BEIRUT: The recent sectarian violence that has sprung up across Lebanon took a new twist over the weekend after rival tablet computer gangs engaged in fresh clashes on the streets of Gemmayze in Beirut.
The fighting is believed to have been sparked by the launch of the Microsoft Surface on Friday, which saw heightened tensions in a traditionally Apple-dominant district.
According to eyewitnesses, several hundred supporters of the California-based tech giant took the streets that afternoon to show their support for the new Apple iPad mini, which was unveiled just days earlier as a smaller and more economical alternative to the original iPad model.
But these were soon met by a force of about 50-60 followers claiming to have been won over by the Surface’s innovative keyboard cover and thought to have been bussed in from Microsoft-controlled areas of the city.
“At first it was just shouting and fist waving,” said Nadia Petit-Filous, who was working in a local bookstore at the time. “But then things turned ugly following a derogatory tweet that criticised the iPad’s lack of storage compared to that of the Surface.”
According to Petit-Filous, the ensuing scuffles lasted for about 20 minutes before armed police broke the two sides up. “It was terrible. I saw one guy being repeatedly struck around the head with Steve Jobs’ biography. In hardback.”
Despite intervention from the authorities, by early evening the violence had spread across the neighbourhood, with more factions entering the fray. A group pledging allegiance to Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD blockaded the entrance to a popular coffee shop, aggressively taunting passersby about the device’s higher count of pixels and pixels-per-inch than the iPad mini.
“It was terrifying,” said Dany Malbec, a customer who was trapped in the coffee shop at the time. “They kept on going around asking each of us if we prefer watching video with or without HD, and then getting us to scream out that we’d prefer it in HD and that we wouldn’t be able to experience it with the iPad mini.”
There were also reports of several gangs of self-declared ‘Googlers’ positioning themselves at main pedestrian crossroads and performing arbitrary stop and searches. “Anyone caught with a tablet not using an Android operating system was given a lot of grief,” said one resident who managed to slip by with a Samsung Galaxy Tab.
Many expect that violence will only increase in the coming weeks following Google’s upcoming release of its Nexus 10, with fears that its rumoured iPad-beating Retina display will ignite renewed tensions between the rival camps.
“We’re urging all technology manufacturers, in the name of peace, to please, please slow down with their product launches,” pleaded one politician in the Lebanese parliament yesterday.