Beirut: As millions of protesters rallied across Lebanon to condemn corruption and demand the government’s resignation, dozens of foreign tourists could still be seen holidaying and enjoying the ambiance of the protests.
For the past five days, demonstrations have gripped Beirut and other major cities.
Tourists seemed to be enjoying the creative uprising – believed to be the first of its kind – that includes singing, dancing, DJ-ing, partying, distributing sweets.
Taking photos beside the famous Grand Theatre Building, a group of French tourists said they had come to “check out” the protests, adding that they didn’t feel threatened. Having made their bookings in July, the French group arrived on Sunday. One of the female tourists agreed to talk on the condition of anonymity.
“Before arriving, the images we saw in the media made us feel hesitant … but not scared. We decided to come and once we arrived, personally I didn’t feel any danger. On the contrary, I was very impressed with how quiet it was. Of course, the people were protesting but they were full of life and not scary, unlike in other countries. In France, it felt more violent … we didn’t go out during the protests as our government advised us to stay away,” she said.
Her countryman said Tuesday was the first day for them to visit the protesting areas, which he described by peaceful.
British tourist Sue Christoforou visited Riad Solh Square and Martyrs Square thrice since she arrived on Friday.
She did not cancel her trip although her Beirut-based friend told her about the protests on Thursday.
“I feel safe among protesting crowds,” said Christoforou, who wanted to witness what was happening.
“This is a historical moment. I have limited knowledge of the causes but as I understand, it’s been decades of sectarian seizure of government and consequent corruption. The tipping point was the so-called WhatsApp tax … but my understanding is that, fundamentally, it is about corruption and inequalities and the consequences of that,” said Christoforou, who leaves on Friday.
She hasn’t been outside Beirut since the transport is unreliable due to road closures.
Iranian tourist, Tina T., was taking photos of Martyrs Statue when she told Gulf News: “I booked long time before the protests and arrived on Sunday. If I knew maybe I would have changed my mind or postponed. As far as I see it is safe. I was worried at first but it doesn’t seem dangerous.” She plans to stay till next week.
Russian PR professionals Ariza Danielian and Sofia Dulshchikova said they arrived for holiday on Thursday.
“I feel 100 per cent safe and secure. I am even taking part in the revolution as much as I can. I feel the people here are nice and what they are doing is amazing,” Danielian said.
Dulshchikova added: “Friends and family advised us to return home, but we told them that things are safe … the protests are peaceful and we don’t need to return.”
Meanwhile, Mohammad Barakat, general manager at Barakat Travels, said the protests have forced nearly 80 per cent of tourists to leave the country as many of embassies made eviction plans to assist their citizens, who wished to be flown back.
“However, some tourists have remained in Lebanon. There were plenty of tourists who enjoyed the ambience and the festive mood despite the fact that it’s an uprising … it seemed like they enjoy it and [feel] it is a different kind of tourism,” said Barakat.