Beautifully crafted renovations, new and attractive towers, and carfully preserved, well-presented antiquities are all on display in Lebanon. From the Saida souk to the new shops on Beirut’s Corniche, everything is clean and much functions well. Conversations with cosmopolitan Christians, Muslims and Druze all have an undertone of energy and forward thinking. The Arab Spring is definitely in the air. As a Muslim woman said to me, “Even if there are many difficult times ahead, now we can speak out loud. Even here in Beirut you used to feel that you needed to watch out, that someone could be listening. It is amazing to watch the people in Syria who say, ‘Use my name. I don’t care.’”
Walking through the old city of Saida, I peeked into a mosque. A shopkeeper across the street said, “Please go in! Take pictures!” He helped the women with me cover themselves appropriately. As we were leaving, an older gentleman came into pray. When he found out we were from the U.S. he said, “America, my friend! America, mother of all nations!” His son lives in Houston, and he was so welcoming. In entering another mosque in Beirut a man did ask a guard why he was letting in non-Muslims, but the guard stood his ground and admitted us.
The streets of Beirut are alive with people, restaurant rows in both the Muslim and Christian quarters of the city draw people of all faiths, and political debate is evident in posters and flags of different groups. Friends in construction are building, though they are holding back on very large investments until the situation in Syria settles.
Reading the papers shows plenty of issues to be concerned about, and the tragic events in Syria could easily spill over into Lebanon. Nonetheless, the spirit of the country is strongly positive.