That’s Saudia Arabia’s King Abdullah in Hamra traffic tonight. Ever since the monarch pledged $3 billion to arm Lebanon’s military, billboards thanking him have popped up all over Beirut.
Near the port:
And that’s him on the massive electronic billboard up ahead in Karantina, though it didn’t come out very well on my phone camera:
These ads are also popping up in Nahr El Mawt, Martyr’s Square and all across the downtown area. But that’s just what I noticed during a normal commute so there are probably dozens more across the city and country.
Now $3 billion is a lot of money and obviously it would be rude not to sound grateful. But who is being thanked here? Clearly the target of these ads is not the King or the Saudi people. By canvasing every nook and cranny of Beirut, the audience is obviously a local one. So is the king being thanked or are the people being told to thank the king? That sounds very Arab spring-like, doesn’t it?
Finally, the blue strap at the bottom of the ad identifies ex-prime minister Saad Hariri’s Future Movement, which is closely tied to Saudi Arabia, as the one paying for the ads. So this means the people being asked to thank not only the king, but also his local ally, a local ally at war with other well-armed local parties that get billions from other countries. So effectively what we have is a kind of arms race between foreign states inside Lebanon. Now is that something to be thankful about?