Sunday, January 28, 2007

Reflecting on Recent Outbreak of Violence

The recent outbreaks of violence reflect a large part of unresolved issues left over from the civil war.

The points of contentions and the political posturing reveal tensions which are completely Lebanese and not foreign. One supporter of Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement referred to unresolved issues from the civil war to reinforce his description of deficiencies among various pro-government factions.

Based on his line of argument, Lebanon's decision to avoid national reconciliation talks after the civil war appears to have been a mistake.

However, as of today, it looks like there will be a lull period of two weeks, during which political heads will meet and attempt compromise.

Yet, one should not hold one's breath.

After listening to Rice's remarks at the Paris III conference, it seem the US will only back Siniora's government. The US does not seem keen in reaching compromise with the opposition which could empower the Hezbollah. As Rice explained she thought Siniora would best promote American ideals.

Because of this position, it would seem difficult for pro-government and anti-government forces to reach compromise. The inability to reach compromise on a political level could take a negative turn, as tensions are high and need an outlet to release pressure.

On the street level, things are very tense. Tuesday and Thursday's protests spiralled into the type of violence leaders could not contain.

On Thursday, a mudslinging match between two student at the Beirut Arab Universtiy flared up. "Reinforcements" from different political factions were called in. To stop the escalated situation which turned violent, phone lines were cut on Thursday.

But the protective measure occured too late as "reinforcements" arrived outside the university, armed with sticks, knives for the most part.

However photographs in the local papers the next day revealed that civilians were carrying handguns and semi-automatic machine guns.

As the army shot in the air to keep protesters apart, nerdowells took advantage of the noise to shoot off their weapons.

Local press reported that snipers on roof tops were spotted.

After six hours of strife, things began to calm on their own as the evening set in.

As things cooled, most of Beiurt was in shock. By then Hariri and Nasrallah appealed for calm via phone calls aired on the competing TV channels. A curfew was set in place.

During Thursday's violence which broke out at the university, youths in different parts of the city set up unofficial road blocks asking all drivers for ID papers.

One driver I spoke to the following day was livid. He felt that his religion was being targeted. He explained that when he was asked for his papers, he told the youth he was Lebanese like the youth. By the time he described what had happened he seemed irate, excitedly exclaiming: "We are all Lebanese!"

Unofficial road blocks in general are both provocative and oppressive for those who have lived through the civil war.

The taxi driver who lived through the civil war ws furious that boys who do not remember the civil war would do such a thing.

A second source of frustration to most people on the street, is that the army and police simply can not stop these road blocks from happening.

The army is not equiped to deal with civil disobedience. It neither has rubber bullets, nor water cannons. If they were to use the equipment they had on the streets, it would lead to massive blood shed.

And where there is less army such as outside Beirut, squirmishes have taken place as well. But this time, some have been between competing factions within the Christian community.

The question in front of us, is not only a rivalry between sunnis and shias, but the tensions are also between pro and anti-government movements.

Anti-government movements want a greater share of political representation such as Hezbollah and the popularly led Free Patriotic Movement by Aoun. However, their agenda and approach threatens the status quo.

And in the meantime, a source at the Hariri backed Moustaqbal Youth movement (pro-government) alluded to fueling tensions so as to get international attention. The source explained "we want to media to say Hezbollah led protest" because we want the world to focus on Hezbollah.

So as usual the situation is complicated, and no one is innocent. But civilians who want peace feel threatened.

Because of the recent squirmishes, people in the neighborhood of Tariq Jadideh (pro-government/ Moustaqbal supporter) are complaining about not having weapons, and accusing Hariri of abandoning them by not arming them.

When asked how does a gun help the piece, the answer always points to the need for protection from all of those who do have guns.

When asked why not rely on the army? The answer is what army? How could they stop anyone, they are also members of the society.

Based on the recent events, the general feeling is that the government need to work hard for the next two weeks to decide on compromise which could help de-escalate the crisis and deflect the tension.


Anonymous said...

there's been much talk in the American media/BBC of fears of a new civil war breaking out in Lebanon... but are these fears exaggerated? Looks like there's almost $8 billion going to be put into Lebanon... How will the factions deal with that money? also, what do you see is Lebanon's place in the establishment of a broader Middle East peace?

Irina Prentice said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Irina Prentice said...

i am not sure how i can find the person who wrote this comment. first, thank you for writing.

to answer briefly, fears of a new civil war unfortunately are not far-fetched. the coalition gov't and opposition are confronted with very divisive issues which seem difficult to bridge on the local level. the opposition wants a greater share of power and demands reforms which would not benefit those in power.

the coalition government, very much part of the and political and business establishment, don't want the status quo changes. most in power are making enormous amount of money while they hold on to power. despite corruption, the coaltion gov't rightly does not trust the opposition in being able to curb the appetite and influence of the syrians.

on an international level, posturing between the US and iran is not helping matters in Lebanon. the US support of the lebanese gov't as established over the paris 3 conference, leaves the lebanese coalition gov't little room to negotiate on the ground.

realistically the composition of the opposition is not strong enough to sustain the current constitution. the christian element in the opposition is sidelined and weak. it has no international support, nor is aoun supported by the elite establishement. although his supporters are largely middle class, this group is neither large nor powerful. aoun in power will not be able to firmly control and hold its constitiutional role in government, syria will take over, which will then lead to dissent which could either cause greater fractionalization or the politcal assassination of aoun.

the strongest faction in the opposition is hezbollah which is both very disciplined and allied to syria and iran. hezbollah can play either card at this point. if it doesn't like the way iran negotiates a treaty with saudi over the present situation in lebanon, than it can show an arab face by extending a friendly embrace to the syrians. at the end of the day, hezbollah which is essentially a mini nation within lebanon, needs syria in so far as syria gives it cover to bare weapons and continuously attack israel.

beyond hezbollah, there is amal ran by very corrupt berri. he is pro-syrian in so far that if he were not to follow suit with the opposition, the syrians would have his head.

there is the syrian socialist national party which is rooted in arab nationalist days where lebanon should be part of greater syria. there are sunni partis who were leftover of the pro-syrian government thrown over in 2005, who would love to get back into a position of power.

one can't forget that because of complete lack of transparency and accountability in this part of the world, being in power means complete access to all markets and government funds. the people in the street ultimately see very little of the country's wealth.

8 billion$ worth of aid when considering the state of the country is money which will evaporate. it is coming much too late, and it is loaded with conditions which solidify the chasm.

The points of contention on the ground are the follwoing: political parties on the ground who don't trust one another and who don't want to give up access to the spoils.

as political tag of war takes place, the people in the street feel vulnerable, scared, and are becoming polarized, thus reactionary... you saw what happened the other day in the street.

also, images of daily bombings in iraq are not helping de-escalate the tension.

another important point, the country is armed to the teeth. it is hard to achieve peaceful resolution when people are edgy and have access to guns. realistically there is probalby at least one form of weapon/firearm per household/ not including people's cars.

i hope this helps.

Anonymous said...

this might interest you

A human face on the war in Iraq
In 'The Situation,' Philip Haas shows the violence that grips daily life in Baghdad.
By Susan King, Times Staff Writer
February 8, 2007,1,6011287.story

Anonymous said...

Maybe you know this person. An article that might be of interest
to you and your readers in the Middle East Report

"Winter of Lebanon’s Discontents"
by Jim Quilty

Anonymous said...

no new posts?? why not a weekly blog, at least?

Anonymous said...

have you abandoned the blog? there are quite a few blogs on lebanon-related issues. might want to link exchange with them...

Laraine said...

Well said.