Friday, January 25, 2008

The strike was all that was quiet

Contrary to what many Lebanese had feared, yesterday’s national strike was actually as quiet as could be. One person was wounded and the ISF agent who wounded him turned himself in. If you’d close your eyes, you could almost imagine yourself to be in San Francisco in 1968, flower in your hair and all…

…until you start listening to the politicians of March 14. First, we had Samir Geagea who bluntly stated that he is not willing to agree on anything with March 8. And if that was not enough, he made accusations against Hezbollah for killing Lebanese army officers during the civil war. Now that’s interesting that he should mention this, because it is Geagea himself who was also accused of doing this. Pot, kettle. None of these accusations have been proven, by the way.

Another twist of history is that it was Geagea’s party that blocked the election of a new president back in 1988, even though the Lebanese Forces were a minority, but that’s a different story.

However, to Geagea’s defense, he was reacting to Nasrallah’s accusations that March 14 is working towards assassinating him by collaborating with Israel, which is one of the worst accusations you can level in Lebanon.

Druze leader Jumblatt went further in his statements and openly accused Hezbollah of wanting to start another war with Israel. Also, he accused Syria of wanting to trigger a wave of Syrian-sponsored kidnappings and killing of foreigners, something that has been reported by a Syrian newspaper. Given that the Syrian media are under state control, it was a not-so-subtle reminder of Syria that it can stir things up.

Anyway, back to the demonstration yesterday. As noted, the call for strike was hardly adhered to in many parts of Beirut. Most shops were open as usual, buses were driving and taxis tried to pick up the few people on the street. If anything, the impact of the strike was the fact that many people had chosen to stay home, afraid of a repeat of Black Tuesday a year ago.

What was different with a year ago was the role of the army. They were actively preventing people from blocking the roads and removed blockades by force. It must have been an unsettling site for March 8 to see army commander Suleiman to be so active in preventing demonstrators from getting out of control. Now let’s see what the reaction will be.

The day before the strike, Michel Murr stated that he would not support the scheduled demonstrations and that he declared the Metn free of strike. This was a clear barb against Michel Aoun, who did support the strike. Ever since the fall-out between the two, Murr is doing as much as he can to distance himself from Aoun and to regain his influence within the Metn.

It is too easy to conclude that March 8 has lost support because of the lackluster interest in the strike yesterday. What would be fairer is to assume that both Hezbollah and Aoun didn’t put their full weight behind it. Everybody is now anxiously waiting for the outcome of the Arab League meeting in Damascus coming Sunday. If this will result in failure, then Hezbollah will escalate its actions.

They have announced this before and before and before. So maybe it’s an empty threat. Then again, there’s always the possibility that it’s not. Given the emotions in the street, it feels there is a momentum building up that sooner or later would need to unleash itself.

It’s easy to imagine the frustrations of the Opposition: blocking downtown for more than a year and still nothing happens. It would make you wonder what you need to do to get the other side to listen to you. In that sense, Geagea’s statement that he’s not willing to agree on anything does get a meaning he might not even have intended.

UPDATE: A bomb went off around 10AM in the Chrevrolet neighborhood (close to Hazmieh and Furn el Shebak) and has killed captain Wissam Eid, a senior officer of the internal security forces. Initial reports speak of at least 10 dead. Was this a reaction to the army's crackdown on demonstrators, yesterday?