- The Media Line - https://themedialine.org -

No Ordinary Life: War, Protests and Assassination Block Normalcy for Lebanon

[Beirut, Lebanon] It comes as little surprise that Rana al-Dania sometimes thinks she has lost her mind. Living through the events that have shaken her country in the past 12 months would be enough to challenge the sanity of the most hardened bystander.

 It all started with Sunni protesters torching the Danish Embassy in Beirut last February, followed by Israel’s July war against Lebanon, and the murder of industry minister Pierre Gemayel in November. And now, about two months after the Shi’ite Hizbullah and its allies started a protest camp in front of the offices of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, a day of sectarian violence has brought the country to the verge of a new civil war.

 “Since the war with Israel I am completely confused about my future,” the 25-year-old daughter of a secular Shi’a says, while running her left hand through her shiny dark hair.


Just a few days ago an uncle, who lives in Australia, suggested she apply for a student’s visa to Australia, another option which doesn’t make things clearer, but only adds to her confusion.


Her two nieces are playing on the floor in front of her. It is Sunday afternoon, and the small living room in the southern Beirut suburb of Dahyyie is filled as it always is at this time of the week. Rana’s oldest sister has come over with her two little daughters, and her younger sister’s fiancé is there, too.


Together with her parents, Rana is sitting around the low wooden table enjoying a glass of juice and some waffles. The only family member missing is Nazih, the youngest of the three children, who is studying for a French exam. On the TV, Donald Duck is squawking.


A harmonious get-together in a southern Beirut suburb, one of the strongholds of the Iranian-backed Hizbullah, one might think.


But this is true only at first glance. Even though the al-Dania’s apartment building wasn’t hit during the 34-day-war, the family order has been severely disturbed.


“All of a sudden all the responsibility rests on my sister and me,” Rana says.


In the first week of the war the supermarket where her father Ali used to work as a butcher was destroyed. The employer refused to give the 51-year-old a new job – he didn’t even receive his wages for July and August.


Since then the family has had to live off the money Rana and her sister, Nada, bring in as Arabic teachers in a small school in central Beirut.


“Before the war our salary was $400 a month, now we are only paid by the hour.”


Overall, only $200 dollars are brought home for the same amount of work as before the war.


“The times when I was able to go to the cinema or buy some new clothes are definitely over,” Rana says, sighing.


Sometimes she just can’t stand the pressure anymore, especially directly after the stressful summer.


On the second day of the war the family fled to relatives in the Bekaa valley, taking just a bunch of clothes with them. Nobody thought the war would last that long. But then, one night of bombing followed the next.


“We only slept during the day, and even then the sound of the fighter jets in the sky wouldn’t stop,” she remembers.


After a week or so she started taking pills to calm her down enough to be able to sleep just a little.


But even after the war ended, no real relief was in sight. Great parts of her neighborhood had been destroyed; the smell of dead bodies and leftover waste was disgusting, she recalls. Even today her mother has to wipe away the dust three times a day after opening the windows.


Thus, leaving the country has become a real option.


“If I am actually able to get the visa for Australia, I think I will go.”


Her uncle lives in Canberra, and all over the country there is a huge Lebanese community which might be able to help out with a job.


“Every time you think the situation is returning to normal, something new happens,” Rana says.


First it was Gemayel’s assassination, followed by the opposition’s protests.


It is not the fear of a new civil war that makes her consider leaving. Even after the January riots she doesn’t believe new long-term sectarian strife will take hold of the country as it did between 1975 and 1990.


“My sister is engaged to a Palestinian, our neighbors are Sunnis. Why should we start shooting at each other?”


Many political analysts are more skeptical than she is. Even Prime Minister Siniora warned: “We are at a dangerous crossroads. Either we are heading for a civil war, or heading for dialogue.”


Already since Gemayel’s murder, soldiers have been patrolling the old Green line which divided the Christian-dominated areas of East Beirut from those of West Beirut during the civil war, just a few blocks from the al-Dania’s small three-room-apartment.


Passing the army patrols on the way to school every day doesn’t make life in Beirut easier. Nor do the political developments. But still, she has doubts about leaving.


“How could I leave my family behind in this environment?” she asks, with concern.


Gemayel’s assassination was the sixth in a series of murders aimed at anti-Syrian politicians and journalists in less than two years.


“If another politician is murdered, we will have an explosion,” she fears. “And personally I feel I’m just losing my mind.”