Postcard from Lebanon

Photo by Alex Potter.

Photo by Alex Potter.

Conversation on the streets of Beirut since the bombing in October has a familiar vocabulary, one reminiscent of 2005 when Rafic Hariri was assassinated. The blast that detonated in Ashrafieh, a largely residential and Christian neighborhood in Beirut, killed seven people. Nearly all the victims were civilians, save one: Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hassan of the Internal Security Forces, head of Lebanon’s intelligence service.

Seen as a prominent Sunni leader and vocal opponent of the Syrian regime, it is believed al-Hassan was the main target of the bombing.

Just as crippling as the loss of a security advisor was the instability that shook Lebanon for days afterwards. The tiny Levantine nation has long lived under the shadow of conflict with Israel, a complex relationship with Syria, and its own bewildering array of political parties and religious groups.

In the days after the bombing, Lebanon fell into a state of anxious clashes. Opposition supporters in Beirut, Sidon, and Tripoli blocked roads, burned tires, and vented their anger upon Hezbollah and the Syrian regime.

The funeral of al-Hassan and his driver took place in Martyrs Square, near the grave of former Prime Minister Rafic Hariri. Yet when opposition leaders called for current Prime Minister Nijab Mikati to step down, protesters stormed his headquarters.

What began with sticks and stones ended with rubber bullets and tear gas.

Those protesting in downtown saw the least of the violence as sectarian groups clashed in Tariq al Jedidah neighborhood and the Lebanese army was deployed to stop the snipers in the northern city of Tripoli.

Things settled down after a few days, but only temporarily. In late November, 20 Lebanese fighters who joined the Free Syrian Army were massacred by forces linked to the Syrian regime. The subsequent clashes in Tripoli between Sunni and Alawite neighborhoods left 19 dead over one week. Though the border still stands, it seems Lebanon is being pulled closer yet to Syria’s civil war.

FPIF contributor Alex Potter is a freelance writer and photographer.