x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

In Beirut, new political crisis is greeted with a shrug

Though soldiers patrol for signs of unrest after collapse of Hariri government, streets are thick with joggers and coffee sippers.

BEIRUT // For four decades, Ibrahim Fawaz has watched Lebanon's political struggles and wars unfold from his small stationery shop in central Beirut. As the country was gripped by yet another crisis yesterday following the collapse of the government, the 71-year-old was unfazed.

"I don't think anything much will happen," said Mr Fawaz, originally from Tibneen in the country's south. "I am happy [with the collapse of the government] because I don't think Hariri [the prime minister] was doing anything, everything has become too expensive and life is hard."

While politicians grappled with the fallout from the resignation of 11 cabinet ministers over the UN-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon's investigation into the 2005 assassination of Rafiq Hariri, people across the country waited for signs the crisis would be solved.

Some feared that supporters of the opposing groups would take to the streets in the coming days. Others expressed concern over a protracted political impasse.

"I am angry," said Wissam el Ghali, 35, a courier from the city's Talet al Khayat area. "All the people in Lebanon want peace and now maybe we will lose work. I am angry because of this uncertainty."

On Wednesday night, army patrols roamed the city in anticipation of possible unrest.

Most people, however, appeared to be taking the crisis in stride, which befits a country that has seen more than its fair share of troubles.

Yesterday, the streets were calm and the downtown cafes and restaurants remained busy and as people appeared to simply be going about their lives. Roupen Sulahian, 52, from Meten on the outskirts of the capital, said he had become "accustomed" to dramatic events.

"We were disappointed in our politicians a long time ago, not just now," said Mr Sulahian, who works as an engineer in the Gemmayze area.

"I personally don't think anything major will happen. I think the parties will reach an arrangement - not an agreement, but an arrangement. If there is a catastrophe no one will benefit. Everyone is trying to avoid another war."

For Ali Khamees, from the city's Clemenceau area, the political crisis felt "normal".

"I am 40 years old now - in 1975 it was war, and after came the Israelis. So for us, this is very normal," he said, seated with a friend on Beirut's Corniche strip as joggers ran past and men sunbathed on rocks against a backdrop of snow-capped mountains.

Doha Nassabeih, originally from the Bekaa region but who now lives in the capital with two friends, said their families insisted they leave Beirut and return home on Wednesday night, fearing possible violence.

"But I'm optimistic that nothing will happen. People are more mature now than before. Mostly they have to work and get money to live, to eat and to learn," said Ms Nassabeih, 25, a manager of a restaurant in the Raouche area.