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Ras Beirut weighs in on whether Lebanon should be at Annapolis - and whether it will do any good

Most doubt serious progress will result - but feel attending is worth a try

Saturday's announcement that Culture Minister Tarek Mitri would be representing Lebanon at the US-led Annapolis peace summit has been met with a generally positive reaction on the streets of Beirut despite the outspoken opposition of Hizbullah.

There appeared to be wide consensus that Lebanon should attend, but opinions on positive outcomes were more pessimistic.

As soon as the word "Annapolis" was mentioned, many pedestrians on Hamra Street refused to speak on the issue and generally seemed frustrated at being asked for their political views. It seems as if the situation in Lebanon, combined with the general lack of positive movement toward peace in the Middle East, has led citizens down the road of apathy and frustration.

However, a few outspoken citizens on Hamra Street were keen to discuss the issue and their views on Lebanese participation and the possible outcomes of the conference.

Salim Omar, 23 was for Lebanese participation but expected "nothing positive" to emerge from the summit. "I'm pessimistic about everything concerned with the conference except for the fact that there is a small chance it may lead to some progress on a president being appointed for Lebanon."

This pessimistic tone was echoed by Joseph Abu Mrad, 41. He denounced the Annapolis meeting as "unimportant," and commented further that "there is no hope for any results." He said that any solution would happen only "when Israel wants to settle the issue" and that this was not the case at the moment.

Strong skepticism was also in the mind of a seasoned Hamra resident who wished to remain anonymous. He argued that Annapolis would be detrimental to the Palestinian case and that Palestinian and Lebanese issues "should not be mixed." He said international intervention should include "working toward promoting human rights in the region" and not in "furthering the agendas of Bush and the Israelis."

More optimistic views were expressed by Mohammad Hajieh, 21, who argued that Lebanese involvement was very important because "any attempt at finding peace for Lebanon is vital."

Hajieh told The Daily Star that in his opinion, peace attempts may be blocked by "some Arab countries, who have decided before they even attend that the talks will not succeed."

He added that the Lebanese simply want to live in peace "without Syrian occupation and without Iranian influence." Hajieh also added that peace ties with Israel would be beneficial to the nation and to him as a jewel salesman personally. "Peace with Israel would open another avenue for me to trade silver and also I enjoy scuba diving and they have beautiful seas which I would love to visit for this purpose."

Frustration with the political gridlock in Lebanon was a view heard widely. Frida Chehlaoui, 26, commented that she was "tired if the years of emotional yo-yo in Lebanon" and, like many others, had detached herself from the situation.

She voiced views of vague optimism with regard to the Annapolis conference.

"Even though I fear it may be a photo opportunity and a chance for political self-marketing, there may be some progress with regard to the big picture," she said.

Students on Bliss Street near the entrance of the American University of Beirut were more forthcoming, and slightly more optimistic with their views on the conference and the related issues.

Nineteen- year- old Nagham Tabaja was sure that Lebanese participation was vital and, despite the Israeli-Palestinian issue being top of the agenda, she said "today Lebanon is the most important issue" and that time would be found to discuss the issue.

"I really wish there can be some sort of progress to benefit us," she said.

Nagham Noureddine, 21, was quick to point out that because Lebanon has passed through civil war and its consequences, they above everyone know the importance of finding solutions. "Annapolis is critical for us. The Lebanese issue will be discussed and I'm optimistic we can find a way out of our difficulties, at the very least to find some kind of agreement to calm the chaos," he said.

The general feeling of Beirutis was perhaps best encapsulated in the words of 20-year-old Farah Hariri.

"Some say that because Israel is there, we shouldn't be there," she said, "but how else are we expected to express our opinions? Perhaps the conference will not produce much change but we must be there to let the neighboring countries and the international community hear our opinions."

Beirut 27-11-2007
Redaction
The Daily Star



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