Beirut: Where beauty and violence intersect
Once crowned as the Paris of the East, Beirut has gone through much turmoil in the past decades. Despite all the war, chaos and violence, tourism continues to this day to be a major source of revenue for the city in particular, and the country in general
A large number of cities have been called "Paris of the East" at different points in time. Some of those may make one's head spin. Kabul in Afghanistan, Lahore in Pakistan, Manila in the Philippines… the list is long. Among these cities, one was probably more deserving of the crown than the others- Beirut, the capital of Lebanon.
On Tuesday, a large explosion rocked the city of Beirut, killing dozens and injuring thousands. A warehouse - full of ammonium nitrate was the source of the explosion. Exactly what triggered the explosion is still unknown. Accidents happen to unsafely stored flammable and explosive materials all the time. But immediately after the event, fingers were pointed at Israel, which Israeli authorities denied. Even the US President Donald Trump said the explosion appeared to be a "terrible attack." A couple of other conspiracy theories took no time to surface, all thanks to the bloody history of the country.
A sabotage or not, Beirut port explosion confirms how unsafe the city is now. It also summons many memories of the country, particularly of the city once touted as Paris of the East.
Before the Lebanese Civil War, Beirut was a major tourist destination. Tourists from all over the world gathered for its rich history, diverse culture, religious harmony, architecture, natural beauty, and last but not the least - tourist amenities.
The tourism industry historically played an important role in Beirut's, and also the country's, economy. Beirut was also called the "party capital of the Arab world."
Lebanon enjoyed relative political stability in the 1960s, riding on which Beirut's tourism and banking sector gained prosperity. Lebanon's economy reached its pinnacle in the mid-1960s.
In 1967, the Six-Day Arab–Israeli War broke out. Although Lebanon took virtually no part in the war, it negatively impacted the country.
After the war, new groups of Palestinian refugees arrived in the country. Palestinian militiamen reunited there. Led by Yasser Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), they began to launch attacks on Israel from southern Lebanon.
As Jordan lost control of the West Bank to Israel in the Six-Day War, many Palestinian fighters, known as fedayeens, had moved to Jordan. But after taking part in the Jordanian Civil War (1970–1971) fedayeens were expelled from Jordan, and they then took shelter in Lebanon. They concentrated on attacking Israeli targets, and later participated in the Lebanese Civil War.
The Civil War, which broke out in 1975, is what led to the collapse and decay of everything in Lebanon, including the tourism industry based in Beirut.
The Lebanese Civil War was both an internal Lebanese affair and a regional conflict involving a host of regional and international actors, including Syria, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), and Israel. The Arab–Israeli conflict, Cold War, the Iranian Revolution, Palestinian struggle for liberation, Arab Nationalism, the Iran–Iraq War, emergence of political Islam- all acted as a catalyst for the civil war.
During 15 years of fighting, at least 90,000 people lost their lives. According to one study, of the 90,000 killed, around 20,000 were kidnapped or disappeared, and assumed dead. Nearly 100,000 were badly injured, and close to a million people, meaning two-thirds of the Lebanese population, were displaced.
In addition, much of Lebanon's infrastructure was shattered, and Lebanon's reputation as an example of cross-sectarian coexistence in the Arab Middle East was damaged.
In the midst of civil war, in 1982, Israel invaded southern Lebanon, which was used by Palestinian fighters as a launching pad for attacks. At one point, the war-torn country was occupied by Israel, Syria, Palestinian and Christian Lebanese factions. PLO was expelled from Lebanon, and under the chairmanship of Yasser Arafat, it relocated its headquarters to Tripoli in June the same year.
In September, Sheikh Bashir Gemayel, a former Christian militia commander and a pro-Israel president, was assassinated. Following the assassination of Gemayel, Israel's hope of neutralising the Lebanese front faded away.
Although the civil war ended in 1990, periodic rounds of violent conflicts have been plaguing Lebanon since then. The killing of former Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri in 2005 rocked Lebanon again. Hariri served as a prime minister for two terms, and had resigned just a year before his assassination. He was credited for the reconstruction of the country after its bloody civil war.
In 2006, another war broke out between Hizbullah and Israel. Also known as second Lebanon-Israel War, some consider it the first Iran–Israel proxy conflict because of Iranian military support to Hizbullah. The war continued until an UN-brokered ceasefire in the same year.
Political instability in the country continues to create a sense of an unfinished war that still ravages Lebanon. The continued presence of The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), a peacekeeping mission established in 1978 based on UN Security Council resolutions, only reconfirms that sense.
In Tuesday's Beirut explosion, at least 21 members of a Bangladesh Navy warship were injured. BNS Bijoy, anchored at the Beirut port, is working with UNIFIL as a member of Multinational Maritime Taskforce in Mediterranean Sea.
Once crowned as the Paris of the East, Beirut has gone through much turmoil in the past decades. Despite all the war, chaos and violence, tourism continues to this day to be a major source of revenue for the city in particular, and the country in general.
According to several global magazines and newspapers like New York Times, The Guardian, Travel + Leisure magazine, Beirut was ranked among the top tourist destinations in the world over the past two decades. In 2012, about half of Beirut's tourists came from the West.
Although the economy of the country is not doing good at all, the city of Beirut was back on track toward flourishing into a cultural hub again.
In recent times, some countries frequently placed Beirut on their travel warning lists due to car bombings and political violence.
Tuesday's explosion, especially if found to be an act of terror or sabotage, will certainly affect the city's ambition to reclaim its image as a Paris of the East.