Among the anti-government supporters that have been camping in downtown Beirut for the past two weeks are those that clearly do not fit in the chic-ness and capitalist elitism of their ralllying location. Hezbollah, Amal, and Communist supporters, whose strongholds are in the South, are all piled one on top of the other in the midst of the very symbol the first group in particular has always defied: Beirut. During the civil war and the dynamic reconstruction phase that followed, Beirut was always on the top of the government’s priority list. Beirut became the norm and outside Beirut became mere relative location points from the prestigious capital. Lebanon became Beirut.
It is therefore quite interesting to note how these territorial and symbolic claims have, to a certain extent, switched ownership. Although the government remains strong and firm in their grip over the Grand Serail, which is located in the middle of the downtown area, the streets have been seized mainly by non-Beirutis and non-upper class civilians. Meanwhile, the March 14 forces have held pro-government demonstrations in Tripoli last week, and yesterday in the Chouf, to pronounce their allegiance to Seniora. These civilians, who are higher up the social strata than those of Hezbollah have been forced out of the Beiruti symbol of materialism to the Mamluk features of Tripoli and the rural Cedar landscape of the Chouf.
I was talking this morning with a former member of Amal and former supporter of the March 8 movement. He was explaining to me how all of his friends have been spending thee past couple of weeks downtown hanging out around their tents and smoking arguileh most of the day. I asked him if he knew of any interesting details or stories. He told me that some entrepreneurs are taking advantage of their presence in the downtown area and have opened delivery shops for arguileh, manouches and lebanese mezza in Nazlit Sahyoun (Damascus Road which connects Sodeco Square with Downtown). The demonstrators can now order arguileh to their tent and payment takes place in one of two ways: either they pay for the service and then give the delivery person an ID which guarantees they return the arguileh, or, they pay for the service and pay an additional 15 000 LL deposit which they get refunded once they return the arguileh.
This former Amal member also informed me of the social incentive for many of the supporters to be present in Downtown. Groups of women go down because they know it is a place where groups of men with similar political and social views are there as well. Likewise, groups of men are going down knowing that it is an opportunity to meet women. However, given that Hezbollah political party organizers are present, no sexual activities have taken place and interaction between men and women have been limited to appropriate socializing.