The city of the dead...

Tomorrow will see the start of the parliamentary election in Beirut. (The other parts of the country will vote on the consecutive sundays). The city while feeling relatively empty and calm is full of campaign posters and flags. As all of them are in arabic it is hard to to tell what they advocate but the whole thing seems to be centered on persons anyway. By far the most prominent is the face of the late Rafiq Hariri whose party is now run by his son. There is not a single place in Beirut (and not only central beirut – it seems to be even more extreme in the residential areas) where you could stand and not see his face gleaming down from a building or a wall. There are gigantic banners that mourn his death hanging down from high rises, bleached our rows of din a3 sized posters lining construction site fences, golf carts with his face on the site that offer a free shuttle service in the (Hariri build) central business district, posters with his face and the word truth (both in arabic end english) on them in windows of shops and apartments. Then there are thousands and thousands of pictures showing him and his son: On the election posters of his sons party with the older hariri greyed out in the background, but also on giant lcd screens, in the windows of private cars and businesses and even on the walls of the houses in the village of our hotel.

The city has nothing of the bustling chaotic feeling that i was expecting, people are friendly, but there is a feeling of anticipation in the air. during our walk along the sites of the civil war we are passing a crowd of US secret service agents that protect a restaurant with owerwelming manpower and repeatedly run into small groups of armed soldiers that zig zag through the city in oversized SUVs. There are also the teams of EU election monitors and occasionally small car convoys of Hariri supporters enthusiastically blowing their horns and wielding Lebanese flags (although this hardly has any distinctive quality as everybody and his political party seem to do the same) in support of this son’s party.

We finish our tour at the place of the bomb blast that took Hariri’s life and that of at least 15 others. 3 and a half months after the explosion the place is still cordoned-off and the wrecked surroundings have been left in the same state they were found in after the blast. Apparently a special UN mission will go through all the on site evidence again as nobody trusts the Lebanese authorities to find out who was behind the attack (and no one thinks the UN will be able to do this either). A sole temporary GSM tower extends his makeshift antena masts into the evening sky right next to the fence setting of the area, indicating that this place has seen regular gatherings of huge crowds that apparently needed additional cell phone coverage. Later i am being told that Hariri’s convoy used to be armed with radio frequency blockers that would interrupt all communications when it passed in order to make attacks with radio controlled bombs impossible. Apparently the damage to the frequency spectrum had a much higher priority than the physical damage when it comes to reconstruction.

While mobile phone coverage is excellent, internet coverage seems rather limited. At dinner i am told that internet coverage is rather poor. DSL lines are virtually unknown because they are prohibitivly expensive. the price for set up came down only recently from $2000 to $500. this is the consequence of a quasi monopoly by the national phone company and one mayor ISP (appropriately called ‘Cyberia’ – for which even more appropriately the spellchecker suggests ‘Siberia’) which are both in the hands of the son’s of the son’s of senior politicians. So most people – and also internet cafes – are still on dial up connections.