By Michael Hirst in Beirut, Sunday Telegraph, Talking politics is normally a favourite pastime in Lebanon. But after a summer of war and an autumn of government in deadlock, Beirut’s shops, cafes and barbers have drawn a line under the heated national dialogue by banning all talk of current affairs on their premises.With the country’s inter-religious tensions at levels not seen since the bitter civil war of the 1980s, the outcome of the trial of strength between the government and the Hizbollah-led opposition is on everyone’s mind.But with little prospect of a swift resolution, and fed up with the custom lost due to a continuing six-week sit-in by Hizbollah protesters in central Beirut, many of the capital’s businesses now want a polite silence.

Banks have emailed staff requesting that they refrain from engaging in political conversation with customers, and some companies have gone as far as to block political websites from their computer systems."Signs are going up in shops, restaurants, nightclubs and even the backs of cars asking people to stop talking about politics," said Tarek Hamid, 42, who owns a boutique designer clothes shop in central Beirut. "If the politicians want to fight they should do it in the parliament and not go to the streets where they stop the people working."

Lebanon has been in political deadlock since the end of last year’s 34-day war between Israel and Hizbollah, sparked by the Shia group’s kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers. Since the United Nations-backed ceasefire in August, Hizbollah has accused the Lebanese government of being a US-puppet regime and held demonstrations calling for new elections. Lebanon’s Sunni Muslims, backed by Druze and Christian groups, say the protests are an attempted coup instigated by Hizbollah’s backers in Syria and Iran.

Heightening the frustration for many Lebanese is the fact that a resolution to the crisis seems out of their hands. "None of our politicians takes decisions for our people," said Pierre Basset, 42, a florist in the mainly Christian neighbourhood of Achrafieh. "One side takes decisions for Iran and Syria, and the other takes decisions for Saudi Arabia and the United States."

At Zakaria, a salon in Beirut’s ethnically mixed neighbourhood of Qoraitem, Zakaria Abou Chaar, 38, said the "anti-politics" signs in his salon had had a noticeable effect on its atmosphere.

Most of his customers, he said, were relieved at the respite from political bickering. But not everyone was happy. One woman furiously argued that the signs sent a pro-government message.

However, while Hizbollah demonstrations outside the prime minister’s office are depriving local businesses of revenue, the party’s leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, is also counting the cost of last year’s conflict.

Thousands of homes, shops and schools in the party’s strongholds in southern Lebanon were destroyed in the war, and the local economy, heavily dependent on agriculture, has been crippled by unexploded Israeli cluster bombs that have rendered fields and olive groves unusable.

Despite the Iranian-funded group’s reconstruction efforts and its pledge to compensate each family that lost a home, payment delays have alienated many Lebanese who are struggling through the winter.

Hussein Ubeil’s home in Aitaroun, near the Israeli border, was destroyed in the war and the out-of-work Shia builder and his family have lived with relatives for six months. Hizbollah’s promise of a $10,000 hardship payment has so far failed to materialise.

"If you’re close to Hizbollah you get the money but if you’re not part of their group it’s not the same," said the 32-year-old father-of-five. "The protests in Beirut mean nothing to me. I’m just worried about feeding my family."

Such discontent has dented the reputation of Sheikh Nasrallah, until recently seen as a national hero who chalked up a historic victory against the might of Israel’s army.

Critics of Hizbollah are becoming more vocal as its efforts to topple the government appear to be losing momentum. Last month, central Beirut was flooded with hundreds of thousands of protesters demanding Hizbollah’s allies be granted sufficient government representation to give them veto power. Protesters vowed to camp outside the office of the prime minister, Fouad Siniora, until he was deposed.

But the campaign’s impetus has waned as Mr Siniora has stood firm, bolstered by the support of most of the Arab world and the West. Although Hizbollah has said it plans to intensify its campaign, a rally planned for Thursday was called off after similar demonstrations earlier drew only a few hundred protesters.

Barbers such as Mr Chaar now hope the demonstrations will end and that Lebanon’s political discourse will revert to parliament.

"We need tourists to visit our beautiful country, and for that we need peace," he said. "But how can we make our dreams come true if there are protesters camping on the streets downtown?"