’s three English language radio stations continued to pump out a an uninterrupted stream of techno and trance hits. Commercials, meanwhile, touted “serious” fashion sales at designer outlets.
The day of bloodshed was also critical for the new Arab television season and thus the Beirut production scene, which hosts most of the region’s major shows. Two multi-million dollar variety programs premiered on Friday night, including Star Academy, a reality talent showcase now its fifth season and a new MBC show, Al Arrab. Both featured elaborate sets occupied by cheery singing and dancing acts and both aired live across the Middle East from studios in Beirut.
The MBC show (pictured above courtesy of MBC) featured Lebanese singing sensation Ragheb Alami, who was asked to reflect on that afternoon’s events during an on-stage interview with the host following his performance. He said he preferred not to “talk politics” simply because “In the Middle East, at least, politics means lying.” But before being whisked back to light-hearted chit chat by the host, Alami did manage to reference Israel as a source of the region’s problems. During a brief intro, the hosts of both shows emphasized that delays had been considered following the assassination but were abandoned for ‘the sake of the Lebanese people.’
The producers of fast food seem to espouse a similar resilience.
Earlier on Friday, walking back from the blast site—and feeling a bit down after spending a couple of hours there— I was beckoned by a giant “whopper” billboard at nearby Burger King. It was only a couple of hundred meters down the road, and the thought of French fries seemed to lift my spirits, slightly.
To my surprise, the place was humming with activity; couples laughing and enjoying lunch, even as 12 satellite trucks and a police squadron converged on the crater site about 2 blocks away. A Kuwaiti family of 9—apparently on vacation—seemed unfazed by the still unfolding chaos outside, paying little attention to the massive crack in the restaurant’s facade (Burger King staff dutifully cordoned off the adjacent tables).
But as I finish typing this post, it seems things have taken a turn for the worse again. There is rioting and gunfire in parts of southern Beirut and the army has just been deployed. The site of raging tire fires and troops aiming M16s crouched behind sand bags is starkly different than Saturday night’s revelry. Less than 24 hours ago, I was invited to Basement, a popular late night spot that packed hundreds of young revelers into the earlier hours of the morning. Crisis or not, getting in without a reservation is virtually impossible.