Josh Wood

A journalist's observations on Lebanon and elsewhere

Hot town, summer in the city

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An unidentified fighter takes aim with an RPG in Beirut's Burj Abi Haider neighborhood on August 24, 2010 - photo via AP/LAT

Hot town, summer in the city
Back of my neck getting dirty and gritty
Been down, isn’t it a pity
Doesn’t seem to be a shadow in the city
All around, people looking half dead
Walking on the sidewalk, hotter than a match head

And thus begins The Lovin Spoonful’s 1966 hit song Summer in the City.  It sums up Beirut pretty well right now.

It’s hot.  Very hot.  Power cuts are more frequent than usual and I haven’t even had water in my apartment building for 24 hours now.  Now enter Ramadan to the mix, with lots of people fasting from food, drink and cigarettes for the entire day.  It is one very hot summer in the city in Beirut.

Tempers are flaring.  Residents of south Beirut have been burning tires protesting power cuts all month, leaving the airport road smelling of burned rubber in the mornings.  Even Fatah and Hamas had a rare duel in southern Lebanon the other day at iftar.  But of course, the real indication that people might be a little more touchy than usual was Tuesday night’s clashes between Hezbollah and the previously obscure Association of Islamic Charitable Projects, who seem to prefer to go by their catchier nickname al-Ahbash.

The worst fighting Beirut has seen since Hezbollah’s May 2008 takeover of West Beirut resulted in a few fatalities, including a Hezbollah military commander.  The fighting garnered some heavy attention at the time and spurred fears of renewed sectarian violence in the Lebanese capital as it was Shia fighting Sunnis.

But, now it’s starting to look like the clashes were the result of a fender bender outside an iftar event or an argument over a parking space.  Such seemingly benign events have the potential to explode in Lebanon.  The good news is that all of this looks reactionary.  An argument that got out of hand and resulted in Hezbollah moving in a ton of fighters to counter.  This means that this could well be a one-off event.  And luckily so – as the clashes edged east out of Bourj Abi Haider into Corniche Mazraa and eventually Barbir, they started to get into fault line neighborhoods – areas that have been powder kegs for sectarian strife in Lebanon in the past.  But, nobody else jumped into the fray and things are seemingly calm as of right now.

The Lebanese Armed Forces took their sweet time getting to the clashes – showing up hours late when most of the fighting had stopped.  As usual, they were less-than-enthused to stand in the middle of a gunbattle that Hezbollah was taking part in.  August has been a hot and touchy month in country.  Will have to see if the dropping mercury in the coming months will cool tempers.

On a side note, I’m heading to Egypt tomorrow on a reporting trip for two weeks.  Should be a nice reprieve from a Levantine summer without electricity and now water.


Written by woodenbeirut

August 26, 2010 at 2:02 pm

Posted in Beirut, Hezbollah

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