SIDON, Lebanon: Thousands celebrated Ramadan in Sidon’s Old City Saturday with a colorful evening of performing arts attended by Interior Minister Raya El Hassan.
Fireworks and fire dancers lit up the Old City’s winding streets as residents ate and smoked nargileh, enjoying the Ramadan atmosphere.
Dancing troupes, organized by Sidon Municipality’s Culture and Tourism Committee, performed in squares such as Bab al-Serail and entered into cafes and restaurants to entertain all-night revelers and those breaking the day’s fast.
Rawan Attawi, a resident of the nearby village of Jbaa, had invited her Christian friend Yara Fares from Metn’s Naccache to witness the festive atmosphere.
“I am Christian ... and actually after I saw [the festivities] today, Islam has become closer to my heart,” Fares told The Daily Star.
“Here are beautiful traditions that go back to the old days. It isn’t the first time I’ve been to Sidon, but it’s more beautiful here than Downtown Beirut because you’re in a city full of people. It’s a bewitching city.”
A local vendor was weaving in and out of the crowds with a barrow full of candy apples, which attracted a long line of children wherever it went.
“I came here from [Palestinian refugee camp] Ain al-Hilweh to sell local apples. The beginning [of Ramadan] has been good and the kids are loving the apples,” he said.
A cafe owner said that times were hard for businesses in Sidon.
“But we hope that the month of Ramadan will make up for the losses from the beginning of this year because people have come from all over the place. Sidon is a destination for everyone because the prices are reasonable and the food is varied,” he said.
“Food is the most important thing - as it was in times of old,” he added.
Interior Minister Raya El Hassan was one of the visitors to join in the high spirits, at the invitation of local MP Bahia Hariri.
The minister visited local landmarks including Debbane Palace, the Soap Museum and a number of historic bath houses and cafes.
“My impression is that this city has changed for the better since the last time I saw it,” Hassan said in a statement after her tour, adding that she thought the Old City had improved “to a staggering degree.”
“Whether it’s the buildings that have been repaired or work achieved on the ground ... this is due to the determination and perseverance of the people of Sidon to revive their town,” she said, referring to ongoing efforts to restore the Old City and revitalize tourism.
“Of course Bahia [Hariri] had an essential role, and none of this work would have been possible without her leadership and oversight ... and direct communication with people,” she added.
“We salute the diligence of Sidon’s residents and hopefully other cities will follow suit.”
Hassan reassured reporters that Sidon’s security situation was under control, despite recent increased tensions. Earlier this month, one man was left wounded after a Fatah Movement member opened fire in Sidon’s Ain al-Hilweh camp.
“The security situation is under control. We see life in all cities - Beirut, Sidon and Tripoli - and there isn’t cause for concern,” she said.
Hassan added that she hoped tourists from all over the world would come and “see how our country lives and do away with the notion stuck in their minds that this country is ‘abnormal and has problems.’”
“On the contrary, we live as best we can, certainly within difficult economic and social situations, but the security situation is under control.” - Writing by Jacob Boswall