Beirut . . . it was once labeled the “Paris of the Middle East.” It was once a destination to look out for. The beaches, the Raouche Corniche, the hotels, the restaurants, the nightlife, the casinos, the glamour . . . it was glamorous.
How do I know? I don’t. I heard stories from my grandparents, from my parents. I saw photos; you know, those before and after photos of what was Beirut and what it became before its restoration; those photos that make you angry at the generations that preceded you; the people that made all the wrong choices and ruined your country. I remember the first time I browsed through the pages of one of those “Beirut – Before & After” books. I believe I was a preteen. I barely understood what war was, but I knew enough to realize that something really bad must have happened to my country. You see, I didn’t grow up here, so I had no clue. My family left because of the war. I didn’t know it then, but that’s why my entire family is rooted abroad; because their country, Lebanon, didn’t have a strong enough foundation to hold any roots. We still came back. I remember passing through a then-broken-down Downtown Beirut on our way home from the airport; it was summer of ’96 and we were visiting for the holidays. I remember asking my mother why the buildings looked like they’d been shot at. She said, “Lebanon went through many years of war.” I asked her who our “enemy” was; I wanted to know who’d been attacking my country for years, to which she responded, “The Lebanese people were fighting against each other.”
I couldn’t comprehend how people could fight long and hard enough to destroy their own country. That wasn’t how I’d pictured Lebanon in my head, or how I portrayed it to my classmates. I was disappointed, angry, but I consoled myself by thinking, “It’s alright. They didn’t know any better. How were they supposed to know it would get this bad?” I was eleven. That was the logic of an eleven year old.
With the new millennium came a new dawn for Beirut; as hard as it was to believe, what looked like a warzone transformed, once again, into a little piece of Paris in our very own country. Were things getting better? For a while, they were. Restaurants, beaches, nightlife hotspots and cultural events filled the country, attracting tourists from everywhere to enjoy this rising city. Lebanese living abroad could barely recognize their country, but were thrilled at the change. New investment opportunities were born for those who would have never considered investing in a shaky Lebanon. With that, new jobs were created. The country started booming and the hype started spreading all the way to summer of 2004, when tourists from every corner filled up the entire country. The city was alive and bursting with energy. We’d hear whispers of so many upcoming projects; franchises and international heavyweights who were planning on opening branches in Lebanon. People were happy. Decades of war and corrupt minds were unable to sink our country. I was three years away from graduating and I was ecstatic; the sky was the limit for all of us.
That was until 2005, when our former PM was assassinated. One politician after the other fell; one bomb after the other exploded; one death after the other; one scare after the other . . . it lasted months. I remember half of my friends and their families left the country. Tourists stopped coming. The country emptied out again. Once again, people were in a state of instability, fear, anxiety and anger. This time, I was in Lebanon. I wasn’t abroad. I didn’t leave. This time I understood very well what was happening and I felt my heart breaking. Was it going to get better, again? I thought people had learned from their mistakes, from those decades of destruction. I was two years away from graduating. My fingers were crossed, but I certainly wasn’t ecstatic anymore. We still managed to find a foolproof system to keep ourselves entertained; by studying patterns. Two bombings couldn’t occur on the same day, so when an unfortunate incident would happen, we’d all get dressed and go out in the same night. We’d all call or text each other, and within minutes, the venue would be packed. Those of you who lived here certainly remember this. Regardless of the problems that were happening, a large segment of the Lebanese population decided that we didn’t want and didn’t care about war. This segment kept Lebanon alive; we continued living and smiling through it all.
A year later, in 2006, war broke out. Everything broke down. Everyone broke down. Those who remained after 2005 made sure to leave at that point. Most of my friends left. Most of my family left. All the decent people that could have made a difference in Lebanon left. I was a year away from graduating; my fingers were no longer crossed. I certainly wasn’t ecstatic. I wasn’t even close to happy. I was angry, and so was everyone else. I started feeling the anger and hopelessness that most had been feeling for decades. They had been feeling it for so long that it had become built into their personalities. What shocked me the most is that everyone wanted to fight. Everyone wanted revenge. No one was really searching or thinking of an effective way to improve things, a logical solution. Despite the unfortunate killings, this large segment of the Lebanese population that didn’t want and didn’t care about war still managed to smile through it all, making the best of the situation. Although it shames me to say, we still went out, we still partied, we still drank and sang our hearts out. The war sucked the life out of Beirut, so we took that “life” elsewhere. We’d go drinking at bars up in the mountains; we’d all be there. We’d dance on rooftops of our friends’ buildings to loud music that still wouldn’t drown the sounds of the fighter jets. We chose to ignore them. We were not being insensitive; we just simply chose to continue living, and by keeping that attitude, we were keeping Lebanon’s spirit alive.
One night, while we were on one of those rooftops, we heard screams. This time, they were happy screams. The war was over.
Even though the war ended, 2007 and 2008 weren’t any better. The country was still experiencing a great political unrest. There was still a chance of war breaking out. Nothing was certain. I had graduated in 2007 and was among the very lucky few to find a great job. Most didn’t; a minority of those stayed here and of course, the majority left.
