Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Stage

I write this on a rainy winter Tuesday in Beirut. Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day for much of the rest of the world, but not for Lebanon. For the Lebanese tomorrow will mark the two year anniversary of the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and a day of incredible passion and activism across the country.
I look out the windows behind me and the mountains to the north and east are shrouded in low, dark clouds revealing only occasional glimpses of steep slopes plunging into the sea that give Beirut so much of its allure. It is probably a good thing that the mountains are hidden for just inside of them two bombs tore through commuter buses, killing several about three hours ago.
Just down the block, Martyr’s Square is a land divided. Just south of Hariri’s great blue-domed mosque, members of Hezbollah pass the days in their camp talking, drinking tea, and playing soccer as part of their two and a half month long sit-in strike against the government. Next to them is the fence. It is a new fence that runs right into the heart of Hariri’s beloved mosque. Built just last week, this fence is a tool to insure peace tomorrow. It is funny how a tall steel wall and two rows of razor wire can be used as tools of peace.
On the other side of the wall is an empty plaza, stretching almost to the sea. In twenty-four hours time hundreds of thousands are expected to flood it to remember their great slain Prime Minister.
So the stage is set. One plaza with two sides, a Hezbollah camp filled with life, a Hariri camp empty but expectant, an ominous wall down the middle, and now, today, the emotional charge that will set the tone.

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