After three years of back-to-back crises and turmoil, Lebanon is enjoying an air of stability and the nation’s fun-loving people are jumping at the chance to party again. Summer festivals have revved up, tourists are rushing back and restaurants and resorts are packed only months after the nation was in fear and on the brink of civil war.
"We're on fire," Osta Abu Rejaili, mayor of the mountain resort town of Bhamdoun, told Lebanon’s Daily Star. “I've been mayor for 10 years and we haven't seen anything like this.”
Bhamdoun, as much of Lebanon, is crowded with thousands of tourists from Kuwait, Qatar and United Arab Emirates, drawn by its cool summer air and Lebanon’s open lifestyle.
The nation’s summer cultural events are also running again, drawing crowds, uniting the nation’s people and opening discourse.
The lightened and excited spirit became clear in late July when Lebanese-American pop singer Mika performed before a raucous sold out crowd of more than 12,000 in Downtown Beirut’s Martyr’s Square. A few weeks before, thousands of faithful turned out for a joyous ceremony as a papal envoy beatified a Lebanese Christian monk in the square.
The square was the centre of demonstrations and protests throughout the recent turmoil and a centre of political activity for most of the nation’s history. But this summer, cafes around the square are full of men and women dining, drinking and smoking, while traditional musicians entertain.
Mediterranean beaches are packed, and mountain and coastal towns have revived summer festivals often shelved during the troubles. As a testament of the national mood, one village organised a “church-bell-ringing contest”—a test of strength to show who can keep the tower bells tolling longest.
At the small village of Freikeh, hidden in the hills of Mount Lebanon, an impressive line-up of directors, artists and poets made a return to Lebanon’s Freikeh Festival this year. The one month event had been put on hold for the past three years.
The Gulf Arabs, flush with petro-cash, have flooded back to Beirut this summer where the beaches are plentiful, the evenings are cool and the nightlife is robust and liberal.
“Lebanon, or as many people like to call it, ‘the Monte Carlo of the East,’ has special status among Saudis who like to enjoy a Mediterranean climate in a country that speaks their language,” Mohaideb Al-Mohaideb, director of Al-Sarh Tourism Group, told Arab News.
In June and July, the Lebanon Daily Star reported, nearly half-a-million passengers flew into Beirut airport, compared to about 300,000 for the same period last year.
Mohammad Faisal Al-Mutairi, Kuwaiti ambassador to Lebanon, stated that the political stability has attracted more than 40,000 Kuwaitis in the summer of 2008.
“The Lebanese economy is going to witness an increase of 5 percent in the remaining period of 2008,” Al-Mutairi affirmed in a press release. Many Lebanese hope that the tourist inflow from the Gulf is preceding more widespread direct investments from the GCC nations that have benefited other Arab countries. "The petro-dollar has hovered over Lebanon for a long time, and now it is landing and will not leave," Abu Rejaili told the Lebanon Daily Star.