Dabbous Guest Editorial: Getting Home in Beirut
My View from our Sunni-Beiruti Neighbourhood
Eugène Richard Sensenig-Dabbous
‘For those of you who know Beirut, I drove from my office at the Maronite Catholic Notre Dame University Zouk Mosbeh up the hill from Jounieh) Thursday, via Sassine Square to Sodeco/Damascus Street at the north-western edge of predominantly Eastern Orthodox Achrefieh, on my way home from work. Crossing Bechara El Khoury Avenue (where his statue stands) I wanted to traverse this major metropolitan intersection in order to drive straight towards Basta and ultimately reach Mar Elias Street, which I call home. The police wouldn’t allow me to drive forward and they didn’t have a clue what a resident should do.
So I did what many say was the worst possible thing, I must have had a guardian angel or God was watching over this lost soul; I turned left down Bechara El Khoury Avenue toward Barbir and then took the first available right turn, hoping to drive to the main road above the Salim Slem highway tunnel, which leads to the Sports Centre and the Rafic Hariri International Airport; and of course to the predominantly Shi’ia, Hizbollah controlled, suburban towns called Dahiyeh.
Burning all bridges
I drove right into street fighting in Barbour & Wata Mossaitbe, hardcore Amal territory. Looking up the streets I crossed, as I drove in the direction of Mar Elias Street and Mossaitbe proper, I could see burning tires at both ends of these streets. In this pocket of Shi’ia minority population, an island in a larger Sunni sea of humanity, people looked as scared as everyone I had seen in my neighbourhood, as they were terrorising us the previous Tuesday. I guess in the end it really doesn’t matter “who started it!”
I parked my semi-new, but very dirty Toyota Corolla in front of the Sunni mosque above the Salim Slem highway tunnel; I couldn’t drive into Mossaitbe because guys with yellow scarves were blocking the access roads. So I walked home, past the large Baptist School and the inconspicuous Shi’ia Husseinnyah (prayer centre). Dima wasn’t home; she was out getting the army and local Sunni vigilantes to find me. These young boys are primitively armed with broom sticks and wooden flag poles, baseball bats haven’t caught on yet in this otherwise very trendy country, thank God!
We then gave a young fighter (who turned out to be Shi’ia) my car keys and begged him to go up on his motor scooter and retrieve my car. He came back 10 minutes later, having traversed the various road blocks. As night fell and the curfew was introduced, Dima and I were safe at home and her daughter Farah was at her grandparents, only 5 blocks away, but not within reach because she would have had to cross Mar Elias Street. The Syrian and Palestinian snipers, who many claim have been brought into town by the Ba’ath Party and the Damascus secret service, in order to kill indiscriminately and thus lead us all to another civil war, were shooting at civilians on Mar Elias Street, so you didn’t want to be out on foot either.
What is to be done?
It’s now Saturday morning and we have had a full day of “normality,” i.e. guarded peace or at least no immediate threat of open violence. I have been asking around about what the next step could be, in order that none of the conflicting parties loses face and we can return to our jobs, be with our families and help develop this amazingly thriving country and ensure that it reaches its full potential. Nobody seems to know. Most are still concentrating on the blame game. I guess you can indeed teach young dogs old tricks.
I suggest that those of us who are of good faith and actually care about all the people of this country, concentrate on things that can be dealt with immediately and solved in the foreseeable future. These include 1) a debate on the Draft Election Law of 31 May 2006; 2) a movement to enforce the already existing regulations on quarrying stone, gravel and sand (so closely linked to the re/construction industry); and 3) discussing the social implications of the Paris III agreement for the middle classes and working poor. These three issues are all largely technical and affect the overwhelming majority of the population equally. Let’s allow doing hard work and re-establishing cooperation be the litmus test to determine who really cares about Lebanon. ‘
Greetings from Mossaitbe,
Professor Eugène Richard Sensenig-Dabbous, MA PhD
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