Sunday, 30 March 2008

In Beirut

I'm in Beirut for a meeting of the nascent Liberal Arab Network. There are people here from Egypt, Palestine, Morocco, Tunisia, Jordan, Algeria and Lebanon. As with my work in Africa, these parties vary in their levels of electoral strength and experience, but there is a wonderful determination.

Arrived last night wondering what sort of place I was flying in to. Turns out to be a wonderfully modern airport which is the gateway to a very modern city. Ok, so I've only been to the city centre so far, but it all looks typically mediterranean. Lots of coffee bars and ice cream parlours and, being a Saturday night, huge numbers of people on the streets having a good time. The bars and clubs (and coffee shops and casinos) get truly busy after midnight.

The taxi driver who brought me from the airport talked about the political situation here and described the country's three neighbours - Israel, Syria and the sea. He says most Lebanese believe that only the sea is friendly!

We had a dinner tonight as guests of our host party at a very busy and popular local restaurant. Feasted on mezze, grills, very sweet puddings and lots of fruit. I was sat with representatives from three different Egyptian parties. The fact that they compete with each other electorally doesn't seem to worry them here!

The only downside is the fact that everybody smokes. Not just after dinner, but as they eat. And the waiters come round with shishas which people smoke as they eat. One of my colleagues juggled a cigarette, a shisha and his fork.

Pictures of assassinated Prime Minister Rafik Hariri everywhere and Hariri medals are sold by the airline on the plane.

More studied analysis to come. And maybe some pictures.

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