One way to keep track of the shifts in belief and allegiance as you walk through Beirut is by watching the walls. In the backstreets of Gemmayzeh and Ashrafieh in the east of the city, they are covered in stencil graffiti for the right-wing, Christian Lebanese Forces Party:
As you enter the predominantly Shia neighbourhood of Zkak el-Blat, a large banner hung over an intersection by the People’s Movement of Amal exhorts you to ‘Be Good Believers’:
There are photos of weapons and martyrs everywhere, along with stencilled images of the Amal logo and such slogans as ‘There is only Ali and only his sword’:
I changed memory cards in my camera (the old one was full) and had taken a few more pictures – two cats in an alley, a vegetable stall, a large poster of a muscle-bound man and the words ‘Power Gym’ – when I heard a shout. A group headed by a large man in a tight brown T-shirt was coming towards me. I was soon surrounded by angry faces. The man in the T-shirt put out his hand. ‘No photo,’ he said in English. (I found out later that Hizbullah is suspected of storing weapons in Amal neighbourhoods, either to evade decommissioning, or to make sure its arms dumps are sufficiently widespread throughout the city.) The crowd grew. ‘No photo,’ the man said again and took my camera from me. I thought he was going to break it, or at least take it away, but instead he turned it on, deleted all the pictures and gave it back. Nobody moved. Something else seemed expected of me. Then a gap appeared in the crowd and I was walking down the street, not looking back. After I’d turned two corners, and thought I was safe, I heard more shouts. A young man in a pink shirt was running towards me. I took a step back, ready to run, when he said: ‘Sorry. So sorry. They –’ He tapped his forefinger against his temple, then shook his head and put his hand on his heart.