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Ali's day job is driving for Uber. His other job is as a Hezbollah fighter. He fought in Syria, but says war has worn him out. He's learning German to find work in a place away from conflict. Anchal Vohra reports.
"We are tired after fighting in Syria and Iraq for years," says Ali, a taxi driver with Uber who also works as a fighter with the Shiite militia force of the Hezbollah.
Ali hails from Baalbek in northern Lebanon but lives with his family in Dahiya — Hezbollah's hub in Beirut. He is driving DW around the neighborhood, which screams allegiance to the Hezbollah chief, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah.
Nasrallah is depicted benevolently in the images marking almost every roundabout. In one, he is planting a sapling. In others, he points assertively as if showing the right path. Amid these are also pictures of the dead, killed in the Syrian war.
"Look," says Ali, pointing at a poster hung at a bus stop. "Another engineer who was martyred in Syria." By training Ali is a surveying engineer. For the Syrian government offensive in the town of Qusayr against opposition forces in 2013, he drew maps of the war zone for the Hezbollah. Ali lost many of his friends on the battlefield.
Ali is a land surveyor by training but has turned to driving an Uber because of lack of employment opportunities
Hezbollah shows restraint
More than 1,000 Hezbollah fighters have been killed in the Syrian war. It serves Hezbollah to downplay the casualties, so that the foot soldier is not discouraged and the group can ensure a continued supply of men to the front lines.
Ali feels the rising death toll and exhaustion with war among fighters like him is the reason Nasrallah exercised restraint after the recent spat with Saudi Arabia.
On November 4, Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned unexpectedly while in Riyadh, allegedly on the orders of Saudi Arabia, plunging the region into panic. On November 22, he returned and rescinded the resignation, in a way capitulating to Hezbollah's strength. The drama went on for three weeks and through the period, Nasrallah appealed for calm. It was an appearance of statesmanship, but, Ali says, also reflected the fact that "there is no appetite for war."
Over the last several years of wars in the region, Hezbollah has garnered much battle experience and become the strongest transnational militia force in the region as Iran's ally. "Resistance to Israel" is the stated goal of the group, which is busy consolidating the gains of the recent wars. While it insists the deployment on the border with Israel is to guard against Israeli aggression, the Israelis fear a stronger Hezbollah could be preparing for an offensive. The suspicion is mutual and even if neither is looking for a war, chances of a skirmish leading to one cannot be ruled out.
War against a common enemy
Ali, though, is not in the mood to be dragged into another conflict, at least not immediately. He emphasizes his loyalty to the group and speaks about how he was ready to die for the common cause, but for now he thinks a battle against one enemy, the "Islamic State" (IS) group, has been won and he deserves time off.
"The choice was between Daesh [Arabic term for IS — Editor's note] and death, and I chose death," he says. "But now IS is gone."
Beyond Hezbollah and Israel, IS and al-Qaida, Ali has the same set of woes as any other 30-year-old Lebanese.
"I am an engineer, but I am forced to drive a taxi," he says. If a taxi is your mode of transport in Beirut, you can expect to hear daily tales of Lebanon's economic problems, often from educated taxi drivers frustrated with the state of affairs, like Ali.
After a few cups of coffee, he opens up about some surprising aspirations for a Hezbollah soldier.
A new life in Germany?
"I love Germany," he says. Like hundreds of thousands of others, Ali wants to move to Germany, hoping to get proper work and money to be able to sustain his family and his dreams.
"The biggest problem in Lebanon is unemployment," he says. "Where do we work?"
Lebanon's economy is based on remittances from its citizens abroad who are happy to send money home because the Lebanese currency, the pound, is firmly pegged to the US dollar. It is not an exporting or manufacturing country, which means the capacity to generate employment is limited.
Ali says he cannot keep waiting for the Lebanese economy to pick up and has a different plan. Fluent in Arabic and French, Ali is learning German along with 12 other engineers and pays a hefty sum of $1,200 (€1,015) in tuition fees. In a month he will travel to Germany to continue learning the language, for which he has had to cobble together another €5,000. He has found out that companies in Germany are looking for trained professionals in his field and spends an hour a day online, researching the openings.
Sipping Turkish coffee, he googles "Arbeitsamt," the federal employment agency, and finds over 4,000 job openings for a "Vermessungsingenieur," or land surveyor. Ali's future depends on securing one of these jobs upon his arrival in Germany. He is desperate to move on and make a decent living.
In love with a Christian from the neighborhood adjacent to Dahiya, Ali points to the trademark bullet-ridden walls and speaks about the violent history of the 16-year-long civil war and the changes in Lebanese society.
"Things do not remain the same. See, me a Shiite is in love with a Christian girl now. I will marry her and take her to Germany. Inshallah (God willing)!"
What would he tell the Germans, who label Hezbollah a terrorist organization? "Terrorist? no, I am an engineer and they should know who defeated our common enemy, the IS."
As DW gets out of the car and bids farewell, he responds in German, "Auf Wiedersehen, Gute Nacht Frau Vohra."