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French Version

Beirutis voice unease about presidential vacuum

Despite difficulties, corniche denizens predict country will elude civil war

A Sunday stroll along the Corniche under cool autumn skies is an unbending ritual that many Beirutis are reluctant to break, regardless of the volatile political climate.

The numbers of those making the Sunday promenade may be dwindling under the political paralysis gripping the country, but Corniche denizens struck a stoic tone, predicting the country would elude violence in the latest crisis and encouraging the hardy Lebanese to live their lives as before.

The Daily Star went down to the seaside boulevard to gauge the opinions of those who came for their Sunday walk despite the turbulent political atmosphere. Lebanon is not a stranger to political conflict, and the respondents largely said life needs to go on, regardless of the unfolding political drama. The Lebanese are known for unflinchingly maintaining a carefree attitude amid unrest, and many seemed to adhere to this approach under the latest political cloud.

"It's not easy to live under these conditions, especially now with the current state of not having a president, but life needs to continue," said Wissam al-Kurdy.

"There is now a vacuum in the country, and I don't feel comfortable, not with work and not with life in general," he said.

Lebanon's rival political camps - the March 14 ruling coalition and the March 8 opposition - failed to agree on a consensus president, and the office has stood empty since Saturday, when former President Emile Lahoud packed his bags and decamped from Baabda Palace.

The unease expressed by Kurdy was echoed by many others.

"The lack of a president is determining how we go about our lives," said Riad Issa. "There is fear and stress in the streets and no one can deny that."

Mustafa Tarhini voiced a similar view. "Even though we are here and we come and go, the sense of worry does not leave us," Tarhini said.

For Atif Sabagh, living in a nation without a president is like "having a family without a father," he said.

"The night the president stepped down I felt empty," he added. It's an eerie feeling living in a nation without a head."

The apprehension mentioned by those questioned was not as much over the possibility of civil violence, but rather concerning how a new president would affect Lebanon's year-long political stalemate.

All of the respondents said they felt that the outbreak of civil war was unlikely.

"Nothing is going to happen and nothing will happen," said Hajj Youssef Yubani, 73. "Conflict will not erupt, because no one wants it. I have seen the worst times this country has gone through, and I can tell you right now that none of those days will be repeated."

Khazafi Zoubiah offered a similar perspective.

"Everyone here loves one another," Zoubiah said. "Civil war is not on the lips of anyone, because no one wants to speak of it or relive it. Even if there were a civil war, who would it be between? No one is ready for such a thing."

Although those on the Corniche did not foresee the eruption of civil violence in the short term, they all seemed to agree that no peace or progress could be achieved without a head of state. Respondents such as Samira Ibrahim were more concerned about what will happen after a president is chosen.

"My worry is not about how or when they pick a president, but rather what will happen after a new president is picked. Will the next president do worse or better?" Ibrahim asked.

"It is the political tension that is making life hard, not lack of a president" said Kurdy. "If you are going to ask me how life is without a president and then with one, I'm going to tell you the same thing: It was bad before and it is still bad."

For Mohammad Chehayyeb, there can never be a solution given the existing political framework in Lebanon.

"As long as the current system of governance continues to exist, there will be no solution," Chehayyeb said. "This is the reason why conflict repeatedly erupts in Lebanon."

With the thousands of security personnel deployed throughout the capital, it is not easy to escape the tension of the ongoing political impasse, whether through a conversation with friends or flipping through television channels.

But for those who choose to turn their eyes to the sea and enjoy the seemingly endless breezes sweeping in from the Mediterranean, it seemed that serenity was within reach, albeit for only a brief moment.

As Kurdy said, "We come down here to escape news and politics, even if just for a little bit.

Beirut 26-11-2007
The Daily Star

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