The smoke rising from Beirut--and the entire country--is from the flaming barricades erected by the opposition in an effort to shut down the country. Bussed in from Hezbollah strongholds in the south, commandos have fanned out across Lebanon to man blockades at crucial intersections. Working since the crack of dawn, they seem to have done a good job. By the time I get out of my apartment at 9 a.m., the only person I see on the street is a bedraggled-looking opposition supporter in designer jeans and a dirty undershirt who leers at me and says, "Welcome to hell."
Many of them have never been to Beirut before--a city they consider the playground of the rich and corrupt. So, to many of them, trashing the city seems to be an end unto itself.
"When Siniora doesn't hear the voice of his people, the people have to attack him," Abdul Karim Sulh, a Hezbollah activist, tells me as he takes a break from stacking tires. "He is corrupt, and we will destroy everything in our path to destroy his government."
"We're also trying to stop American hegemony of Lebanon," pipes in fellow Hezbollah member Mohammad. "We are so happy when American soldiers are killed in Iraq because they are the ones responsible for our deaths here," he says, referring to the tacit American endorsement of Israel's attacks this summer. Mohammad fears that "America is trying to get the Sunnis out of Iraq and the Shia out of Lebanon" in order to create a balance of power in the region--a fear that receives nods of approval from the Hezbollah mob that has gathered around us.
But the closing of major traffic arteries hasn't stopped Beirutis from their well-pampered lifestyles--a resiliency developed during decades of civil war and, more recently, bombardment by Israel. A middle-aged women in a track suit and headband jogs past me, wearing a facemask to ensure that the burnt-tire fumes don't get in the way of her morning run. When Hezbollah shut down the airport road, travelers discarded their vehicles at the barricades and just rolled their suitcases down the highway. And Starbucks, of course, is overflowing with customers.
Ah, Lebanon..., Lebanon.
This represents the third sustained attempt on the part of Hiz'bullah to overthrow the elected regime. It may succeed, but it's hard to take seriously revolutionaries who interrupt their demonstration to tell a reporter, "You are from L.A.? I hate America, but I love Kobe Bryant."