Can Beirut rebuild itself despite the region's turmoil? Just maybe, but it won't be government that does itby Wendell Steavenson / June 16, 2016 / Leave a comment
Published in July 2016 issue of Prospect Magazine
I lived in Beirut 10 years ago. When I returned this spring, I went on long walks through the city to reorient myself. What is going on here? What is happening? What phase of history am I looking at? I tried to feel the pulse of the city, throbbing through the honking traffic, to measure the hopes of the construction cranes on the skyline against the number of army checkpoints. How is it possible, I kept asking my friends, that you guys are apparently—pause for an ironic eyebrow lift—well, a bit, relatively, stable? The horror of the civil war next door in Syria shows no sign of abating; refugees are still coming over the border to join over one million of their displaced compatriots. Beirutis shrugged, laconic. Somehow, they would say, it’s in everyone’s interest (Syrians, Saudis, Iranians, Turks: those power-pushing regimes who play with the country as geopolitical leverage) to keep Lebanon a safe space this week. To invest and recycle cash, buy things and sell things, eat and drink, make deals and negotiate… For the Lebanese I think, sometimes, peace just feels like a period of uncertainty between wars.
In the meantime, the Lebanese do what they have always done: build. My walking tours were parkour, hopscotch, detouring around building sites, dashing across highways with n…