“West Beirut” revival


For the past few days, many Lebanese have been using the term “West Beirut” as in easy way to define the mainly Sunni parts of the capital that came under the control of the opposition. The revival of this term is worrying because it conjures up memories of 1980s Beirut, where Christian militias held the east part of town and Muslim ones held the west, making travel between the two nearly impossible. In some ways, that East-West split was recreated thanks to the opposition’s ‘take over the streets with masked gunmen’ strategy. It gave many young Beirutis a taste of those bad old days, including a real “green line” separating the capital’s Christian and Muslim quarters. The picture above is from the Sodeco intersection, which delineates part of the line.

For those who grew up in the early 1990s, the green line was largely a legend of the past; an alien concept to the legions of college students who attend the American universities in West Beirut during the day and then party all night long in the night club districts of Monnot and Gemayze in the Christian areas. But over the past week, that simple act of driving five minutes across town suddenly became a labyrinth of roadblocks and armed men. I made the journey a couple of nights ago and it involved several winding detours and four roadblocks, only one of which was manned by army soldiers. Here’s a picture I took during the day of the biggest roadblock on the highway connecting Hamra (West Beirut) with Tabaris (East Beirut).


Unlike the civil war, the new green line was established following an agreement between Hezbollah and its Christian ally Michel Aoun, who noted recently on television that Christian areas would be sparred from the militants’ hostile takeover of Sunni parts of town. Thus West Beirut was redefined as the conflict zone, the arena for what the opposition called an act of civil disobedience, but what an actuality culminated in a bloody siege of the city under the power of rocket propelled grenades. Last night, the opposition began taking down its roadblocks, in a move they are now celebrating as a successful political pressure tactic on the pro-USA government. But by recreating the green line, they clearly also knew that they were playing with fire. If violence had spilled over into Christian areas—and taken on an added sectarian momentum—clashes could still be raging right now, not only in Beirut, but across the whole country.

Tonight the roadblocks are gone, but the Lebanese are still deeply worried about what tomorrow will bring.

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  1. Well, Shia against Sunni is still sectarian violence. It is just that the sects have changed. As for the rest, well Lebanon has been raped again. It is not the first time, and it is certainly not the last (as long as private armies and mercenaries are allowed to run parts of the country).

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