Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Logic predicts quiet

After the failed talks of Amr Moussa in Lebanon, the threats of certain Arab countries to boycott the Arab Summit meeting in Damascus and the expectation of Hezbollah retaliating against Israel for killing its main operative Imad Mughniyeh, the Lebanese fear the worst. While they might be right, logic would predict otherwise.

Assuming logic still works in Lebanon, admittedly a huge assumption, the March 8 camp has no real incentive to let things spin out of control. In fact, all is going hunky-dory for them and there’s no need to ‘rock the boat’. Lebanon has come to an effective stand still, Arab countries are advising their citizens to avoid Lebanon, most recently Bahrain joined the club, and foreign investments are plummeting.

Most importantly, Aoun is doing what he should be doing: scuttling the negotiations. By putting new demands on the table every time it seems a solution is within reach, he effectively prevents the talks from going anywhere.

First, March 8 suggested Michel Suleiman to become president, only to qualify its support after March 14 accepted Suleiman as well.

Tis was followed by demanding that March 14 would not have a 2/3 majority vote in the new government. Even this was granted by March 14 when they accepted 13 seats for them, 7 for the opposition and 10 under control of the president. Sure enough, Aoun came up with yet another batch of conditions: certain important ministries should be given to March 8.

All of the required ministries, Justice, Interior and Foreign Affairs are related to the upcoming UN Tribunal, so it was no wonder for many Lebanese who was really behind that demand. Nasrallah even stated during his last speech that Hezbollah is now officially against the UN Tribunal.

Another contended issue is the electoral law. In a surprising move, March 14 has rejected the 1960 law, which would give Christians more influence due to smaller electoral districts based upon the kazaas. Using smaller districts allots more weight to regional size as opposed to demographic size and thus would favor the Christians who, despite their small number compared to the Muslims, are spread out and would thus be assured of more seats in Parliament.

The Beirut Spring blog has an interesting article on this angle and mentions the all-but-forgotten Boutros Election Law. Remember that one of the first decisions taken by Siniora’s government was to install a committee to come up with a new law? Well, it seems their work was in vain as March 14 is ignoring it.

Coming back to the issue of more violence in the near future, it would appear to be unlikely that March 8 has any reason right now to stir things up. Sure, there might be the occasional fighting and riots, but those will be carefully controlled events, designed to send a message and certainly not intended to develop into something more serious.

Given that March 14 has no incentive to create mayhem in the streets of Lebanon either and that Damascus will not be easily intimidated by threats of boycotting the Arab Summit in Damascus end March, expect a relative quiet period…unless logic has gone missing in this country.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Friday, February 22, 2008

Siniora: President should attend Arab Summit

Yesterday, prime minister Siniora stated that Lebanon should be represented by the president, not the prime minister. Quite obviously, this is a call for pressure on Syria which wants their Damascus Summit to be a success, which is going to be difficult enough as it is.

Siniora's insistance on protocol is rather dubious given that during at least two Arab Summits namely the one in Saudi Arabia and in Sudan, it was Siniora who represented Lebanon as a prime minister, in a separate mission, completing president Lahoud's.

Anyway...

The Naharnet article quoted Siniora as saying that "Lebanon has not received an invitation. The invitation should be addressed to the president".

It makes you wonder, from a purely formal point of view, what exactly is going on: has the Arab League indeed failed to invite Lebanon or did it invite Lebanon but addressed the invitation to the president, giving Siniora an opportunity to claim Lebanon has not been invited?

If the latter case is true, it means Siniora is not executing all of his responsibilities, namely to be acting president. As acting president, he would be fully authorized to receive and accept the Arab League invitation. Assuming Siniora has refused to do so, it would be quite a selective choice as he has no quarrels carrying out his 'acting president' responsibilities when it comes to other tasks he takes care of as acting president.

If the first is true, that would raise the question why the Arab League hasn't invited Lebanon yet. Surely, the member countries can't all be taken side with March 14 and be using the invitation as political leverage on March 8?

