Friday, February 15, 2008

Uncertainty Prevails Despite Feb. 14 Calm

BEIRUT, Feb. 15, 08

As Far as Unknowns Go: Welcome to the Capital of Uncertainty

Life as usual bustles on this sunny and cool Friday, but do not be duped nothing here is really normal other than uncertainty.

"We don't know where the country is going. We want to tell them to stop, but we don't want the Syrian regime here", explain Marie-Louise and Salim, two university students standing under a balcony in a vain attempt to stay dry from the driving rain.

The street on which they stood was filled with traffic of people walking in groups to and from Martyr Square in downtown Beirut, a place symbolic for hosting political contestation.

The crowd was varied, Muslim, Christian, veiled, bare headed, expensively dressed, poor, in from the country side, other from the city, families, single young men, women under umbrellas, youths carrying party flags, other wearing the flags on their heads for protection, baby strollers adorned by the Lebanese flag.

Movement around the square was cramped as security barriers, armed soldiers and armoured vehicles controlled the flow of people heading to the square to watch members of the governing coalition reaffirm
their stances on the day commemorating the assassination of Rafic Hariri killed in an explosion three years back.

The assassination of the former Prime Minister marked of the political struggle the Lebanese are faced with today. The unfolding Lebanese political saga has led today to a split in the country, which reflects the
greater regional political confrontations.

The stormy downpour, and increased armed security did not dissuade supporters of the governing coalition to march in the streets determined to fight for a sovereign Lebanon. The amount of people from all walks of life was reminiscent of the spring of 2005, when
the country came together in various protest movements.

"We will not be scared from anyone until the end", explains 20 year-old Salim, a student at the American University of Beirut. "We are here to prove that Michel Aoun does not have authority. We are here for
our Martyr's that have died since the 90's", Salim continues.

In the context of his statement, although the February 14 has become a national day to commemorate the death of Rafic Hariri, Salim's words are as politically divisive as is the current state of the country.

For some, the former Christian General Michel Aoun a leading member of the opposition siding with Hezbollah is blamed to splitting the Christian community between both anti-and pro-Syrian party supporters.

With Aoun siding with the opposition supported by Syria and Iran, his main Christian support finds itself at odds with the present governing coalition backed mostly by the West and Saudi Arabia.

Aoun, however, is not the only leader to have divided a sectarian community. It seems that the division cuts across of the sectarian communities, from the Druze, the Sunni, and the Shia.

The political battles are not based on religious ideology and differentiation rather the larger underlying theme seems to be competition for power. On a local level, it reflects unfinished business from the Civil War years, on the international front, it reflects the confrontations between the US, Israel, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Iran.

In Lebanon, international tensions directly impact the local level because political group finds economic and ideological support from external powers. Thus local political victories and losses reflect symbolic ones of international communities.

"The solution has to come from outside. It is out of our hands and our leaders, all of them are marionnettes (puppets)," explains the elderly and elegantly clad property agent sitting in his '60s designed office space in East Beirut.

"There is nothing for us to do, but to have patience and wait for a greater solution to take place outside. The United States and Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia all have to talk and come to some sort of agreements" says the realtor.

"Once they can make a decision, then it will only take Lebanon 24 hours to decide on a government and move on. But until then, we only have patience to work with", continues the tired agent who takes another puff from his local brand Cedar cigarette.

Although February 14 went unexpectedly calmly, the show of force on the streets reflected the intensity of the division in the country.

As supporters of the coalition government grouped together in the tens of thousands downtown, simultaneously in the southern suburbs of Beirut, tens of thousands followers in the opposition commemorated
the death of one Hezbollah military wing commanders assassinated in Damascus on the night of February 13.

Imad Mughniye, long time fugitive and number one on America's most wanted list until Ossama Bin Laden took the lead, found his death to yet another unknown hand.

Accused of being involved in a series of deadly plots leading killing American and French servicemen during the 80s, and Argentine Jews in Buenos Aires in the 90s, his list of ills extends, adding kidnappings to
his resume. Reportedly, his death is a serious blow to Hezbollah, having just lost a key player in their “military” activities.

Additionally, with silence and mystery surrounding each assassination, perfect conspiracy theories and so-called justified fingerpointing will add fuel to the fire. In search for a culprit, each looks outside
and draws conclusions based on international reaction.

In the case of Mughniye’s death, the United States celebrated the event as a victory in its war on terror. Iran on the other hand decried the event as an act of terror.

Hassan Nasrallah leader of Hezbollah and friend of Mughniye called for revenge yesterday in his eulogy of the party member addressing himself to Israel. Whoever the culprit, the silent hand of murder will
only be used legitimately or not as another scapegoat further decreasing chances for peace with Israel in the region.

"This country was the best in the region", recalls the realtor this morning. "Between 1963 and 1970, you should have seen it, you couldn't find a room in any hotel be it summer or winter. There were people in the streets after midnight, restaurants and cafes were
full', he continues.

“But with the war, they destroyed everything. My textile business evaporated. Everything went with the wind, ” contemplates with a glazed gaze our realtor.

His business destroyed, his savings gone because of the rapid rises of inflation during the civil war, our realtor's story is a foreshadowing of what may be to come if the country becomes engulfed in war. The
livelihood of many will go with the wind.

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