Panic

8 May

Lebanon’s political and security situation is set to deteriorate further, it seems. At work today (I work at a newspaper), there was a noticeable, if quiet, atmosphere of panic. Hizbullah has taken control of Beirut international airport and is setting up protest tents similar to the ones that haunt Down Town, saying they will stay there until the government revokes its plans to crack down on the Shiite political opposition group. Violent clashes between armed pro-government and opposition supporters have been reported throughout the country.

Walking home from work, I was one of very few people out and felt somewhat intimidated by the swarms of young soldiers staring boredly at me, playing with their guns and putting up even more barbed wire around government buildings. On the other hand, there were camerapersons and journalists out in the tens, with foreign correspondents setting up shop on most corners, next to a handily placed tank to provide a good visual backdrop. Once in my neighbourhood, I decided to join the mass hysteria by going panic-food shopping. My dad had done it a few days ago and I had laughed, shrugging off his fatalistic outlook of the political situation. But when I myself arrived at the supermarket it was virtual pandemonium and I began to feel a little tense- the queues of people buying canned goods, bottled water and sanitary towels were absurd. One old man was buying five boxes of hair dye, an odd purchase I thought at a time of potential conflict. But most people were shopping seriously, and in bulk. I got into a fight with an older woman pushing and shoving me out of the way, as everyone was bustling to get to cash registers first. People here seem scared, more than I’ve ever noticed, and are preparing for the worst.

Hassan Nasrallah, head of Hizbullah, is speaking on television at 4pm Lebanon time. His political rival Saad Hariri (of March 14 Coalition and the Sunni, US/Saudi-backed Future movement) is also due to give a news conference today. Almost no one will be on the streets after 4pm and only time will tell what happens after that. So, with little else to do, I’m going to enjoy my current supply of electricity and gas, my water and excess of food while it all lasts, and settle down to watch angry politician after angry politician deliver their verdict on why this tiny country is in the royal mess it is in.

(Picture shows Said Beyrouti of Hizbullah’s Al-Manar TV in confrontation with Lebanese army soldiers. From Menassat article)
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