Often these days in Lebanon, when you ask anyone about their opinion of the situation, you will get the feeling that the next three days will be decisive, before Thursday that is – this is what is coming from all the news sources. It seems as though it is almost almost a certainty that demonstrations will start any moment, probably Thursday.

Any yet – you don’t feel or see any preparations on the ground for this. The main thing can conclude, then, as you walk the streets of Beirut, is that there is an incredible sense of caution and waiting still for an actual announcement of demonstrations.

The news this morning said that all the logistics for the demonstrations have been finished and that people are only waiting for the start signal – which is still secret. These rumors are paralleling the hectic mediation efforts being carried out by Saudis and Egyptian diplomats. This is a time of bidding, when offers and counter-offers are made before reaching the next step. My personal feeling is that despite all the talk about demonstrations, these may not actually be the next step. I feel that it’s being announced and talked about this much merely as a tactic – a pressure tactic – because demonstrations are a big step to take, and Nasrallah did not mention an exact date in his speech. Demonstrations are a dangerous step to take; they are risky and need to achieve their stated goals in a very short period of time; they depend on masses of people that are largely uncontrollable. Even Nasrallah has acknowledged these dangers. He warned people that if he calls for demonstrations they should not respond to provocations or attacks from the other side, but who is convinced that in such a circumstances people will listen? I went this weekend for a tour of Beirut starting from Dahyeh, in the southern suburbs, and ending in Hamra in West Beirut. In Dahyeh the place was boiling with people and life, there were tons of people on the streets and no feeling of any unusual situation, even in the destroyed area. People were coming and going, shopping and busy with their daily preoccupations. Construction was ongoing and you could find new shops open here and there along streets that had been devastated. People’s mood did not seem to indicate any of the tension that usually precedes troublesome events. I asked some people I know who work in Dahyeh what they made of this rather unusually ‘normal’ situation, but everyone found it hard to explain. One certainty, however, according to one of my acquaintances, was that if Nasrallah called for demonstrations, people in Dahyeh would respond to this call without a doubt. Another person whom I asked to comment on the situation thought for a while and said: “I don’t think that there is going to be a war or troubles, even if they do go out for demonstrations. Really, you don’t see or hear parents telling their sons that they should go to war or support one side against another; this is what used to happen in previous troubles, but now there is none of this incitement .” He also told me that last week a number of owners of destroyed shops and homes were told to gather in a certain place, where they were loaded onto buses and taken elsewhere. The found themselves in another place where Nasrallah suddenly appeared and spoke to them. He did not speak of any troubles; he simply told them that reconstruction would start this coming spring, and that they shouldn’t fear the current situation because nothing was going to happen in the country. Heading toward the center of Beirut was a different matter – it was more obvious in the streets that something was amiss. I mean, the weekend was extraordinarily sunny and warm, and usually there would be hundreds of people out shopping and walking along the sea. And people were coming and going, yes, but not in their usually numbers. And shops were open, but not as many as there should have been. The only explanation for this absence and caution is that people have been following the news intensely and have become fearful of sudden events occurring while they are out. In areas of Beirut where two neighbourhoods with different sects meet – for instance in Mar Elias where you there are Sunnis in one part and Shi’ites in another, you can see posters of the Hariris in the Sunni areas, as well as those of Sinioura (the current prime minister) with the following writing on them: “Remaining, remaining, remaining.” This means, of course, that the Sunnis are saying that the government of Siniora will remain in power and not capitulate to the calls for a unity government. On the other side of the street, in the Shi’ite area, are posters of Berri (the speaker of parliament) and Nasrallah with the following writing on them: “Coming, coming, coming.” This refers to the last war, the coming final victory. Generally, then, people are worried. And this worry is amplified by and reflected in the current security measures being taken. At night, there are army patrols and armored personnel carriers that are deployed at certain crossroads and streets. There is a clear increase in police presence, and you feel that the atmosphere is not conducive to going out at night. You worry about being caught in the middle of some unfortunate matter and you conclude that it is not worth the risk. That is the mood in Beirut these days.

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