Beirut, once jewel of Mediterranean, now a city of baffling contradictions

WION New Delhi, Delhi, India Aug 05, 2020, 09.52 PM(IST) Edited By: Palki Sharma

Anti-government protest in downtown Beirut, Lebanon. Photograph:( Reuters )

Story highlights

The World Bank predicted that one out of two Lebanese citizens may soon live below the poverty line. The people are angry with the political elite.

Beirut was supposed to be an economic, cultural and political hub of West Asia. But, the city is struggling to rise from its bloody past.

The city of Beirut hides its charm for the night. That is when the nightlife hotspots of the city come to life. The party never stopped in Beirut. Even when the city was torn apart by a bloody civil war in the last century.

The old holiday inn, with bullet holes and battered walls, still stands in the center of the city.

Beirut, once known as the jewel of the Mediterranean, has become a city of baffling contradictions.

From 1952 to 1975, Beirut was a hub of economic, social, intellectual and cultural life in West Asia. Most of the Arab wealth flowed through this city due to country's free economic and foreign exchange system, including a banking-secrecy law.

Beirut is well connected via a seaport and airport. Something that made the city a paradise for businessmen. Also for politicians escaping upheavals and military coups.

It is still seen as one of the most liberal cities in the Arab world.

In the 1970s, the city’s french architecture, cuisine and equal rights for women often sparked comparisons with Paris.

Palestinian resistance organizations took refuge in Beirut. After the Arab-Israeli war of 1967, the city served as the headquarters of the Palestinian movement.

This was after the Palestine Liberation Organization was crushed in Jordan.

Beirut was torn apart by a devastating civil war. For 15 years, two groups fought for control.

The Lebanese right-wing parties backed by the United States and the left-wing parties, who allied with Yasser Arafat and the Soviet Union.

The civil war ended years ago. But, Beirut is still struggling to bounce back. Flawed policies and sudden shocks have pushed Lebanon to its worst economic crisis.

There were major protests last year. In 2019, Lebanon’s poverty rate stood at 33 per cent.

The World Bank predicted that one out of two Lebanese citizens may soon live below the poverty line. The people are angry with the political elite.

Unlike several countries in the Arab world, Lebanon is not dominated by one strong ruler. Leading to a fractured political landscape.

Made worse by a system of quotas. There are 18 officially recognized sects. The Lebanese parliament is half Christian and half Muslim. According to the rules, the prime minister must be a Sunni Muslim and the president a Maronite Christian, while the speaker must be a Shi'ite. 

The sudden shock of the Wuhan virus pandemic has hit Beirut hard.

The people of Lebanon have enjoyed the finer pleasures of life. Even during political upheavals and civil violence.  But -- the prevailing crisis threatens the very existence of the Lebanese way of life.