Beirut welcomes tourists, expatriates after Hezbollah slogans are removed from airport street

BEIRUT: The municipality recently removed Hezbollah slogans, pictures and billboards that were put up over the years on the road to Rafik Hariri International Airport in Beirut.

They have been replaced with welcome signs by the Ministry of Tourism to congratulate tourists and expatriates returning to Lebanon for the summer vacation.

Yellow banners of the party, along with photographs of Hezbollah leaders and dead party members, have long occupied both sides of the airport street and in the middle strip.

The road to the airport borders the neighborhoods hosting the offices of Hezbollah and the Amal movement – the two main Shia parties – and their security zones.

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The removal of the promotional material came in response to a call from Tourism Minister Walid Nasser, who is affiliated with the Free Patriotic Movement affiliated with Hezbollah.

The size of the paintings almost exceeded the size of the houses and small shops on either side of the road.

The photographs were not limited to Lebanese members of the party, but also included Iranian and Iraqi military, religious and political leaders such as Qassem Soleimani, Ayatollah Khomeini, Ali Khamenei and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, so much so that people crossing the street Many people were confused whether it was part of Lebanon or Iran.

Politicians opposing Hezbollah have often called for the images to be removed, which they described as “provocative to Lebanese”.

He blamed the state for its inability to compromise with the party or face its authority, which is prominently displayed on the path taken by diplomats and political figures visiting Lebanon.

The removal of the promotional material came in response to a call from Tourism Minister Walid Nasser, who is affiliated with the Free Patriotic Movement affiliated with Hezbollah.

Earlier this week, Nasser called on the media administration of Hezbollah and the Amal movement to reduce the number of images and symbols over the next three months and replace them with pictures of Lebanese tourist attractions.

The ministry launched a tourism promotion campaign targeting expatriates and tourists and urged them to travel to Lebanon this summer in an effort to stimulate a stable Lebanese economy. The slogans featured in the campaign are “Welcome to you” and “Do you miss Lebanon?”

Nassar’s call to remove the images and slogans drew widespread criticism on social media.

Activists expressed their displeasure with the “respect” that Nasser said he had with the figures depicted in the images that had nothing to do with Lebanon, namely Soleimani (Iranians) and al-Muhandis (Iraqis).

Activists said Nasser’s words “denoted a weak state that is incapable of enforcing the law on Hezbollah and its allies, while it enforces the law strictly on the rest of the parties, as it did on June 1.

But is Hezbollah’s removal of pictures on the airport street a kind of self-review in the face of increasing public criticism or is it a temporary reaction?

Dr Ahmed Fatfat, head of the National Council to End the Iranian Occupation of Lebanon, told Arab News that he believed “what happened was already coordinated between Minister Nasser and Hezbollah and more than a temporary step.” Not there.”

Fatafat, who was Interior Minister in 2006, said: “Hezbollah can agree to this request because it knows that the people are fed up with the economic situation the party has brought to them, and the results of the parliamentary elections have caused this uneasiness.” has shown.”

If Hezbollah did not think it was losing support, Fatafat said, it would not agree to remove the images and instead repeat what it did in the summer of 2006 when it incited Israel’s aggression, which Destroyed Lebanon during the appearance of tourists and migrants. The country was at its peak.

Nasser, who visited the airport road, promised that the tourism campaign would cover all Lebanese territories in the next week with more than 150 billboards.

He said that the indicators that the government has received from the private sector show that the summer season will be very promising from the point of view of tourism.

Lebanon is relying on tourism this summer – based on flight, hotel and restaurant reservations – to provide the Lebanese economy some of the oxygen it needs to revive.