FEATURE - Beirut Cautiously Optimistic About Future As Capital Picks Up Pieces After Protests

BEIRUT (Pakistan Point News / Sputnik - 13th November, 2019) While the resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri and his cabinet somewhat alleviated nationwide protests, the capital of Beirut still seems to be anticipating further developments, a Sputnik correspondent reported from the city.

Protests in the country started on October 17 over the authorities' intention to introduce a tax on online calls, as well as poor economic conditions and low living standards. The plans for these additional levies eventually being dropped, protesters remained in the streets until Hariri stepped down.

Upon arriving in Beirut early on Tuesday, the correspondent found that the roads to and from the city were unobstructed, despite there being fears to the contrary.

While getting a ride to the city, the taxi driver told the Sputnik reporter that the protests had ended and that the situation had already normalized. Such optimism was shared by a hotel employee, who said the situation in the city was stable.

This stability was evident in many districts of the capital, including the Hamra neighborhood, which is well known for its luxury hotels, commercial centers and nightlife facilities. One could even get the impression that all media reports about the popular unrest in Beirut were exaggerated.

The situation in the heart of the Lebanese capital, however, was different.

Some areas in downtown Beirut were cordoned off by security forces, preventing both locals and tourists from entering. Nejme Square, one of the main sights of Beirut where the Lebanese parliament and iconic clock tower are located was inaccessible to visitors and surrounded by barbed wire. Soldiers patrolling the area failed to clarify when the square would reopen.

The area near the Mohammad Al-Amin Mosque, on the other hand, was accessible to visitors, but security measures had been increased there. Many servicemen and light military vehicles could be seen, and reinforcements continued to arrive in trucks. People were told not to photograph the soldiers and their vehicles, and were asked to delete the pictures if they refused to comply.

The protesters' tent camps were almost empty. Only a small number of activists were still there, but none were being removed. Lebanese flags flew over them, symbolizing the fact that the struggle was not yet over.

Consequences of the recent unrest in this part of the city were all around garbage and broken glass littered the streets, while shops were visibly looted.

The walls of buildings were covered with graffiti that reflected the spirit of the protests. The political messages conveyed through this street art varied from cartoons portraying government officials as detainees to expressions of unity with Chile which itself is engulfed in mass protests to anti-Israeli slogans, to calls for LGBT rights. Surprisingly, many messages were written in English.

While the current situation in downtown Beirut seemed stable, it was clear that no one knew whether the protests would resume in the near future.