Beirut, Part III

“There is no such thing as local politics here” a Lebanese writer told me. “All politics here are international.”

And when one of its more formidable geo-political neighbors sneezes, Lebanon catches pneumonia.

Everyone when prompted or encouraged talks politics in Beirut. And the one word that kept being used repeatedly to describe the current situation was: fragile.

Trying to work out the current state of Lebanese politics would take at least three different lifetimes. In my days there, I heard constantly about the divide between the Shiites and the Sunnis. The divisions within the Christian community. The fact that the paternal face of the assassinated billionaire Prime Minister, Rafic Baha El Deen Al Harir, still appears on billboards everywhere. The way certain Christians were now allegedly in cahoots with the very radical Islamicists of Hezbollah. The role of the mercurial Walid Jumblatt, the head of the Progressive Socialist Party and the most prominent member of Lebanon’s Druze community, who someone referred to as “a political avant-guardist.” Then there was the effect that all the Syrian refugees were having on the brittle Lebanese body politic. And the Palestinian refugee camps in Beirut, which were considered by everybody to be no-go areas.

As I jotted down the conflicting accounts of the internecine tensions – and the wildly complex allegiances that define the Lebanese political landscape – one of my favorite citations of Freud came to mind: “The narcissism of minor differences.”

Just as another comment – from a reader I met during one of my signings at the Salon du Livre – also stayed with me. When he asked me how I was finding his native city, and I remarked that it was compulsively interesting but with the densest tangle of fealties imaginable, he remarked:

“The thing about all those allegiances is that they’ll probably all change in a few weeks. In Beirut, who you are with, who you are against… it’s a moveable feast…”

TO BE CONTINUED