BEIRUT (AFP) – Beirutis breathed a sigh of relief this weekend as political party flags, banners and pictures that once festooned the Lebanese capital’s streets came down following their prohibition in support of reconciliation efforts between rival factions.
“It’s wonderful because it’s a statement that the politicians are ready to resolve their issues at the negotiating table rather than on the streets,” Beirut-resident Fadwa Ghannoum, 39, said.
“Every time I go out on my street, I feel like my neighbourhood belongs to someone else. Once they’re down, it’ll feel like Lebanon is shared by all,” she added of the flags and banners in her neigbourhood.
In a country that has seen deep political divisions played out in street clashes, political posters can often be the spark of a violent incident.
Sectarian fighting spread throughout Lebanon leaving 65 killed in May after the Syria- and Iran- backed Shiite Hezbollah movement led an armed takeover of large swathes of predominantly Sunni west Beirut.
A peace accord sealed later that month led to the election of President Michel Sleiman, filling a six-months void, and the formation of a national unity cabinet.
However, political tensions continue to spill over into the streets.
Two weeks ago, two people were killed in fighting that broke out over the hanging of a political banner in the north of the country, leading many to see the new ban as a safety measure.
“It is a good idea because it might stop people from hurting each other, but at the same time isn’t it against the notion of the freedom of expression?,” said Halim Hanna, 37.
Until Friday night, Beirut’s streets and buildings were plastered with posters, party flags and portraits of political leaders both dead and alive, emblematic of the intense divide among feuding clans.
The political leanings and often sectarian identity of a neighbourhood was immediately apparent from the party paraphernalia that decorated its streets.
An agreement between Hezbollah and its rival Future Movement saw the posters start to come down in Beirut and with a vow to continue throughout the rest of Lebanon, in the wake of Thursday’s announcement by Saad Hariri, who heads the Future Movement and the parliamentary majority.
Internal Security Forces stood by on Friday night as party members carried away billboard-size pictures of Hariri and Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah.
Posters were ripped off walls and party flags disappeared from most of the city’s streets, but some were skeptical if the move was enough.
“In principle, it’s a good step. But it doesn’t solve anything. You’re curing the side effects and not the core of the problem,” said Suha Menessa, 26.
“The pictures aren’t the problem, the political discourse and bickering is the problem.”
Lebanon’s rival political leaders have been working toward reconciling their differences ahead of a national dialogue which will set the tone for parliamentary elections due next year.