This evening Bab Touma street was a awash with people waving Lebanese (and some Syrian) flags, singing songs of welcome, generally pushing and packing from the traffic circle near the original gate to the Maronite church a few hundred meters into the Old City. Michel Aoun was in town, or so we had heard. Originally word was out that there would be a demonstration/welcome of some sort near Souq al-Hamidiyeh. Two of us wandered through and nothing was unusual; so instead we bought some pistachio-flaked ice cream from Bakdash.
It turned out Aoun would be visiting the Maronite church on Sharia Bab Touma. The crowds were there. A television crew from Syria One was interviewing a selection of people; crowds of young Syrian boys poked their heads into the camera lighting, trying to get on tv. The street was lined with Lebanese flag banners; there were various security details — none very formal — handing out flags. Children and teenagers were chanting songs, welcoming Michel Aoun to Syria and singing their solidarity with Hezbollah (curious most of all, in the Christian Quarter of the Old City).
The actual arrival was a sea of pushing. The lights of the camera crew were the only indication that Aoun was pushing through the crowds and into the church. It was a remarkably packed place for a political visit. I would have imagined that the street would be cleared, that police would line the storefronts. Instead it was all flags and signing, with the odd sighting of starlet-looking folks who we assumed were selected Lebanese visitors, part of Aoun’s entourage.
My camera battery chose to die before I snapped a few shaky pictures of the crowd just after sunset. We didn’t linger long enough to see Aoun leave the church; maybe he left out the back.