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Snoop Dogg, Paris Hilton ... Beirut's back!

War is but a distant memory in the Lebanese capital, as celebrities swoop in to revive a once-famous party scene.

U.S. rap artist Snoop Dogg poses with fans after a news conference in Beirut, Aug. 20, 2009, and before performing that night in the Lebanese capital. (Mohamed Azakir/Reuters)

BEIRUT — “The bombs are dropping on Beirut with Snoop Doggy Dogg!” said rap music fan Nick Haddad as he walked out of the Snoop Dogg show in the Lebanese capital this past weekend.

The 18-year-old Lebanese Canadian was of course referring to the “bombs” in the lyrics of Snoop Dogg’s raps, not the other bombs that some people may associate with Beirut.

At 1 a.m., Haddad and his 16-year-old British friend of Lebanese descent were looking to find the Snoop Dogg after-party, by no means the first A-List gathering seen in Beirut this summer. The American rapper has followed in the footsteps of Paris Hilton and Charles Aznavour as the latest international "name" on everyone's lips in this newly calm city. He entertained several thousand people at a convention center near downtown Beirut on Thursday night.

The visits, coming after three years of war and security problems, is just one sign of Lebanon quickly regaining its title as the party and cultural headquarters of the Middle East.

From visits by glitzy heiress (and perennial photo-opportunist) Paris Hilton in early July to film festivals, gallery openings and rock bands old and new — Keane and Deep Purple recently performed here — Lebanon’s summer season is being called the most successful since the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in February 2005.

Snoop Dogg’s show reminded many in Lebanon of the last visit by a major American rap artist in June 2006. That’s when 50 Cent performed to a similarly enthusiastic audience of teenagers and rap aficionados. 

But a month after 50 Cent’s performance, and in the midst of a summer tourist season that was billed as the biggest in Lebanon’s history, a war erupted between Lebanon and Israel, causing billions in damage and leaving more than 1,000 Lebanese dead.

The tourists and Lebanese expatriates fled, and three years of political turmoil ensued, cancelling festivals, cultural events and ruining the Lebanese tourism sector, which accounts for 15 to 20 percent of Lebanon’s economy. As dark clouds gathered over Lebanon after the 2006 war, the faded 50 Cent posters still clung to concrete walls and signs, reminding passersby of the summer that never was.

But the summer of 2009 marked a return to the optimism that was so quickly snuffed out in those dark days of 2006. And as the country regained its footing after three years of bombings, assassinations, street clashes and near civil war, the Lebanese expatriates and the tourists came back.