Friday, August 02, 2013

Lebanon: Third-largest Lebanese city shows signs of recovery after clashes

by Aisha Habli

Sidon, Lebanon – After last month’s clashes between the Lebanese Army and militant Sunni cleric Ahmad Al-Assir in Sidon, the third largest city in Lebanon, which ended with no less than 48 dead and 90 wounded, many members of Lebanon’s parliament have come together to call for co-existence.

Similarly, in Sidon, people are picking up the pieces of our shattered security and reconstructing the areas affected by violent conflict. Many have even come from other parts of the country to assist us.

The Holy Month of Ramadan is an ideal time for citizens to come together in the spirit of peace and coexistence. And, as a resident of Sidon who was caught up in last month’s violence, I am grateful.

On Sunday, 23 June, radical Sunni Sheikh Ahmed Al-Assir’s supporters reportedly shot at the Lebanese army in the Abra district of Sidon. Other reports claim that the same shooting may have been set up by the Hezbollah-affiliated Lebanese Resistance Brigades to spur the two day clashes.

By sunset, my house was surrounded by snipers and other men wielding RPGs. Masked gunmen unknown to my family and our neighbours were on our street. Landlines, cellular phones and the electricity were cut off. My family hunkered down at the bottom of the staircase and the inner corridor, using a mattress to protect us from the windows that could have shattered from the loud blasts or revealed us to armed men. We spent the night hiding in the darkness, our voices at a whisper.

For many people seeking safety in their homes, social media was one of the main ways to communicate our feelings and perspectives about the events occurring in Sidon. In Lebanon, most news sources used the Sidon clashes to validate their current political standpoints, twisting and moulding the situation to fit their propaganda and neglecting the voices of innocent civilians. This upset me greatly as someone who lived through them.

Abra is a very populated district and many civilians were injured, confined to their buildings or both during 36 hours of clashes. As civilians, we had nothing to do with either party in the conflict and it felt extremely disempowering to be trapped inside our home, hiding.

Days later, youth and civil society organisations started coordinating to restore the semblance of daily life and reconstruct affected infrastructure. My hometown is already showing signs of recovery.

One organisation that I’m volunteering with, Bikaffi Khof (Enough Fear), is collecting data to estimate the costs of the damage, raising money and reconstructing infrastructure in the affected areas.

Offre Joie (Joy of Giving), an organisation specialising in aid to reconstruct homes, is carrying out projects to reconstruct damaged homes in Abra. Youth from all regions and confessions have offered aid to the affected area, uniting the big Lebanese family. With the efforts and generosity of many, Sidon is getting past this tough time.

Sidon is renowned for its ambiance during the Holy Month. And despite the recent violence, mosques in the old city of Sidon are still decorated with strings of lights, flowers and bright coloured carpets. And the seaside cafes and old outdoor markets are still alive with visitors enjoying the music, jallab (a drink made from carob, dates, grape molasses and rose water), water pipes and traditional sweets.

The recent clashes have not affected the heart of Sidon this holiday season, and the Ramadan values of forgiveness, togetherness and tolerance are still present.


* Aisha Habli works as a public relations and media specialist. She is a peace activist and a member of the Media Association for Peace and MasterPeace Lebanon. You can follow her on Twitter @HyperchickAisha. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 30 July 2013,
Copyright permission is granted for publication.