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Beirut Temporarily Retreats over Coronavirus

Beirut Temporarily Retreats over Coronavirus

Thursday, 19 March, 2020 - 12:45
The so-called Ring Highway in Beirut
Beirut - Chawki Bazih

Neither my generation nor even the generation before us perhaps, has ever been faced with similarly unjust circumstances: For something to suddenly emerge and ravage everything that humans had worked hard to achieve.

Life was not rosy before, we were always on the cusp of war, but what we are now facing is a different enemy, one that forces us to reverse our priorities.

Disputes between sects, classes, generations, political systems and ideologies took a back foot. The panic that this pandemic instills in people stems from a feeling that we are all part of an unfair battle that demands constant vigilance against virtually nothing.

These invisible nanoparticles, however, could be spread by your mother, father, son, daughter, girlfriend or spouse, turning everyone you love into a source of fear. These particles can kill you without having to find a moral or legal justification. Life imitates art in many respects, and we are all protagonist K of the Kafka novel The Trial, tried and hanged without ever knowing what crime he had committed to deserve such a tragic fate. Are we not nameless, ageless and without titles facing this stealthy wolf? Are we not Ks who have not been granted anything but barrels of tyranny and frightening deadly blades of dark belligerent forces? Those who survived both are now facing an even more terrifying and arbitrary enemy.

Beirut, previously known as the “pearl of the east,” has never been stable. After a months-long political earthquake caused by the corrupt sectarian power-sharing confessional system, which has led the country to bankruptcy, the coronavirus emerges. At first, the Lebanese took it very lightly, but it soon forced them to stay at home.

While Beirut’s situation is not the worst, the virus has struck an exhausted city with a weak immunity. It had closed in on itself even before the state of medical emergency was declared and movement on its narrow borders were curtailed. Its neighborhoods are almost deserted, and its streets are traveled by only a few cars, and a few passersby who stare, stunned at the emptiness and silence. Those who dare move around, out of curiosity, to work, or sheer adventurism, interact with one another with extreme and obsessive caution. A sneeze or a cough is enough to potentially incite the same kind of panic that an enemy sonic boom or bomb would cause.

Hamra Street does not look like itself. Most of its establishments and stores are closed and those that are open have no customers. Most of those I came across were either panhandlers or homeless, or they were stockpiling basic goods. The cafes were empty, with most of their intellectuals at home. As for the downtown area, where revolutionaries had gathered, most of its tents were empty.

Sartre’s famous phrase, “Hell is other people”, comes to mind as the city is paralyzed by its residents' fear of everyone they meet and greet. Even beauty is lost in times like these, as it turns into potential for the spread of the virus. However, there is another side to this image, represented by those anonymous soldiers who deliberately volunteer to deter danger from the residents of their capital. These are the many Fida’i doctors and nurses in the health sector. Not having any preference for any identity, ideology, sect, class or age, this pandemic was able to mobilize all social forces to confront it. Once the city succeeds in resecting it, the regime will return to its corruption and the revolution to the streets.

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