From tourism to terrorism: welcome to post-Hariri Lebanon!

I still remember that beautiful summer night in the early 2000s; Downtown Beirut was just buzzing with a massive amount of residents, expats and tourists who went out every evening to enjoy fine-dining, shopping, clubbing and/or smoking shishas till the early hours of the morning in the then-newly renovated heart of the Lebanese capital.

So busy was the atmosphere, that I remember that when I sat down with a number of friends (who like me at the time were students in their senior year at university) at a famous Downtown café opposite the headquarters of the pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat, we really had to struggle to get the attention of the waiters who were doing their best to handle the bombardment of orders being thrown at them, mostly by much better-tipping Gulf tourists who didn’t – for obvious reasons – have as much problems as we did in getting attention!

Then, all of a sudden, the musician playing the saxophone by our table stopped playing, everybody stood up and people all around us started clapping and cheering as the late PM Rafiq Hariri emerged holding hands with former French President Jacques Chirac.

Chirac was on an official visit to Lebanon at the time and it seems the late Prime Minister decided to show him first hand the progress made by the Lebanese people, both socially and physically, so he decided to take him out for a walk to experience the lifestyle and infrastructure that he (Hariri) worked so hard to provide for his nation.

There were no bodyguards in sight; there were no weapons and no formalities whatsoever. On the contrary, both leaders casually shook hands with people (Of course, Monsieur Chirac made sure he made an exception when it came to ladies, whom he preferred to kiss, rather than to shake hands with!) as the musician spontaneously decided to play the French national anthem on his saxophone.

PM Hariri was assassinated in a horrific explosion on Feb. 14, 2005, just over two years after that short – but iconic – stroll with Chirac.

Downtown Beirut 2002 AP

Downtown Beirut 2002 AP

A shadow of what it used to be

A decade later, Downtown Beirut is a shadow of what it used to be. Most of the café-restaurants that used to open till the early hours of the morning have gone out of business, while waiters stand outside the doors of the ones that survived almost begging walkers by to come and enjoy a meal, or just a drink.

On the other hand, Lebanon's current security mess, with bombs going off regularly and assassinations becoming as common as hand-shakes, it is unlikely that we will ever see a French president, or any other world leader, strolling by the roads of Beirut without severe protection and arrangements.

Of course, Downtown Beirut is just a microcosm that reflects the overall situation in Lebanon, a country that has slowly lost its soul over the past 10 years.

Since his assassination, Hezbollah – the Iranian-backed militant group accused alongside the Syrian regime of being behind Hariri’s killing – has become the de facto ruler of Lebanon.

Today, this resistance-turned-terrorist group solely decides if Lebanon lives in peace, or dies in pieces. An example of this was when Hezbollah single-handedly drove the whole nation into a war with Israel in the summer of 2006.

Today, this resistance-turned-terrorist group solely decides if Lebanon lives in peace, or dies in pieces. An example of this was when Hezbollah single-handedly drove the whole nation into a war with Israel in the summer of 2006.

Faisal J. Abbas

Hezbollah also pretends to be playing politics up to a certain point, but if the Lebanese government ever decides to question, let alone limit their ability to obtain arms or have their own telecommunications network for example, then they will not hesitate to take over the capital by lethal force as they did in 2008.

Also, against the will of the Lebanese government, Hezbollah interfered in the war in neighboring Syria. Indeed, it didn’t take long for the militia’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, to show his true colors when the situation erupted next door. After having won some respect upon supporting the revolution in Egypt, Nasrallah was fast to portray that what applies to one dictator, doesn’t apply to another, if the other was a fellow Iranian-backed agent that provides his terrorist organization bottomless logistical support.

Nasrallah sent his highly experienced fighters to assist the crumbling Assad army and to kill innocent Syrians, including women and children. Arguably, it was his fighters who contributed the most in aiding the Syrian regime to regain control and remain in power till now.

Hariri assassination Reuters Azakir 2005

Hariri assassination Reuters Azakir 2005

 

From tourism to terrorism

Today, Lebanon – a country with a population of 4.4 million – has more than a million registered Syrian refugees and God knows how many ISIS and other extreme Sunni fighters who are likely to seek revenge from Hezbollah. The country at the moment doesn’t have an agreed-upon head of state, and since the assassination of moderate Rafiq Hariri, the Sunnis of the country have no real leader to turn to (particularly with the absence of Hariri’s son, Saad, who – for security reasons – is in self-imposed exile.)

The country at the moment doesn’t have an agreed-upon head of state, and since the assassination of moderate Rafiq Hariri, the Sunnis of the country as well as moderate Lebanese of all sects have no real leader to turn to (particularly with the absence of Hariri’s son, Saad, who – for security reasons – is in self-imposed exile.)

Poverty and extremism are spreading, tourists are being kidnapped and the nation-wide institutional failure has reached a point that residents don’t even trust that the medicine and food they are consuming hasn’t been tampered with.

However, leave it to Hezbollah – who had the audacity to call the devastating 2006 war which left 1,000 people killed a victory – and they would probably tell you that Lebanon couldn’t be in any better shape!

However, leave it to Hezbollah – who had the audacity to call the devastating 2006 war which left 1,000 people killed a victory – and they would probably tell you that Lebanon couldn’t be in any better shape!

Faisal J. Abbas

In fact, this is exactly what Hezbollah MP Nawwaf Musawi did last week when he said that his party helped transform Lebanon from “a country which took pride in its tourism and business sectors, to one whose citizens celebrate dignity in resistance.”

Of course, the truth is the only thing achieved by Hezbollah over the past decade was that they successfully managed to transform Lebanon from tourism… to terrorism!

 

*For Al Arabiya News’s special coverage of the 10th anniversary of the assassination of Rafiq Hariri, click here.
 

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Faisal J. Abbas is the Editor-in-Chief of Al Arabiya English, he is a renowned blogger and an award-winning journalist. Faisal covered the Middle East extensively working for Future Television of Lebanon and both Al-Hayat and Asharq Al-Awsat pan-Arab dailies. He blogs for The Huffington Post since 2008, and is a recipient of many media awards and a member of the British Society of Authors, National Union of Journalists, the John Adams Society as well as an associate member of the Cambridge Union Society. He can be reached on @FaisalJAbbas on Twitter.

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:45 - GMT 06:45
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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