By Anne Barnard
BEIRUT (New York Times) — Ask anyone here about canine excrement and the conversation moves quickly to concepts of citizenship, nationhood, belonging, Lebanon’s sectarian political system and ultimately the civil war that reshaped the country from 1975 to 1990.
Civic activists say those years of sectarian violence and lawlessness, and the ensuing mistrust, destroyed Lebanon’s sense of shared public space, whether physical or political.
During the civil war, “people were afraid of the streets and the sidewalks,” said Jad Chaaban, a university professor who is a member of Beirut Madinati — Arabic for “Beirut, My City” — a group that made a stir last yearby taking the radical step of running in municipal elections on a platform of improving public services.
After the war, reconstruction was carried out with “almost total disregard” for public streetscapes, he said.
“People don’t feel that they own anything,” he said. “They don’t own the street. They don’t belong. The sidewalk is a very nice metaphor for the Lebanese situation.”