So what is going on? Either Siniora is lying or the Arab League has truly become body that, for once, has taken a firm stance.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Lebanon getting more isolated

The recent wave of violence in Lebanon has not gone unnoticed abroad. First, the French shut down their cultural centers in the south of Lebanon. This was followed by a negative travel advice for Saudi citizens. The latest is the Kuwaiti government also recommending its citizens to avoid Lebanon.

This was in a response to a bomb threat against the Kuwaiti embassy in Beirut earlier this morning. Luckily, the treat was empty and no bombs/rockets were found. The threat was made anonymously so it's anyone's guess who is behind it.

There might be a link with the death of Imad Mughniyeh, which has caused upheaval after some Kuwaiti MPs openly mourned his death. Given that he was supposedly responsible for hijacking a Kuwaiti plane, this support for Mughniyeh didn't go down too well.

10-10-10..... + 1?

With the arrival of Amr Moussa to Lebanon, the discussion about how to divide the minister seats has been rekindled. First, we had March 14 agreeing to a 10-10-10 division. In effect, this would be giving the sacred veto right to the Opposition. Now, in an amazing twist of logic, Hariri stated that he was only testing the waters.

Getting over these petty issues, why is no one realizing that a division of ministers in three groups of 10 each, is actually not giving any party a blocking vote?

According to Article 64 of the Lebanese Constitution, the Prime Minister can vote as well, being the head of the Council of Ministers. The text is a bit fuzzy, though and does not specifically state whether the Prime Minster votes or not.

Anyway, if my interpretation is correct, it means that each block would have 10 votes out of 30+1 (the Prime Minister's vote) in total, so no one gets the one-third veto right. Problem solved.

Kosovo Independence at expense of Lebanon?

It has been long said that Lebanon’s future is decided outside Lebanon. Despite, or rather because of its small size, the country is at the mercy of the international powers that be. That’s why the Kosovo Independence might very well backfire on Lebanon. How so?

The Geopolitical Weekly (free registration) has an interesting article analyzing the possible fall-out of Kosovo’s declared independence of last week. This move of Kosovo went straight against the interest of Russia that wants to expand its influence across Eastern Europe. To save face, Vladimir Putin will have to react.

He could do this in various ways, according to the article, one of which is use its allies to put pressure on America, the perceived driver behind Kosovo’s independence. In a first response, Russia has called for an emergency summit of the Commonwealth of Independent States, which is a group consisting of 11 former Soviet republics. Interesting enough, Putin has also invited Iran, clearly taking sides with this country to annoy America.

One of the main issues between Iran and America is the furthering of democracy in the Middle East by letting Lebanon choose its own president. Although the Geopolitical Weekly doesn’t cover this angle, it wouldn’t be too far fetched to speculate that Iran will obtain Russia’s backing in frustrating the democratic process in Lebanon.

Iran would be at risk of upsetting its ally Syria, in case the upcoming Arab League conference in Damascus would be boycotted by Saudi Arabia and Egypt, but that’s a small price to pay for Iran, especially after the killing of Imad Mughniyeh, which according to analyst Michael Young might be used by Syria to pressure the other Arab states into attending.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Sexy lingerie in Lebanon

Lebanon, or rather the Arab world in general, is often difficult to understand. Foreigners usually have the stereotype of a conservative region where family honor and religious tradition force women to cover themselves as much as possible. In a sense, this picture is quite correct. But what then with all those lingerie stores you find everywhere across the Middle East?

Foreigners, who feel that stereotyping is a neat way to organize the chaos around them in the countries they visit, will continuously be forced to reevaluate their prejudices when coming to Lebanon. Sure, the country is quite conservative and there is an increasing number of veiled women in Beirut. But somehow, even in the traditional Muslim areas of the city, you can see plenty of lingerie stores with big posters in their windows advertising the latest and skimpiest models. And one rule always seems to apply: the tinier the lingerie, the larger the poster.

