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War is but a distant memory in the Lebanese capital, as celebrities swoop in to revive a once-famous party scene.
“This summer is what it was like before the July war, and maybe even better,”said Karim Traboulsi, 25, as he hung out with friends in the parking lot after the Snoop Dogg concert. “You have all these people coming, there’s something to do every week.”
According to Lebanon’s Tourism Ministry, more than 2 million tourists are slated to visit Lebanon in 2009, making it the best year ever for Lebanese tourism.
“We have never seen this many tourists. You can feel the tourists,” says Nada Sardouk, the director general of the ministry of tourism. “324 thousand people came in July alone, so it’s a figure we’ve never seen, ever.”
Some, like Paris Hilton, have come for Lebanon’s bling culture. High-end nightclubs and restaurants market to customers who can drop thousands of dollars on bottles of champagne, and the most popular clubs have month long waiting lists. At these exclusive clubs, Lebanon’s well-heeled mingle with oil money from the Arabian Gulf countries, and any car less than a late model Porsche or Land Rover can bring upturned noses. Lamborghinis, Ferraris and Bentleys are not an unusual sight on Beirut’s streets these days.
For the less glitzy crowd in search of some culture, three annual summer arts festivals went off this season without a hitch, bringing international performers and artists to Lebanon’s historic villages and Roman ruins.
The Beiteddine Festival, held at a 18th-century stone palace built on the side of a mountain, was canceled three years ago due to the July war. At the time, aid convoys and journalists traveling to South Lebanon jammed the narrow mountain road that leads to the festival site.
But this summer the winding roads were packed with tourists going to see Arabic pop stars, French crooner Charles Aznavour and a Balkan rock orchestra led by the Serbian director Emir Kusturica, among others.
“This year was one of the best years we ever had at Beiteddine,” said Hala Chahine, the Beiteddine Festival general manager. “Most of our shows were sold out. This is the festival summer, and all the festivals did well.”
Tickets weren’t cheap: seats at Beiteddine shows ranged from $20 to $250, depending on the performance.