In anticipation of the Pope’s visit to Lebanon this week, highways across the country have been shrouded in Pope PR. 
Just about every overpass leading into and out of Beirut has been appropriated:
In many cases, totally eclipsing what would seem to be important big highway signs:
Meanwhile hundreds of billboards across the country have been hired to promote the visit:
                 
                 
Truck-mounted electronic billboards have also been deployed:
                   
And entire buildings have been covered:
                    
Even Volkswagen is promoting the Vatican:
                     
Underscoring the local dimension, many of the spots feature the Pope with the head of Lebanon’s Maronite Church (pictured left): 
 
                          
Pope, Vatican and Lebanese flag banners were also hung up on nearly every light post, reminding us of the visit in 10 meter intervals:
                      

I witnessed the canvasing operation last week, undertaken by about six cars including police and municipal workers:

                         
                                      
But it’s not just the major highways. Even small mountain villages, where the “Pope Mobile” will never venture, have been mobilized.
Including this small town church and square:

As well as its municipality:
                                   
                                     

Private homes too:

Of course flag canvasing is not an innocent exercise nor is it unique to the Pope’s visit. It’s a favorite territorial tactic of Lebanon’s political parties, which I’ve written about here

However the Pope’s visit has been pitched as one to promote peace and coexistence. Hezbollah has welcomed the move and is even hanging up its own Vatican flags.

But there is an obsession in Lebanon with pomp and circumstance, especially when it comes to welcoming foreign visitors, whose temporary stays rarely do anything to impact the country’s myriad of challenges.

I only wish such massive amounts of money and canvassing energy could be spent on local efforts to address Lebanon’s bankrupt social and political systems rather than obsessing over leaving fleeting impressions on visitors.

Over 20 years after the civil war, Lebanon is still plagued by hateful sectarian discrimination reinforced by territorial segregation of the population. Something tells me erecting massive crucifixes every one kilometer along the highway is doing little to help alleviate that:

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Habib Battah
Habib Battah is an investigative journalist and founder of the news site beirutreport.com. Battah has covered Lebanon and the Middle East for over 15 years and teaches journalism and media studies at the American University of Beirut. He is a contributor to Monocle, The Guardian, BBC World, Al Jazeera and others, a former fellow at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford University and two-time recipient of the Samir Kassir Press Freedom Award. Battah's investigative work was recently recognized for outstanding local reporting by the Columbia University Oakes Award for Environmental Reporting. Battah earned a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Texas at Austin and an M.A. in Near East Studies and Journalism from New York University.

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