The Lion in the Room. Or, how to cope during tough times in Beirut.

Beirut is certainly one of the cities where geopolitical processes are most entwined in its everyday life.

A video has just been released, showing the Chase Restaurant in Sassine Square in Beirut, at the moment of the explosion of the car bomb which on Friday 19 October killed General Wissam al Hassan, Head of the intelligence branch of the Lebanese Internal Security Forces.

Video of the moment of the explosion at Sassine Square.

Last Friday, the delicate relationship between Lebanon and neighboring Syria, the attempts to expand the Syrian conflict into Lebanon, and the renewed polarisation of the Lebanese political and sectarian scene since the assassination of Rafiq Hariri in 2005, all materialised in this powerful blast. It came from a car bomb parked in a narrow street between a bank and some residential buildings, adjacent to the lively Sassine Square, the heart of traditional Christian Beirut, but now becoming more and more populated with Shi’a middle class residents.

After the bomb, came the funeral, and after the funeral, came the protest for the government to resign, and for the first time since the Lebanese civil war, the Ottoman-epoch Government building, the Serail, came under violent attack by demonstrators.

There are clear leads connecting this bomb with Syria and the regime of Bashar al-Assad (Assad in Arabic means ‘Lion’). Last Summer, General Al-Hasan ordered the arrest of former minister of information Michel Samaha. Wiretapping and intelligence agents had caught Samaha plotting with the head of the Syrian National Security Bureau Ali al-Mamlouk  to bring explosives into Lebanon and blow up Sunni political exponents.

Yesterday the French foreign minister declared that a Syrian involvement is ‘probable’.

While the geopolitical balance of the region is once more in question after Friday, the everyday geopolitics of Beirut and other polarised cities like Tripoli in the north of the country develop with street protests, burning barricades, shooting, and the resurgence of the lines of contention that remain latent in those areas where the population is politically polarized and more susceptible to being radicalised.

Part of living in Beirut consists of such tough times, when moving around and feeling safe in the city is a continuous negotiation and adaptation of one’s routines and habits.

Among the many coping mechanisms is a user-generated mobile application called Ma2too3a (in arabic: ‘cut’). Created by the CEO of Larochesoft, Mohammad Taha, Ma2too3a works by posting notifications about roads that are cut (ma2too3a) not only because of traffic jams, but above all because of checkpoints, demonstrations, burning tires, shooting and so on. In August 2012, Taha was in talks with the Interior Ministry and fire department in Beirut to have it officially launched and plans were for it to reach the Android market. It is nicely designed and when an event terminates, a red rose appears indicating that the road is free.

The app is the twenty-first century version of the 1970s radio announcers who in Beirut updated the population about the situation in the streets and the position of snipers.

Living through (often very negative) change is part of the everyday life of a city like Beirut. Ma2too3a is the example of dual-use technologies that truly can help cities and communities be resilient in times of conflict.

In the face of the lion in the room.

Sara Fregonese

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