Monday, November 21, 2011

Beirut with Bodyguards

I've spent the last four days on a Beirut hilltop surrounded by high walls, guards and razor wire.  When looking out over the burned-out shell of the former embassy annex, I can see Beirut's harbor and its beautiful city center in the distance.  I was in the city for dinner on Friday evening, driven in an armored car with body guard. Although there were police and check points everywhere,  I was surprised at how beautiful downtown Beirut is, with elegant shops, an impressive clock tower, several beautiful mosques and churches, and even a synagogue. The French influence on Lebanese fashion and culture is obvious and I can see why it was one called the Paris of the Middle East. Many of the buildings have been restored or constructed since the bombings and the civil wars.  I also walked on the former green line which dividing the city during that time.
View of Beirut Hills

Beirut's Old City After Dark

Unfortunately, the name Beirut immediately brings to mind the 1983 bombings at the American and French embassies and the US Marine Corps Barracks. The US Embassy Annex was bombed 17 months later in 1984. A colleague from my first foreign service posting in Yaounde was killed in the annex bombing.  Ken Welch was with the Defense Attache' Office in Cameroon and was transferred to Beirut shortly before his death. His name is among many on a memorial at the Beirut embassy as well as on an online memorial (  When I asked a senior Lebanese associate whether he had known Ken, he told me that they had been on the phone together at the time of the attack. He had immediately gone to Ken's office and saw that he was dying. In addition to the Marines and many other Americans, several loyal Lebanese embassy employees also lost their lives in the three bombings. The father of this Lebanese colleague worked at the French Embassy and was killed in the bombing there. He saw the remains of his recently deceased father that evening on the TV news.  Despite his tragic personal experiences, he is optimistic that Lebanon will remain peaceful during the foreseeable future. All elements of Lebanese society, including Hezbollah, are represented in the government and in his opinion, no one wants further civil war.  While the parties often disagree on issues, he believes they are all determined to preserve peace. Following are a few links related to the bombings and the Civil War:

and here are a few links on Lebanese politics and government:

Despite Beirut's tragic history over the past 30 years, European and Arab tourists still visit Lebanon.  Beirut and the ancient ruins of Balbec are the primary draws.

I will be leaving Beirut tomorrow to return home for Thanksgiving. I would love to come back to visit Baalbek.

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