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Is party over for Beirut's clubbers?

By Mike Sergeant
BBC News, Beirut

Beirut clubbers
Beirut's political crisis is sapping the vibe from its once resilient clubland

Beirut's legendary nightlife has survived wars, invasions and assassinations.

But the bars and clubs are slowly being strangled by the ongoing political crisis.

This city used to be the unambiguous "party capital of the Middle East".

Now a chorus of depression seems to be drowning out Beirut's famous hedonistic vibe.

Mohammed Chehab - a regular in Monot Street's once-teeming RAI club - said: "Before, it was very good. The nightlife was on fire!

"Now, because of the unstable situation in Lebanon, people are afraid to come out. They are scared of explosions."

'Nothing left'

Monot Street, a narrow avenue which snakes down to the centre of town, had an international reputation among clubbers in its heyday.

Beirut clubbers on Gemmayze Street
Kicking out time? Beirut has been crippled by political turmoil

At night, it was virtually impossible to drive through the crowds of party-goers and the rows of gleaming BMW and Mercedes cars.

There were about 100 bars and clubs in the area.

Now, locals say the number is down to about 50.

"Half of the business has gone," laments Mazin Moughrabi, a manager at one of the clubs.

"I will finish my studies and travel abroad. There is nothing left for me in Lebanon."

Economic hangover

He says the club used to be packed six nights a week.

In recent months, they have mainly been opening on Fridays and Saturdays but even at the weekend, business is just a fraction of what it was.

The boom time for nightlife in Beirut was just over three years ago.

Whatever happens, we will find a way to come out, relieve our stress and have fun
Hassan Beydoun
The assassination of the former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri on 14 February 2005 led to massive political upheaval in Lebanon.

The 2006 war with Israel set the country's economy back several years.

But the bars and clubs quickly bounced back and carried on doing brisk business.

Until recently it seemed that, however bad things got in Lebanon, nothing could puncture the party mood in the capital.

In recent months, though, everything seems to have changed.

'Down and down'

A wave of political assassinations has shaken Lebanon.

Empty bar on  Rue Monot
Some fear the country is on an irrevocable downward spiral

The centre of Beirut has been crippled by an ongoing protest, with opposition tents erected in the centre of the city, besieging the prime minister's office and other government buildings.

There is currently no president and total political deadlock in this troubled and deeply divided country.

"We are not getting any international tourists now. They just don't want to come to Lebanon," said Hassan Beydoun, on the edge of an empty dance floor in one of the clubs.

But, as soon as the political roadblocks are lifted, he thinks the business will come flooding back.

He added: "Lebanese people like to party. Whatever happens, we will find a way to come out, relieve our stress and have fun. It's just who we are."

Stagnation

His girlfriend Randa is much less upbeat.

She said: "We are going down and down. It's a recession. It's very bad. The politicians are just too lame. It's very lame. I think in 10 years time, all Lebanese people will have left the country to the politicians. They can rule and fight each other."

Musicians at a restaurant bar in Gemmayze district of Beirut
Optimists say the Lebanese love of fun will save Beirut's clubland

Ronnie Zerbe has been running Cuba Libre, a nightspot in Monot, for seven years.

He said he has never been as gloomy as he is now.

"We have not made a profit in two years," he told me.

"Of course people are angry, and they should be angry. We have only 20% of the business we used to have."

Economic uncertainty has compounded the problems caused by political stagnation.

Many people simply do not have the money anymore to splurge on alcohol or club entrance fees.

Will it ever recover?

Samir Tabiat, the owner of Tapas Bar in the Gemmayze area, said: "Who knows? Anyone who tells you they know is just an astrologist or a liar.

"But I know that Lebanese people will always like to have fun. It's just in their character."


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