In Beirut, “something in us is broken like these windows”

Destruction at an abandoned old apartment in the Karantina district, in Beirut, Lebanon, Saturday, September 5, 2020.

Dalia Khamissy for M Le magazine du Monde

Posted today at 3:03 p.m., updated at 3:23 p.m.

Upon awakening, the images collide in Amine Beitamouni’s head. Every morning, for more than a month, this 31-year-old engineer mentally relives the double explosion at the port of Beirut on August 4. Like hundreds of thousands of Lebanese who shared this collective, indescribable and terrifying experience, which left 192 dead and 6,500 wounded, according to a provisional assessment, he sees himself in a miracle. He still has not digested the shock, the painful feelings he awakened. Something always brings him back there: a wounded man who succumbs, the fire, on September 10, of a warehouse in the port or the simple look of those who have nothing left. “There is a feeling of defeat in the face of a state trying to kill us. There is no more limit: we come to kill you at your place. It is an unequal war. How to heal, to feel safe again? “, he asks.

The explosion hit a country already on its knees, tested since the fall of 2019 by a serious economic and financial crisis, by the deadlock of the protest movement facing a political class clinging to power and by months of confinement due to the pandemic of Covid-19. “It is a narcissistic wound that destroyed the ego of all Lebanese, a collective sadness that we share. These are the streets where we drink, where we go out, where we share our joys. These politicians destroyed our memories, the collective memory of young people who had only a few streets for them in a devastated country. Fear reigns now in Beirut at the sight of the destroyed port, of the black and dark city, without soul. We lost the psychological makeup ”, continues Amine Beitamouni. The catastrophe devastated the rare places of Gemmayzé, Mar Mikhaël or Achrafieh where one could still escape the ambient gloom and find a little of the joie de vivre of Beirut.

Important places of brewing

For fifteen years, cosmopolitan youth had made a cocoon in these historic districts, predominantly Christian. In the Ottoman houses with triple-arched facades and tiled roofs, alongside the shops of old Christian craftsmen and traders and churches have sprouted cafes and restaurants where a bobo clientele meets, galleries and cultural spaces where one finds all of Beirut and bars which, at nightfall, fill up with a crowd of revelers. “These neighborhoods have become places of culture, cosmopolitan and open, filled with creative energies, where Lebanese have found themselves wanting to escape the monochrome aspect of their community and expatriates. This young, multi-confessional population, which is more part of globalization than of confession and exclusion, has mixed with the old and working population ”, describes the architect Fadlallah Dagher, seated in the azure blue house he owns rue Gouraud.

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