Monday, January 28, 2008

Minister of Youth: “We’re at war!”

Yesterday at around 4PM, the news came in that riots had broken out in Mar Mikhail and in Chiyah, two Shiite areas of Beirut. It started with a somewhat peaceful demonstration against the lack of electricity, but soon it turned violent with heavy gunfire being reported. End result: 8 demonstrators dead, among which a local leader of the Shiite movement Amal.

During the rest of the day, the violence spread to other areas in Beirut as well. The airport road was closed off for a while and the Shiite demonstrators even went into, or tried to get into, Masraa, a Sunni neighborhood. Later in the evening, another disturbing development took place when Shiite gangs went into Ain el Remaneh, an area known for its strong support of the Lebanese Forces movement of Samir Geagea. Eye witnesses said they insulted their leader, threw stones and even a grenade was tossed, injuring at least 7.

Contributing to the state of fear was the TV footage showing snipers on rooftops and soldiers in hiding. The rest of Lebanon was tense as well with burning of tires in various places, such as Baalbak, Hermel. Towards the south demonstrators blocked the road to Sidon and Tyre.

Now that the dust has settled and calm has returned to Lebanon (and yes, another day of national mourning, just like Saturday after Wissam Eid was killed), the obvious questions start to appear. Was this a spontaneous strike against the lack of electricity and the high bread prices or was it organized from above?

Any attempt to answer this is pure speculation, but I have a feeling that the events yesterday were not organized. Rather, it could have been the result of ever increasing rhetoric from Opposition leaders that they would intensify their actions starting Sunday. It looks like their followers have headed their calls without any need for steering, but I guess we’ll never find out.

And what about the argument that the demonstrators were expressing their anger over the lack of electricity? They would be quite right to be upset with power cuts for sometimes 12 hours a day and that's just plain hard on people, especially in winter. But why ignite riots now? The cuts have been here all winter and they are not deteriorating.

An almost funny explanation was given by one of the analysts yesterday on TV, namely that the demonstrators wanted to give a strong signal to the Cairo meeting of Arab ministers of foreign affair that was taking place. As if the typical Arab leader would respond to voices from the ‘street’. Try to demonstrate in Egypt, Syria or Saudi Arabia and see how the army would respond. In any case, it didn’t help much as the Arab ministers have called upon Lebanon to elect Michel Suleiman as next president.

Yesterday, it seemed that the Lebanese army was set to confront the rioters as much as they could. Roadblocks were cleared away relatively fast and the violence was quite effectively contained, with the sad exception of the hostility in Ain el Remaneh.

Today, the opposition denies being responsible for the violent acts of yesterday and instead blames the government. Likewise, the government blames the Opposition. Samir Geagea, e.g., pointed out that all the demonstrators were young men, whereas there would also have been women and elderly present would it have been a true social protest.

Minister of Youth, Ahmad Fatfat, went even further and openly said that the current events amount to a civil war. He could very well be right, but let’s pray he’s not. But the fact that this time around the violence was again at Ain el Remaneh, is not reassuring.

On April 13, 1975 unidentified people killed 4 Maronites at a church in Ain el Remaneh, an event that many see as the start of the Lebanese Civil War. That same church featured prominently as the décor of yesterday’s riots. Is history going to be repeated?


Gerard said...

"Mish karabah" said my PC speaker 10 years ago, when I tried to send a fax to Lebanon. Lack of electricity can't be the cause for the riots. Pity to see, that in other aspects history tends to repeat itself.

Anonymous said...

While there is a lot of unknown facts about what went on last night, one thing is clear beyond a reasonable doubt and that is this demonstration was not spontaneous nor was it intended to be peaceful. For those who do not know, the area of the riots is under tight Hizballah control and NO ONE can take to the streets nor can even a pet relieve itself on the street, without the prior approval of Hizbalah. So how likely is it that a bunch of thugs can cut streets and burn tires without the approval or need I say encouragement of Hizballah aka Hizb Iran? Impossible is my answer.

EV said...

We don't need to speculate. The involvement of Hezbollah in yesterday's events is a fact. Just analyze the context of the events (where they took place), who benefits most and you'll come up with the answer. You don't need to see the writing on the wall.

That said, I think Hezbollah did score a couple of points, albeit at the expense of a few "martyrs" who were lucky enough to meet their Destiny.

The two points that Hezbollah scored are first, that they set a trap for the Army and dragged it into the conflict, essentially ruling out Suleiman as the Savior. Second, they showed once more that they have the ability to manipulate the country and ignite a civil war any time they please. They did not, willingly, take it far enough this time around. Next time, they'll do a bit more. The ultimate would be to drag the Army in. To us, that's a scary thought. To Hezbollah and its mentors, it's a blessing.

Did you say speculation?

nicolien said...

Gangs of Shi'a youth trying to move into Mazraa? I was walking from Hamra over Salem Sleim (never know how to spell this) down to Corniche Mazraa and back up Mar Elias, and it was deserted, except for the army who had completely blocked off the area on literally every street-corner. The burning tires in Mar Elias were young (Sunni) men who wanted to take on the Shi'a youth but were prevented from leaving. I haven't seen one person (other than myself) trying to get into that area.
If the Shi'a are 'trying to drag the country into war' (see comments), then these boys were more than willing to be dragged...