BEIRUT: Fear that the country will plunge into full-blown chaos has gripped Beirut, with residents anticipating a continuation of the recent string of attacks on civilians but ruling out a return to all-out civil war. New rumors have regularly cropped up about the Army and Internal Security Forces discovering car bombs across the country, and residents have steadfastly been following the TV since last week’s incidents.
“Is there anyone who is not afraid these days? We are all a bundle of nerves,” said Abbas Bakri, standing in his shop in the Barbour neighborhood of Beirut.
“I just don’t allow any stranger to park his car here, authorities cannot inspect every car.”
Two car bombs ripped through two mosques in Tripoli last week, killing at least 47 people and wounding hundreds. The blast came eight days after an explosion rocked the Ruwaiss neighborhood of Beirut’s southern suburbs, killing 30 people and wounding scores others.
For Bakri, Lebanon is already a mini-Iraq. “We have had the sectarianism that Iraq now has for a long time, so if things deteriorate further, Lebanon will become worse than Iraq.”
The prospect of a second civil war in Lebanon is terrifying, Bakri said.
“If this happens, then Sunnis and Shiites will shoot each other from balconies as all neighborhoods are mixed here,” he said.
For Amin Abdul-Razzaq, Hezbollah’s presence in Syria fighting alongside President Bashar Assad has led the country toward a bad path.
“Israel and the Syrian regime can carry out explosions now and say the Syrian opposition stands behind such acts [in retaliation for Hezbollah’s interference],” he said.
Abdel-Razzaq said a new civil war would not take place because Hezbollah was the only well-armed group.
Mahmoud Huneineh believes more explosions will take place in predominantly Christian and Druze districts along with other Lebanese areas.
“This will certainly happen. As long as Bashar Assad is in power [in Syria], Lebanon could become worse than Iraq,” he said, sitting on a chair on the sidewalk with a number of people in Beirut’s Ras al-Nabaa neighborhood.
“Those who carried out explosions in the southern suburbs, the north and plan to plant more bombs are the same people: the men and thugs of Bashar Assad,” he said.
But Huneineh ruled out a full-blown civil war as being in the offing. “In principle, there is no war. He is carrying out these explosions in order to spark a war, but we will not have war, our people have enough awareness.”
Nabil Ballout, from south Lebanon, believes takfiri groups are behind the explosions, with the aim of sparking sectarian strife.
“A civil war will not break out. It should have happened by now if it was to happen,” he said.
Hasan Houmani, who owns a photography shop, believes Lebanon could become a new Iraq if security bodies do not coordinate a crackdown on terrorist cells.
“The plan is to turn Lebanon into another Iraq, but if Lebanon is strong, then nothing will happen,” he said.
Similar fears gripped residents of the Sin al-Fil and Furn al-Shubbak suburbs of Beirut. Many residents of these predominantly Christian areas voiced fear that the blasts that have so far targeted predominantly Sunni and Shiite districts would eventually take place in their neighborhoods.
“We were just talking about this issue right now,” Vivian Farah said.
“Explosions could not only happen in west Beirut or Beirut’s southern suburbs, nothing will prevent them [the perpetrators] from planting their bombs everywhere,” she added, sitting with friends in the book shop where she works in Sin al-Fil.
“For sure explosions could happen everywhere,” agreed Laurice Kiwan, who works in a nearby store. “Criminals do not differentiate between districts. I hope explosions will stop, but I am scared.”
Kiwan was also hesitant to predict full-blown civil war, as the aim of the explosions was intimidation, he said.
Sami would not leave his house in Deir al-Qamar in these circumstances if he didn’t have to go to work.
“I won’t lie to you. Yes, I am afraid of walking on streets,” said the owner of a cellphone shop in Furn al-Shubbak. “Streets are deserted, people are afraid,” he said.
The deteriorating security situation has affected businesses in the capital, as well.
Samar Chebly, the owner of a roasted chicken restaurant in Furn al-Shubbak, cited a 20 percent decline in business in August compared to the same month last year.
“For sure business slowed down, particularly that we are close to Tayyouneh [next to the southern suburbs],” she said.
Nada Tabbara, who works in a shop in Corniche al-Mazraa, said business had dropped by 80 percent over the past three months.
“On some days, we are not having a single client.”