October 21, 2005

Assadís Brother-in-law Named

U.N. special prosecutor Detlev Mehlis named Ashef Shawkat, Syria’s military intelligence chief and President Bashar Assad’s brother-in-law, as the chief suspect in the assassination plot against Rafik Hariri.

Lebanon this morning was quiet and subdued in the wake of the news. Automobile traffic is down. Foot traffic is down even more. Downtown Beirut is eerily silent. Military checkpoints have been beefed up substantially. Armored vehicles and heavy artillery are set up in front of potential targets. I noticed some hotels won’t allow cars to enter their parking lots without first having bomb squads check under the chassis with mirrors for bombs. But I saw that last time I was in Lebanon, in April, and I’m unsure if this is a resumed policy or if it has been in place the whole time. I will say that I haven’t noticed it on this trip until now.

I did see a number of large old white people with hats and cameras wandering around downtown. Perhaps a cruise ship just deposited them blissfully unaware into a frying pan.

But it doesn’t feel like a frying pan here, at least not to me. It’s a nice day, actually. The weather is glorious. The air is crisp and clear. The sky is so hard and so blue you could scratch your fingernails on it. For the first time since I got here I can see the peaks of Mount Lebanon unobscured by clouds or humid haze. I can see all the way up the coast, in fact, with perfect clarity. As long as everything remains as calm as it is now, today is likely the best day in months to arrive as a tourist.

I had conversations with a handful of people this morning and none were particularly worried about what is going to happen. Don’t assume, though, that that’s the general consensus just yet. I’ve only talked to a handful. And those who are scared are holed up in their houses where I cannot so easily talk to them.

For what it’s worth, I’m not worried. I’ll be out on the street all day today, talking to people, reading the temperature, and taking photos of anything interesting I happen to see. There may be a demonstration in Martyr’s Square later today, but I haven’t been able to confirm that just yet.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at October 21, 2005 4:43 AM
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