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In Hezbollah stronghold, Lebanese Christians find respect, stability

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The Christians living in Harat Hreik are a bit of an anomaly, to be sure. Christians represent a sizable population in Lebanon, though no census has been held in decades. And while Beirut's neighborhoods are gradually becoming more integrated, they still divide largely along religious lines. The fragile peace is under deep strain as regional tensions swirl because of the conflict next door in Syria.

Not fanning the flames

In Hezbollah's early days, its creed was "virulent," and in the past, it may have been responsible for fanning some of those flames. But as Hezbollah gained power and joined the political system, that changed, says Paul Salem, director of the Carnegie Endowment Middle East Center.

“It doesn’t carry with it an anti-Christian strain anymore," he says. "That’s almost entirely gone. It’s not in their rhetoric, it’s not in their creed.” 

Recently, when the Shiite holiday of Ashura was approaching, the streets were choked with residents shopping and passing out sweets and blanketed with black banners commemorating the martyrdom of Hussein Ali. But Christians live openly here, and they describe Hezbollah as a tolerant group that has steadfastly supported their presence, even sending Christmas cards to Christian neighbors like Gholam.

Gholam, who throws a party every year in honor of Nasrallah’s birthday and places a photo of him in her Christmas tree, is certainly an anomaly. But other Christian families also speak approvingly of their life under Hezbollah, especially when compared to its predecessor, Amal, which they say forced many Christian residents to sell their homes. In contrast, Hezbollah extended financial support to the Christian families when Dahiyeh needed rebuilding after the civil war and the 2006 war with Israel.

Rony Khoury, a Maronite Christian who was born in Harat Hreik and still lives in the same apartment, says he feels comfortable drinking alcohol on his front porch, in full view of members of Hezbollah, and his wife feels no pressure to don a head scarf or follow other rules governing Muslim women's attire. They have property in a predominantly Christian area of Beirut, but have no desire to move.

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