Lebanon is so radically different from anywhere else in the Middle East and pretty surreal. A small country with only 4 million people, it continues to trudge on despite a 17 year civil war (1975 – 1992), war with Israel in 2006, and tensions with Hezbollah (most recently leading to armed conflict in the north in 2007). So what does that mean? A strong military presence, remnants of the civil war, and every Western luxury you could imagine.
After spending 6 weeks in Syria (in a refugee camp no less!), arriving in Beirut feels like I’m in a different universe. How different is it from Syria?
- Replace all of the donkeys in the streets of Damascus (there are a lot!) with Ferraris.
- Replace hijabs and chadors with Prada and Gucci.
- Replace mud covered shoes with shiny high heels.
- Replace sputtering 1975 Fiat taxis with shiny new Mercedes taxis.
- Replace the rust stains on the walls with bullet holes, which decorate any building over 20 years old.
- Replace pictures of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, with Hezbollah billboards and pictures of Hassan Nasrallah.
- Replace warm, undrinkable local beers with microbrews and $20 cocktails.
- Replace all of the shawerma with….well, shawerma. Its still a Middle Eastern country, after all.
A beautiful sunset over the Mediterranean from a balcony in Beirut.
The Lebanese military maintains a heavy presence in the city, with tanks and machine guns on most corners. Its a really bizarre sight seeing a woman walk past a row of tanks into a Chanel store. This is the best shot I could get before being stopped by the soldiers.
Bullet holes in blown out buildings surround the new expensive apartment buildings.
Bullet holes in concrete walls, a constant reminder of the painful civil war that tore Beirut apart for 17 years.
Abandoned buildings converted into an urban canvas.
One of the thousands of armed checkpoints all across the city. Almost as many as Syria.
The southern suburbs of Beirut are essentially controlled by Hezbollah, with yellow and green flags and billboards on every corner and the streets in these poor suburbs are lined with pictures of dead Hezbollah militants.
In the southern Hezbollah controlled suburbs, there are more soldiers/paramilitary forces than civilians it feels.
Remnants of civil war.
The Holiday Inn, which during the civil war was the site of a major battle between Christian and Muslim forces. The blown out shell of this 20+ story building stands right next brand new multimillion dollar condos, modern steel and glass skyscrapers with fancy one word names.
Beirut is surrounded by water on two sides, and the Corniche, a wide pleasant boardwalk provides a hangout place for young Beirutis.
The Mohammad Al-Amin mosque, built next to the burial site of Rafik Harriri, was built in 2008. Ita huge, shiny, new, clean, and feels like it descended from another world. It feels so magical and out of place, almost like a Disney mosque.
Downtown Beirut is all glitz and glam, and Ferraris are a dime a dozen. I almost got run over by one twice! Porsches, Lamborghinis, Bentleys line the narrow streets of the trendiest neighborhoods as moneyed Beirutis drink and party at bars that rival NYC in exclusivity, with overpriced cocktails, hip sounding names like "Copper" and "Rehab", and lines around the block.