18 October 2006

Don't rule out the Lebanon

A significant part of my electronic and physical post, comes from regular sources - daily or weekly updates, newsletters, press releases, etc.

One specialist Travel PR, Nick Redmayne, sends journalists a weekly batch of press releases about his client companies which he prefaces in his covering email with a few idiosyncratic thoughts - often amusing, usually (rather like a blog) little vignettes on what he personally has been up to in the last few days, and always with his suggested 'website of the week'.

They are fun, and I suspect most of his recipients enjoy reading them. This week's was thought-provoking and since it doesn't mention any of his clients and it isn't a blog or on a site that I can link to, I've asked him if I can reproduce it here...


I've just returned from a few days in one the Mediterranean's most fashionable cities, where the hotels are top notch, restaurants excel and cafes, bars and nightclubs, amongst the world's funkiest, are filled by possibly the chicest and most civilised party crowd I've experienced. Where is this Shangri-la of sophistication? Beirut of course, that recent target of high explosive ordnance supposedly smarter than the average bomb, and redoubt of those Islamophilic good-time guys, Hezbollah. Here in the UK the overriding impression is that Lebanon fell off the wagon of peace yet again, careering into the 'last chance saloon' of Middle East politics and, in an uncertain progress, spilled the pint of its most belligerent neighbour, Israel. The rest is 34 days of history that have cost Lebanon 20 years of progress.

However, as with all things Middle Eastern the reality is more complicated. From Beirut 'downtown' the scene is not of rubble-strewn streets patrolled by chanting mobs, rather a stylish city's showcase redevelopment frequented by the country's 'beautiful people'. Even during Ramadan, other areas of the capital are more alive than ever, from the coffee shops of Gemayzeh and the bars of Achrafieh's Monnot Street to the city's many and several hedonistic night clubs, all are thronging with an affluent Lebanese-only crowd.

In contrast, the population in the southern suburb of Harat Hreik, targeted by Israeli, has suffered. Areas around the al-Manar TV studios, and other Hezbollah-associated structures have been razed below the ground. In many instances buildings not directly hit have been and so badly damaged that demolition is the only answer. Bridges, including the highest in the Middle East, have been destroyed and though traffic finds a way through, snarl-ups are unavoidable. Along the coast, treacly oil spilled from ruptured storage tanks has left black tide marks around boats, on beaches and in historic harbours. Though the clean-up is well advanced, marine and birdlife has been decimated. In the south of Lebanon cluster bombs ignore the UN ceasefire and fail to discriminate between the old, young, unwary and unlucky, maiming and disfiguring all with equal malice.

Lebanon's tourism community remains resilient and waits for confidence to return. In the tourist areas of Byblos and Baalbek, guides and shopkeepers twiddle their worry beads waiting for foreign travellers - no great deluge is forecast anytime soon. FCO travel advice still recommends against all but essential travel.

This week's website of the week is http://yalibnan.com/site/







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