Global News Journal

Beyond the World news headlines

The shadows that lie behind Beirut’s glitzy façade

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Jouneih beachIn downtown Beirut, resurrected from the rubble of the 1975-90 civil war, one is spoilt for choice of smart restaurants, trendy bars and lively clubs. Performances by sexy Lebanese divas and belly dancers contribute generously to Lebanon’s gross domestic product by attracting Gulf Arab tourists enchanted with Lebanese talent and beauty — not necessarily in that order.

There is isn’t a single international designer who has not found his or her way to Beirut’s elegant boutiques and jewellery shops. On the other hand, Lebanese designers such as Elie Saab are dressing Hollywood stars these days.

On the streets of Beirut one can see the latest Mercedes, Jaguars and BMWs jostling with Maseratis and Ferraris, even before they appear in Europe. Appearances aside, Lebanon has one of the best-educated peoples in the Middle East, with its young men and women having a global reach into the worlds of business, banking and academia.

It was comforting to see downtown Beirut teeming again with tourists enjoying the delights the city can offer. Beaches were packed with Beirutis in bikinis and hotels were overbooked with returning visitors who left during the crisis that erupted between the pro-Iranian opposition led by Lebanon’s influential Shi’ite Hezbollah and the U.S.-backed Sunni-led Lebanese government after the assassination in 2005 of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. This crisis has been put on hold following a Qatari-brokered agreement in May.

Is Hezbollah’s gun diplomacy working?

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hezbollah.jpgHezbollah literally rolled out the red carpet to welcome home five prisoners released by Israel in a U.N.-mediated exchange deal. Securing the release of the last five Lebanese held by Israel was a major triumph for the group, which in turn handed over the bodies of two Israeli soldiers captured in a 2006 raid into Israel.

Having achieved a long-held goal, Hezbollah is holding up the exchange as further evidence that its uncompromising, armed approach to dealing with Israel brings results, directly challenging the policies of Arab leaders who have engaged in negotiations or signed peace treaties with the Jewish state. The New York Times called the prisoners’ homecoming a triumph.

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