Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Lebanon - South

Well, you are probably now thinking that I must have some sick fascination with war-torn countries because I keep ending up in them. I am just going around the world and that is where I end up. I am more inclined to think that it suggests a problem with the world and not with me.....
I don't really know what to tell you about Lebanon. You probably already think you know. It's history has been all over the news for a long, long time. It was a French colony after the Ottoman empire was split along with Syria. Syria never really did like the idea of Lebanon being a separate country and has meddled ever since. The politics of Lebanon has always been extremely messed up. Even now when I ask them about it they say "Forget it, you will never understand, we still don't ourselves". From what I can tell, Lebanon has always had a huge religious diversity and rather than embrace it, it has always been a destructive influence. "Democracy" here means voting for a party along religious sect lines and always has. There simply cannot be another way. The constitution says that the president must be a Maronite Christian (there are or used to be a lot of Christians here), the prime minister a Sunni Muslim, the deputy prime minister a Greek Orthodox, and the speaker of parliament a Shiite Muslim. It's that messed up, especially since the population ratios of each sect has totally changed since the agreement was made. Christians are no longer the majority and probably don't deserve to have the presidency.
I better not need to remind you of the Israel-Lebanon war this past summer, in which Hezbollah was the target in southern Lebanon and certain suburbs of Beirut. Actually one could argue that they effectively control a large portion of the country now. You see pictures of the leader everywhere, especially in the south. There were demonstrations, strikes and riots here recently as well. There is currently a large "tent city" set up in Beirut of pro-Hezbollah protesters (though I have heard that it is actually Hezbollah footing the bill to import homeless people from around the country and give them tents and pay them to stay there to make it look like more people care). I just finished reading a book written by an ex-navy SEAL about his time in Beirut during the 80's so it is interesting being here now.
The weather has been crap so far with thunder and heavy rain mostly so haven't done much. Saw a little of Beirut. It definately has seen some rough days. Imagine a very large Mostar, Bosnia with tons and tons of shot up buildings, empty building shells, the odd burnt out car (from last week) and construction everywhere. Tons of military scattered about the city as well. It's hard to take pictures because so much is "sensitive" as they'll have a few soldiers and an armoured vehicle sitting at major intersections, under bridges and in front of major buildings.
The retarded thing is that the Lebanese are known for their snobbish attitude (for the region), wealth, beauty, culture and liberal thinking. But they just can't help but destroy themselves too. The president runs around begging for foreign aid, while the prices here are pushing those at home and I haven't seen so many brand new expensive cars in a very long time. Lebanon is also second in the world for plastic surgery. It is all about image. They have street lights at major intersections but don't turn them on so people go in all directions at once. In India this is ok but honestly, Beirut looks like home so you would expect a lot more order. The scenery is great, with 2 mountain ranges running the length of the country north to south. Combine that with the ocean on the other end and it could be home.
Today we finally had decent weather so went south to Tyr of all places. It is only 20km from the Israeli border and I was expecting it to look like judgement day. The villages inland more are supposed to be totally trashed but it isn't possible to get out there. But it didn't look too bad at all in Tyr. It was pretty quiet and tame actually. People were nice, there are Roman ruins, a quiet fishing harbour and decent looking beaches. On the way back we stopped in Sidon to see a ruined crusader castle and a beautiful sunset. Of course on the main highways in places there are blown out bridges being rebuilt. I'll be here a few more days.
Ammon

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