In 2008, the company I was working for decided to participate in the AUB Annual Job Fair. I tagged along with the HR Manager, also a female, to help interview the hopeful students who were eager to embark on their careers. The country was at yet another critical stage of political unrest. As a result, many booths were empty; those of International corporations that were supposed to send their representatives over to Beirut to scout potential candidates. They all cancelled. Although we received several calls from the office ordering us to leave because we were two girls alone and it wasn’t safe, we refused to. Many others refused to leave as well. How could we? The students looked so desperate and hopeless; it was tragic. After all, they were graduating in months and the empty stalls gave them no sense of optimism or comfort. These people, who represented the future of Lebanon, would end up leaving too. Outside the university gates and all around Beirut, tires were burning and the sound of gunshots echoed across the city. Why were they doing this to their own country, to the citizens of their country? Hadn’t they learned anything from all those years of war? Why would they want to do it all again? As vocal as I am, I was too shocked to utter a vowel. The quarrels eventually subsided, and once again, that large segment of the Lebanese population that didn’t want and didn’t care about war still partied, went to restaurants and events, and filled up the beaches. Photos went up on Facebook and those living abroad were surprised that an unstable Lebanon would look so fun! Nothing could kill that happy spirit. Call it naivety, call it desensitization, call it carelessness, call it optimism, call it denial – whatever it was, it kept Lebanon alive.
Things started looking up in 2009, and although I did eventually leave that year, it was a good year. It was good enough to bring countless new projects, franchises, restaurant and hotel chains, and investments in 2010. If you were here in 2010, you’ll certainly remember how crazy that summer was. It was alive, filled with energy, tourists, Lebanese visiting home. New places kept opening. The bar scene boomed. The restaurant scene started changing drastically to the better. When I returned I was surprised; the transformation – in just months – was unreal! Even the New York Times noticed and featured Beirut as a Go-To destination. Investors were intrigued. Many projects were underway. People were happy; we all were.
In 2011, the transformation continued despite the Arab Spring. The new venues and concepts that opened were countless. Everyone went from saying, “there’s nowhere new to go,” to “there are too many new places to go to,” but that didn’t stop many more from opening. Several nightlife and restaurant hotspots were booming all at once with the newest additions including Beirut Souks, Zaitunay Bay and Downtown’s Uruguay Street. Everything that was put on hold started coming to life. We were all dancing, singing and drinking happily on rooftops; this time without trying to drown the sound of fighter jets. Tourists from new locations came to discover our rising city. Richard Quest from CNN even visited Beirut to feature it on the news channel’s ‘Future Cities.’ Things were improving because of the continuous yet fragile stability, over the course of three years. At this point, we were not just a large segment of the Lebanese population that didn’t want and didn’t care about war; we were all there, and we’d all forgotten about war.
We were all expecting 2012 to be an even better summer. We’ve all been waiting for it for the past year. Families and friends who we haven’t seen in a while were coming. Tourists were coming. Cool new places were opening; this year more than ever. This is why none of us anticipated the events that happened over the past week. We were too busy being happy and hopeful to even imagine that such a mess could break out inside Beirut. While we were moving forward, some hadn’t left the past! We are all angry again. We are all disappointed and anxious. We are all worried and scared. We are all furious! Why were they doing this to their own country, to the citizens of their country? HADN’T THEY LEARNED ANYTHING FROM ALL THOSE YEARS OF WAR? Why would they want to do it all again?! How could an eleven-year-old have more logic than them?!
Yes, you have the right to be angry! Fighting and killing never led to anything good! Such brutalities are medieval, especially when committed against your brothers and sisters, in your own home!
Yes I am angry, but my anger will not allow me to use methods of violence to resolve a conflict! Millions of other Lebanese will agree with me. WE DO NOT WANT WAR! WE HAVE HAD ENOUGH! We have fallen and risen too many times for certain people not to learn! We want peace. We want prosperity. We want stability. I am angry because there are people still pointing fingers and hating others based on prejudice. How can people be knowledgeable and still be prejudiced? How is this solving anything? How are burning tires going to do anything more than destroy the ozone layer? What are roadblocks going to achieve?
I for one refuse to call myself anything other than LEBANESE. I have no religion, no political affiliation; no prejudice. The only thing worth standing up for is the continuity of my country, and the only way for it to prosper is if I continue believing in it even though I’ve had enough! None of us wants another three years of instability or another four decades of destruction. None of us wants to keep falling to prove that we can rise again. We have proven that already way too many times. It’s about time that we all came together with one mindset: WE ARE LEBANESE! We owe nothing to anyone, especially to those who want to harm our country. Those “puppeteers” want us to fight and hate each other. They want to divide us so they can conquer us.
So instead of pointing fingers, I want each of you to ask yourself, “Have I learned nothing from all those years of war?” Do you really want that entire destructive process to happen again? Those before us have already wasted decades and we are paying for their mistakes. Let’s not waste anymore time; let’s not make more mistakes that future generations will spend their lifetime trying to fix. Let’s try to be the generation that fixed what so many before us destroyed.
The BeirutNightLife.com team will continue covering the best of this summer’s events and continue delivering Beirut’s real image and spirit to the world. We’re going to show them that Lebanon is this large segment of people that doesn’t want and doesn’t care about war, and that will never lose hope no matter what; we represent Lebanon because we are the people keeping it alive. Channel your anger the right way. Be angry at the right people. Find the effective solutions. Fear nothing and stay optimistic.
No matter what, we must refuse going to war. This time we know better. This time our children won’t say, “How were they supposed to know it would get this bad?” This time we are all aware and should use our knowledge to Lebanon’s advantage; to our advantage.
Not only do we want another Kickass Beirut Summer, we want a Kickass Beirut for decades and centuries to come! Keep Lebanon alive!
“Fighting for peace is like f***ing for virginity.”