Ahmadinejad goes to Lebanon and is greeted as a conqueror and a heartthrob

Notes from different corners of the world.
Oct. 13 2010 4:53 PM

Ahmadinejad Goes to Lebanon

In one poor Shiite suburb of Beirut, the Iranian president is a conqueror and a heartthrob.

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Lebanese women. Click image to expand.
Lebanese women show their affection for Ahmadinejad

But if the morning's parade was a disappointment, tonight's rally was a resounding success. Tens of thousands of supporters gathered in Raya Square in Dahieh, a southern suburb of Beirut that is a Hezbollah stronghold. In the women's section, where I was standing, young girls cheered every time Ahmadinejad's face appeared on-screen. Few could understand his speech—he spoke in Farsi, and it was hard to hear the translation—but it didn't seem to matter. Here, Ahmadinejad is a rock star, a sex symbol. "He's cute," the niece of a friend cooed when I asked why the young girls were so excited to see him. He didn't say anything that related to these girls' lives, but by coming to Dahieh, a poor area that is ignored by everyone, even the Lebanese government, Ahmadinejad made a powerful point: You are important, he was saying. I care about you. I am here for you.

Ahmadinejad addressed much of his talk to the United States, calling on people around the world to form an "independent and neutral team to examine the facts and determine the truth of the Sept. 11 events." He also advised Washington that "the best exit for the occupiers of Afghanistan and Iraq is to leave the region, apologize to [its] peoples, and compensate for losses."

There was one only odd note. While Ahmadinejad took the stage proudly and faced the throngs of well-wishers, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah remained in hiding for security reasons, appearing via video link.

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This morning, after all the rose petals had been scattered and Ahmadinejad's car was long gone, I walked back toward Beirut, stepping on discarded flags and posters along the way. That's when I noticed that a small crowd had gathered. Camels, which I had seen earlier in the morning as they were being driven to the event, had been sacrificed, their long, graceful necks slit open. The men who slaughtered them held their butcher knives and the camels' heads as they smiled for pictures. Beside them lay three goats.

"In Arabic poetry and in the Quran, camels are one of the greatest gifts, because they are a means of survival," Lokman Slim told me. "So it is an honor to sacrifice them for a guest." Or, he added, you could cynically interpret their slaughter as representing the bodies of Rafik and Saad Hariri—one assassinated physically, the latter politically.

As I got into a taxi, I saw the camels' bright red blood running into the gutter and heard the click of a camera shutter as people took photos to commemorate the moment.

Update, Dec. 7, 2010: A thank-you line was removed from this article at the recipient's request.

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Ruthie Ackerman is a senior fellow at the World Policy Institute. She reported from Lebanon on a grant from the International Reporting Project.

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