Jabal Mohsen & Bab al-Tabbaneh

Nicholas Blanford confirms the clan-feud rather than politically orchestrated nature of the recent clashes, as well as the salafi aspect in the case of Tripoli that I mentioned in an earlier post: ‘While national political leaders blame their opponents for starting the clashes, most of the recent sporadic outbreaks of fighting in north Lebanon and the Bekaa Valley in the east appear to have been symptoms of old rivalries and localized disputes spinning out of control rather than deliberately orchestrated military campaigns. Take Jabal Mohsen and Tebbaneh – two quarters living cheek by jowl in the center of Tripoli, Lebanon’s second-largest city. The residents of both districts have been feuding since the 1975-90 civil war when they fought on opposite sides. Today, the residents of Jabal Mohsen, who are mainly Alawites, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, are supporters of the opposition led by the militant Shiite Hezbollah. The most popular political party in the Tebbaneh district is the Sunni Future Movement, the largest component of the March 14 parliamentary coalition. But many residents here adhere to the Salafi school of Islam, some of whom believe an ideology that brands Shiites – including Alawites – as apostates.’

Ferry Biedermann, in the Financial Times, discusses the mixed blessings and uncertain future of the economic upturn after the Doha accord – which made shares at the Beirut stock exchange jump up too – and discusses the severe current problems of inflation and price rises: ‘But some warn that Lebanon is now headed even more rapidly for a price crunch as inflation mounts and outside money flows in. Real estate prices in Beirut jumped between 15 and 20 per cent in the weeks immediately following the Doha agreement in May, according to Raja Makarem, a real estate consultant. The accord ended more than a week of fighting between supporters of the western-backed government and the Hizbollah movement and its allies, and pointed a way out of 18 months of political deadlock. Prices have reached some $3,000 per square metre in Beirut and some agents are asking as much as $4,000, even outside the much more expensive downtown area. (…) But even if all goes well, the optimistic trends in both real estate and tourism mask a more complex truth. Large-scale investors, who virtually stopped launching new projects in the country after the war with Israel in 2006, have so far not returned. Mr Makarem, a real estate consultant in Beirut, notes that money from the Gulf and other Arab countries is coming in the form of small-scale private purchases, not large developments. “It will take time before Lebanon can attract big Arab investors again.” The only exception is the country’s small stock market, dominated by the real estate and banking sectors. Foreign investors seem to be confident that the market offers good value. (…) “We don’t have industry that can compete and we don’t have agriculture. We have services,” says [minister of tourism Joe Sarkis]. Much of the activity in tourism and real estate is the result of one of the less favourable developments in recent years: a massive outflow of human capital from the country. Many Lebanese head for jobs abroad, especially in the Gulf countries. In crisis years, such as 2006 and 2007, expatriates have returned on family visits and have even continued to buy real estate. But much more important for the national economy is the money they send back in remittances, now estimated at $7bn annually. While this allows some families to survive, those who do not have relatives abroad or who are not directly employed in the real estate or tourism sectors may experience worsening economic conditions. Concerns about rising prices, food, fuel and, in the real estate sector, making rents and housing unaffordable, are almost unanimous. “We are facing a price explosion,” says Charbel Nahas, an economist. For most wage-earners, this will not be offset by the two-thirds increase in the minimum salary voted through by the outgoing government last month, he says.’

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