Thursday 19 Jul 2018 | 15:49 | SYDNEY
Thursday 19 Jul 2018 | 15:49 | SYDNEY

Lebanon: A tale of two cities


Rodger Shanahan


5 June 2008 13:08

Well, one city, really. But depending on where you are in Beirut it may as well be two cities or even two planets on occasion. This goes a long way to explain why the political situation is so intractable here and why it is likely to stay that way, with periods of relative calm, until such time as fundamental political reforms are enacted.
While all cities have their socio-economic divides (think Toorak-Broadmeadows or Vaucluse-Blacktown) or ethno/religious divides (Leichhardt-Lakemba for example), none are so marked as in Beirut. In Christian East Beirut, one can take a languid stroll through Francophone Ashrafiyyah and dine in the best restaurants, shop for fine antiques and dance or drink the night away in any number of chic clubs and boutique watering holes. Arabic and French are the lingua franqua of the these streets. Political posters are relatively muted and feature the heroes of the Christian political scene.
Fifteen minutes away the streetscape is entirely different. In the dahiyya (southern Beirut suburbs) lies the centre of Shi'a political activity. The streets are wider and more chaotic, trees give way to concrete and rather than chic villas, large nondescript apartment blocks house the numerically larger Shi'a families. Arabic is the private and street language here. The political posters also change — photos of Hassan Nasrallah are interspersed with those of individual Hizbullah shahid (martyr), along with the occasional diaroma of a Hizbullah fighter or Katyusha rocket in what passes for nature strips.
These two areas are a microcosm of the wider Lebanese political scene — communities living entirely different lives whose sense of their own community bears no resemblance to the that of the other, and consequently their sense of shared Lebanese identity is similarly polarised. Little wonder then that the political system, based on communal identity (and poisoned by external influence), struggles to find a way to advance the national interest.