Over recent weeks several dozen Lebanese politicians have slipped away from their homes in and around Beirut to fly off to Paris, Amman, London or some other foreign bolt-hole, anywhere to put some distance between themselves and the assassins they believe are stalking them. The jumpy politicians, all of them from the anti-Syrian camp, are not the only ones getting out.
There's a haemorrhage of young people who see no prospect of a good life in their homeland, still a bastion of tribal warlords and venal politicians, bought and paid for by outside powers, no matter how much they try to pretend otherwise. The exodus of their political leaders to safer climes does little to persuade them there is much reason to stick around.
The Lebanese have always emigrated in large numbers over the years, particularly during the 1975-90 civil war. But as the dread of a new conflict mortifies this tiny, fractious country that tried to be a nation, many of its citizens fear the final disintegration is closing in.
There is no shortage of potential sparks--an Islamist insurgency in the north, constant bombings and the assassination of prominent anti-Syrian activists, a deepening political crisis between pro- and anti-Syrian factions, the threat of another war with Israel to the south, an economy in sharp decline, and lastly the intrigues of outside powers, who have long exploited Lebanon's sectarian divisions for their own ends.
Western and Arab embassies report that thousands of Lebanese have applied for visas in recent weeks. Sources at the Surete-Generale say that their department has been processing a daily average of 5,000 applications for passports, mostly young people, scrambling to get away. "It's a tidal wave, a tsunami," said one. "I've never seen the like."
In recent months, the citadels of the political dynasties that rule the roost in Lebanon--the Hariris, the Jumblatts, the Berris, the Gemayels and their ilk--have become heavily guarded fortresses whose perimeters extend a city block or two in every direction, guarded by the Lebanese military, the Internal Security Forces and their own private armies of mercenaries whose state-of-the-art equipment makes a mockery of the obsolescent arms and security systems of the state forces.
In the West Beirut district of Koraytem, the hilltop palace of the family of the late Rafiq Hariri, whose son Saad has taken over as the patriarch of Lebanon's Sunnis, and the mansion of Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri...