Beirut, a city of confused identity

On July 20th at 1:30 p.m., I arrived at the “Hariri International Airport.”  I was very excited to finally visit Beirut, a small but strategic Middle Eastern city that I imagined to be vibrant, full of life, and bursting with young energetic activists engaged in politics. 

Beirut’s narrow roads, historic buildings with intricate architectural details tell stories of bitter memories and a dark past.   The waves of the sea and the mountains remind us of the resilience of the Lebanese.  In half an hour you can go from tanning on the beach, to enjoying the cool breeze on the top of the mountain.  But very quickly you lose focus of the natural beauty as you are sidetracked by the massive amounts of silicon, make-up, expensive cars, and brand names.  I visited Miami about a year ago, and this city has more silicone than Miami, Vegas, and LA combined.  Ok fine, that is an exaggeration, but you get my point.

I respect the Lebanese for loving life and enjoying every moment of it, but enjoying life should not be equated with living a fake life, a life you can’t afford, and more importantly, a life dedicated to pretentiousness.  Beirut reminds me of Hollywood with its materialism, obsession with weight, and plastic surgery.

Of course not all of Beirut is that way.  Beirut varies significantly from place to place.  What you see in Beirut depends on where you are and who you are with.  It almost feels like a city of split personality.  There is a clear dichotomy between various parts of the city.  Old historic war wreckage buildings stand proud next to a large Haifa Wahbe billboard. Downtown is a reminder of wealth and power mixed with desire for western imitation.  Life in the refugee camp is barely life, it is about sorrow and displacement and horrifying memories; and al-dahiya or Southern Beirut is the essence of struggle for freedom.

I searched and searched for the Beirut I imagined, the Beirut of culture, politics, and elegance.  But I found a Beirut that has been branded and sold by the corporate world.  A Beirut with a lost Arab soul with blind Western immitation.

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