The general problem, which I’ll flesh out in a later post if I have time, is that Hezbollah, Lebanon’s Shi’ite political/military party (hezb-allah means “Party of God” in Arabic) is, as a rule, probably more popular and without a doubt more powerful, than the country’s own army.
About 30 miles south of Beirut, in a city called Saida (Roman name “Sidon”), a radical Sunni cleric named Sheikh Ahmad Assir has been fomenting a lot of trouble and violence, specifically by preaching against Bashar al-Assad and in support of the Syrian rebels. This is obviously a highly complex issue, but the general sentiment in Lebanon, while critical of Assad’s brutality and bitter about Syria’s history of political influence here, is that if Assad falls, Lebanon explodes (into sectarian violence). The country is currently walking a delicate line as far as its nuanced sectarian composition is concerned; few people want to even consider the prospect of what Lebanon (which, while tense, is functioning more-or-less with its typical spirit and affluence) will become if the government falls in Syria.
Anyways, at least in Beirut, the mood, while not pro-Assad persay, is definitively anti-Assir, who is viewed as a trouble-maker fomenting conflict to attract attention. Here’s a local article (and a good news website to follow) describing recent events.
In any case, the neighborhood (al-mintaqat) around AUB is strangely calm (and rich): people drinking beers in bars that spill out onto the streets or cappuccinos in one of a dozen coffee shops that also spill out into the streets between the bars; others shopping for bikinis and headscarves at Express and American Eagle; men and women of all ages lounging in restaurants sipping fruit smoothies or smoking apple-flavored hookahs, peppering their colloquial Lebanese with English and French for emphasis.
A French-American friend of mine from class named Luc – by the way somehow Helin and I both placed into “High Intermediate”…lol that’s a joke but anyway… – goes to LAU (Lebanese American University) and splits his time between the Beirut Campus and the Jebbal (also called Byblos) Campus. I drove up with him and two other friends from class to Jebbal yesterday – it’s about 25-30km north of Beirut, so pretty close – because I wanted to get a look outside of Hamra, and Luc was going to get some stuff from his apartment there anyway.
Jebbal was, sort of like Hamra (and perhaps this is a university town thing), extremely calm. It’s a relaxed and charming beachfront town; upon arrival we met up with Luc’s Armenian friend Artsvin and his Iraqi-Kurdish friend Awwaz and together climbed up the 800-year old Phoenician ruins of the city’s walls, which run along the water, and relaxed over some (surprisingly?) excellent Lebanese beers and fig ice cream. There were plenty of shops open, but somehow the town still struck me as sleepy (perhaps just in contrast to the chaos of Beirut); almost like a beach-front, Lebanese version of Princeton (perhaps that is not simple to imagine but ça va).
So the long and short of it is that I’m safe, everything is calm for the moment, things are tense but the bottom line is that while it is anybody’s guess what’s going to happen here, it certainly will not be happening in Hamra. Additionally, Ramadan starts on July 8 (until August 7), and it’s only getting hotter (90+ degrees on average at the moment and rising). I’m interested to see how the heat combined with the inopportune timing of the Ramadan fast affects Lebanon’s charged socio-political climate. Perhaps tensions will ease for a time?
Anyways, sorry for such a long post; more when I have time!!! (inshallah…but never…)