Friday, 9 May 2008

Lebanon - a shock to my system

It seems very strange to me that just six weeks ago I was in Beirut and would have mocked anyone who said that the city (indeed, country) was about to descend into what appears to be civil war.

I'm not going to pretend that I saw it coming or anything like that. When I was there (admittedly, only in a tiny patch of the city) I felt free to walk around anywhere I wanted to with no risk. The local economy seemed pretty good and the restaurants, casinos and nightclubs were full.

We walked along the Corniche and came across plenty of soldiers, but I don't think people seriously considered that there might be any need for them.

We were able to have wonderfully interesting discussions about the Arab way of doing things and I learned a heck of a lot. If Lebanon falls back into civil war then I fear that many more countries than this will slip away from liberalism (and, indeed, and form of constitutional politics).

Before I went, the Lib Dem's International Office were anxiously giving me plenty of chances to pull out if I no longer felt able to go. We got special travel insurance that covers civil war and terrorism which I regarded as a bit of a joke. Even more so when I got there.

During the time I was there we went to restaurants, walked the streets and felt completely safe. There were posters of Rafik Hariri (the assassinated President) everywhere and taxi drivers genuinely seemed to love his memory.

Today, according to the BBC, armed shia militants were marching down the street outside the hotel I stayed in and 11 people are reported to have been killed in fighting.

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