A happy new year to all, and many apologies for my brief absence from the blogosphere. Judging from the lively discussion taking place in the last post, no one seemed to notice I was gone.
Firstly, I’d like to thank everyone for continuing to read and participate over the past year. I’ve been amazed by the blog’s constantly growing readership, and by the wide-ranging discussions that have developed on a daily basis. According to WordPress, if this blog were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take 13 days of Louvre-esque traffic to generate the number of visitors that we had this past year. And it’s not a quiet crowd that comes shuffling through here each day; the average number of comments per blog post in 2010 was 70! Wow! May 2011 bring even more armchair general-ing and Monday morning quarterbacking. (How many visitors do we need to start selling t-shirts, mugs, and tote bags? Hmmm…)
Ok, back to business. I’ve just returned from three weeks in Beirut. What to report?
- The traffic is awful. Gone are the days when one could exert some semblance of control over one’s comings and goings in Ras Beirut. I literally spent half an hour one day trying to get out of the ABC parking garage in Achrafieh. That’s right: there are even traffic jams underground.
- Hamra is the new Gemmayzeh. Or maybe it’s the old Gemmayzeh and Mar Mikhail is the new Hamra. What do I know?
- The amount of construction going on is a little hard to believe. Walk around Hamra and count the number of luxury high-rises going up. Then leaf through a copy of Middle East Airlines’ in-flight magazine, Cedar Wings, and count the number of advertisements for luxury high-rises. Multiply those two numbers together and you get 10,452 (i.e. the exact number of square kilometers of Lebanese territory). Divide the larger one by the smaller one and you get 18 (i.e. the number of sects in Lebanon). Amazing.
- All that anyone wanted to talk about was Wikileaks and the Hariri investigation. Particularly interesting to me was how jaded everyone I spoke to seemed to be about the Tribunal. For the most part, the pro-haqiqa types have largely lost interest in al-haqiqa and the anti-haqiqa types aren’t penciling in the dates of Nasrallah’s television addresses on their calendars. There is an air of general resignation and a sense that Lebanon is returning (or has already returned) to the state of Syrian-Saudi stewardship that was the rule in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. One minister expressed his doubts to me that Lebanon would even hold parliamentary elections on time in 2013… More on this later.
In the meantime, if you haven’t already read the International Crisis Group’s report on the STL and its potential implications, you can download a PDF copy here. Spoiler alert: according to Peter Harling and co., there are no good solutions to the current standoff. I will have more to say about this, perhaps tomorrow or later this week.