In Beirut, triumph and fear are a 10-minute drive apart

A 10-minute drive from proud Hizbullah-land to Beirut's worried Sunni neighborhoods.

angry in lebanon 88 (photo credit: AP)
angry in lebanon 88
(photo credit: AP)
Samy Mehdi lives in the heart of Dahiya, the Hizbullah complex in southern Beirut, where he owns a cellphone shop. His business isn't bad, earning him a reasonable $700 a month, enough for him and his elderly parents to survive on. When I first met him 10 months ago, he was living temporarily with his brother's family in a nearby neighborhood. His own apartment building had been torn in half by an IDF shell at the start of the war, exactly a year ago, as Israel targeted Hizbullah's command stronghold. Part of the building had been reduced to a pile of rubble, while the other half remained intact, but exposed without walls. I spotted him from the street as he inspected what remained of his balcony. Next to the building a huge gaping hole signalled where another apartment building had once stood. Twelve months later, that hole is still there, although Mehdi and his parents moved back into their home a few weeks ago. There wasn't then, and there isn't now, any utterance of regret over the war. "Hizbullah gave us back our dignity," Mehdi says. "We didn't have it for 50 years - by we I mean the Arab world. It was always defeat, defeat, defeat. That war was the first time we were the victors against the Israelis." Immediately following the war Hizbullah implemented a four-phase plan to reconstruct Dahiya. First, representatives visited every family that had been affected by the war. Those who'd lost their home here were paid $12,000. Those in the South of the country received $10,000. During the second and third phases, Hizbullah paid compensation for partially destroyed buildings and cleared debris off the streets. Now, with the fourth stage underway, its focus is on reconstructing. Mehdi says the money he received helped him rebuild his home to a better state than it was before. "I was always a Hizbullah man and now again they have shown us they really care," he says. "We were able to completely rebuild our home, paint the walls, put in a new bath, a new kitchen. You can trust Hizbullah, you can see they are with the people." Not far away, Ibrahim Naim has opened up a new shop with the $12,000 he received from Hizbullah. His steel store is doing well - much better, he says, than the previous one, destroyed during the war. "During the first weeks after the war I used to go often to where my old shop was and search through the remains," Naim says. "I was able to find some materials that I could bring to my new shop. It's been a year now and that area is still not cleaned up, but I can no longer find things there that are useful to me." After a 10-minute drive from Dahiya, one is enveloped by the Sunni neighborhoods dominated by the family of former prime minister Rafik Hariri. Posters of the assassinated prime minister with his son Saad, now the head of the Future Movement, and a huge clock counting the days since Hariri's death are draped across the main road. Walid Majzob lives on the second floor of a modest apartment building whose walls are still scarred with bullet holes dating back to the country's civil war. "Another civil war will be worse than the first," he says. "The situation in '75 was between Muslim and Christian, now it's between Muslim and Muslim, and Christian and Christian." It's not a new thought he shares with me. It's the fear he's had ever since Hizbullah starting demanding greater government representation, following what it claims was its victory against the IDF last year. "There are many, many people who now support Hizbullah," Majzob says. "I don't. I do not like what Hizbullah did. Why they must start a war for us? But they are getting stronger each day, and if war happens again, nobody here doubts that they will be able to beat the Israelis again. "To tell you the truth," he says, "right now I'm more afraid of the internal situation in the country - the political stalemate between the government and Nasrallah - than any future war with Israel. But make no mistake, there will be another war. It won't happen this month, and maybe not in the next few months. But it's on the cards."