Guns were fired in the air, windows were smashed, and a news van burned in the northern city of Tripoli on Tuesday in the hours before Hezbollah-backed Najib Mikati was appointed as Lebanon’s new prime minister. Sunnis across the country took to the streets in rage.
But the streets of the Hezbollah strongholds of Dahiyeh, Baalbek and South Lebanon have been quiet over the past several days. There were no firework displays, parties or cheers in these communities. And it hasn’t been without cause.
“The mood was of overall happiness, victory, but there was an order from Hezbollah members to keep it calm and be quiet about it,” said Nidal Abou Shaheen, a sociologist and economist who lives in the Bir Hassan neighborhood of Dahiyeh. “They were told not to carry out any activity manifesting joy, and not to go near Beirut at all.”
In the Amal-dominated area of Barbour, resident Sanaa al-Jaque said things have been unusually quiet after six p.m. “Amal security members have spread around, especially after the burning tires incident,” Jaque said of Tuesday afternoon’s protests in which groups of former PM Saad Hariri’s supporters lit tires and garbage cans on fire in protest of Mikati’s appointment. “After that the situation has been very quiet – scary quiet – and this was not how it was here before.”
A group of men sitting inside a lighting store on the outskirts of Hay al-Lija, a Shia neighborhood just south of downtown Beirut, said the area has gone back to a feeling of unexpressed tension between them and their Sunni neighbors living just up the street.
“We are thinking of getting rice and throwing it on the Israelis when they come,” one man said, expressing his frustration with the unsettled tension between Lebanon’s Sunni and Shia communities. He was referencing the Israeli invasion of 1982, when some Lebanese welcomed Israeli soldiers by throwing rice at them, as they saw their presence as a relief in the wake of Palestinian insurgencies. “At least this would get rid of the tension that is around us all the time,” said Mohammad, who gave only his first name.
The appointment of Hezbollah-backed Mikati has been seen by many across the country as a victory for the Iranian- and Syria-backed Hezbollah. The morning headlines of Hezbollah-friendly Al-Ahkbar newspaper called the beginning of Mikati’s term the “end of an era” for Lebanon on Thursday, two days after Hariri was ousted.
“The situation is good,” said 75-year-old Abbas Abbas, a resident of Hay al-Lija. “But we don’t want trouble, so we aren’t celebrating.” At an electrical store down the street, one man said everything has been calm and normal in the neighborhood.
The smell of Turkish coffee grounds mixed with the smoke of Marlboro Reds seeped out the door of a nearby coffee shop. “We didn’t celebrate because there has been too much tension since the collapse of the government,” said Mustapha Naim, 40, who sat in front of his muted television which was switched to Hezbollah’s Al-Manar network.
“There was a kind of pride over the idea that they are stronger,” said activist Lokman Slim, who lives in Dahiyeh. “People were very happy in the sense that okay, we won again. It’s the same sense of happiness in winning a football game.”
He said people in Dahiyeh were glued to their TVs on Tuesday as if watching their team scoring a goal. “People were just in the position of being in front of a huge cinema screen.”
Baalbek, the birthplace of Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement, has been especially calm. “The people here feel that it’s a kind of showing of democracy with what happened,” said Rawan Yaghi, a school teacher in the city, which is known equally for its Roman ruins as for its political and religious dimension. She said on Tuesday people paid little attention to political turmoil and instead spent the day observing the 40th day after Ashura.
“What I’ve seen on TV is something different than what is happening in Baalbek,” Yaghi said. “It’s like a different world. Last night I was out from seven to 12 smoking arguileh. It’s like we are in a part of Lebanon that is still safe for others.”
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