Mohamad Bazzi

Lebanon's bloody summer

This is the state of Lebanon today: deep sectarian anger that could boil over at any moment. In mixed Beirut neighborhoods, tensions rise between Sunnis and Shiites after each bombing. Tempers flare, small fights get out of hand, people start calling their friends and relatives to come in from other areas to help them and eventually the police have to step in. (A Shiite friend who lives in a mainly Sunni neighborhood told me that for several days after Eido’s killing, he found a broken egg each morning on his car.) And there’s no shortage of bombings to stoke tensions. 

Blowback in Lebanon

Arab regimes and the United States are rushing to shore up Siniora’s government. On January 25, the same day of the bloody protests and curfew in Beirut, Siniora attended a donors conference in Paris, where he received pledges of $7.6 billion in aid and loan guarantees. Some of the funding will go toward reconstruction after last summer’s war, but much of it will be used to make interest payments and refinance Lebanon’s crushing $41 billion public debt. The country’s debt-to-GDP ratio is now about 180 percent—the second-highest in the world (after Malawi). A large proportion of the pledges received at the Paris III conference are tied to unpopular economic reforms that Siniora has vowed to undertake, including raising taxes and privatizing state assets. Most of these measures—such as raising gasoline surcharges and the value-added tax—will most heavily affect Lebanon’s poor and working classes, who are disproportionately Shiite. 

People's Revolt in Lebanon

Ever since Hezbollah and its allies began an open-ended protest against the US-backed government on December 1, Beirut’s gilded downtown—built for wealthy Lebanese and foreign tourists—has become more authentically Lebanese. Where Persian Gulf sheiks once ate sushi, families now sit in abandoned parking lots, having impromptu picnics, the smell of kebabs cooked over coals wafting through the air. Young men lounge on plastic chairs, smoking apple-scented water pipes, and occasionally break out into debke, the Lebanese national dance.