Push to Ban Liquor in Nabatiyeh
Two months after Yaacoub Yaacoub opened his liquor store in Nabatiyeh he shut it down -- not for lack of customers, he says, but due to pressure.
"Members of local political parties came to see me and made it clear that stores that sell alcohol were not welcome in town," said Yaacoub, 50.
"And I was made to understand that they could harm me if I didn't abide by their demand," he added.
A banner recently hoisted near his store drove the message home.
"The residents of Nabatiyeh want all liquor stores to shut down," it reads.
More than 10 years ago Sidon, witnessed a string of attacks against liquor stores that no longer exist in the city.
Yaacoub said it was clear to him that those behind the campaign to close down his store in Nabatiyeh were loyal to Hizbullah and AMAL.
Both parties declined comment for this article.
Besides Yaacoub's store, several more shops in Nabatiyeh that sell alcohol have also closed in recent months. Other stores have resorted to selling liquor discreetly without displaying bottles on shelves.
The store closures were ordered by Nabatiyeh's mayor Ahmad Kahil, after 900 local residents signed a petition demanding their town turn dry.
"Alcohol affects moral values and the social order," Kahil told Agence France Presse.
His decision has grabbed headlines and sparked a heated debate online.
Many local residents who spoke on condition of anonymity said had Hizbullah not condoned the liquor store closures, no one would have dared draw up a petition, let alone submit it to local leaders.
"Banners against the sale of liquor began popping up about a week ago," said Samir Sabbagh, who along with his father heads a 20-year-old liquor wholesale company.
"Unknown people then started distributing leaflets calling for the closure of liquor stores," he added.
"Last Friday, after the Muslim prayer, protesters held a march during which they chanted slogans against alcohol consumption."
He said he has since decided to shut down his company for fear of reprisals.
"I am a secular man, I am for personal liberties but I had no other choice," Sabbagh said.
Social networking site Facebook meanwhile has been awash with indignant messages describing Nabatiyeh as an Iranian city or comparing it to an "Islamic republic.
One page in Arabic is entitled "The freedom of Nabatiyeh's youngsters is a red line" while another declares: "No to oppression, yes to alcohol in southern suburbs" of Beirut.
Ali al-Sabbagh, a resident of Nabatiyeh and member of the local council, said he would have favored more strict controls on the sale of alcohol rather than an outright ban.
"One must not meddle in people's private business," he said. "Banning liquor by force is counter to the constitution which guarantees individual liberties."
He also pointed out that the stores targeted had been granted liquor licenses by the state.
But Abbas Fahes, another local resident, holds a different view.
"The real threat to individual freedom here is the existence of liquor stores in an Islamic city," he said. "The majority of the population is Muslim and opposed to the sale of alcohol.
"The minority represents 10 percent of the population so who is the aggressor here?"