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As the war ended, however, old hostilities resurfaced and intensified during an 18- monthlong political stalemate between opposing parties that froze the government. The stalemate culminated in May 2008, when radical party members battled in the streets of Beirut and elsewhere, firing at each other with rocket launchers and machine guns. The clashes prompted leaders to reach a truce, which was brokered in Qatar.

Conflict remains deeply ingrained in Lebanon’s social fabric, adversely affecting older and newer generations in equal measure. In diverse cities, such as Beirut, home to half of the country’s 4.2 million people, neighborhoods tend to be inhabited by predominantly one religious community or another. Streets dividing historic neighborhoods often served as battle lines during the civil war.

In mixed public schools, students often socialize along confessional lines.

Ms. Ismael, for instance, distinctly remembers the importance students placed on their political and religious affiliations. During the war, her father moved the family to Saudi Arabia, where she was born and attended French and American international schools. At age 16, she and her family returned to Beirut. On her first day of high school, a group of students approached her and asked, “What are you?”

“I thought to myself, ‘What do you mean?’ I told them ‘I’m Muslim,’ but I didn’t know which community I belonged to,” says Ms. Ismael. “So I came back home and I asked my mom, ‘What am I?’ Surprised, my mom said, ‘You’re Sunni Muslim. Why? Who asked you?’ ”

At universities, student associations often base membership on political party membership. The political affiliation of a candidate for student government often heavily colors voting trends among the student body.

Ms. Ismael says that when she entered college, some Sunni students hassled her for not “being Sunni” enough.

“I was confronted by some Sunni students. They said, ‘Come on, you know you are a Sunni, you have to face it, you have to be with [Prime Minister Saad] Hariri,” she says.

“If you don’t stick with your own, you won’t get anywhere, nobody will help you,” laments Ms. Ismael.

In Beirut’s poor neighborhoods, young people often join gangs, who frequently engage in violent disputes with other gangs, usually over neighborhood turf. One such flashpoint is the area surrounding Horj Beirut Park on the city’s south side, where the Sunni, Shiite and Christian neighborhoods of Tariq el Jedideh, Cheyyah and Ain el Roumeneh intersect.

“If you take a small walk along the street near us, you will see the Christian youth sitting on one side of the street and on the other side of the street there is the Shiite youth,” says 28- year-old Muhammad Ayoub, general manager of Nahnoo, meaning “we” or “us” in Arabic, a nonprofit organization that works with at-risk youth from all confessions. “If something happens, you don’t know when, suddenly they will come and start to fight each other.”

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