Photo 1: The skimpier the lingerie, the larger the poster

It is far from me to claim any expertise in this matter, but it seems to this layperson that Muslims somehow do not necessarily connect conservatism with being prudish about sexuality. At least, not so much as Christians tend to do. Many times, I’ve heard Muslims saying that the Koran is actually quite open about sex. Again, I am not an expert on this topic, but somehow it is striking that even in the most conservative Muslim country, Saudi Arabia, you will find quite a few lingerie stores. Certainly more than you would find in a random city in the American Bible Belt.

The importance Arabs attach to lingerie can perhaps be explained with reference to the traditional role model of women: a lust object placed on earth for the pleasure of men. This explanation would certainly make sense, but it would not make clear the difference between the Muslim and the Christian world, especially since in many cases, both religions are pretty much equally conservative.


Photo 2: Veiled woman entering lingerie store in Hamra, Beirut

And yet, Christianity is known for its abhorrence of anything sexual. Catholic priests can not marry out of fear of being compromised by earthly lusts and for the rest of this world sex is mostly allowed for reproduction purposes. [On a side note, if all Christians would head the call to become priests, the religion would die out in one generation.]

The Christian idea of sex generally being something that is best to avoid and only to be applied with the sole purpose of adhering to God’s first order to mankind (“Go forth and multiply”) has somewhat mellowed out since the sixties in certain Western countries, but you only have to look at the fierce opposition of the Pope to the use of condoms to realize that the ‘official’ position is still not in favor of having sex just for fun. Indeed, it is fair to say that a large number of Christians have a rather suspicious stance towards anything sexual.

How different the Muslim approach: everywhere you go in the Arab world, you find lingerie stores in the open. The unified message seems to be: “Come and be beautiful for your husband!” No shame, no hush-hush, it’s all out in the open. Brides, e.g., should not be surprised when their best female friends give them sexy (or downright slutty) lingerie as a wedding gift. Also, it is quite normal to see veiled women wearing make-up which sort of defeats the purpose of the veil, namely to hide one's beauty.


Photo 3: Veiled woman with make-up (courtesy of Saudi Stepford Wife)

Still, despite this openness about sexuality, male expats in Lebanon get easily confused due to the mixed messages they receive. The Lebanese women can dress quite seductively, but don’t think they are actually inviting men to anything else besides a good time.

Whenever I see these dolled up Lebanese beauties, I cannot help the feeling that they’re playing dress-up with clothes found on grandma’s attic. It’s like watching a 9 year old pretending to be a femme fatale without ever crossing the line of decency. Indeed, for Christians and Muslims alike, sexuality still is very much something to be enjoyed in the marital setting.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Earthquake in Beirut

Wow! Just felt an earthquake, right here in Beirut. No idea how strong it was, but the desk was moving and all. I've never been through this before, guess there's a first time for everything. Already, Lebanon has been witnessing two earthquakes in the last two days, possibly related to the earthquake that shook the south of Greece earlier.

UPDATE:
Naharnet reports that the earthquake that occured at 12:37 was of magnitude 5 and has damaged villages in the south of Lebanon. So far, 1 person has died and 5 have been wounded.

So how many DID attend the Hariri demo?

Yesterday’s demonstration to remember Hariri and all the other martyrs had roughly a million people show up…at least that’s what everybody said. It seems that his ‘million’ is not really based on actual observation, but rather on more intangible matters, such as pride, prestige and the fact that a million just sounds really good. So, how many people DID actually attend?

Well, to find this out, you’d first have to get an overview of the location. Google is your friend and their Google Earth application gives you a clear satellite picture of downtown Beirut.

Next step would be to measure the size of the demonstration. I simply assumed that it covered the whole of Freedom Square. Google Earth provides a nice tool that measures out the length of a path, so I delineated Freedom Square and looked what Google told me. Turns out, the circumference of the demonstration yesterday was roughly 1,600 meter, see picture below.

Photo 1: Downtown Beirut with location of demo boxed in

An area with a circumference of 1,600 meter can be drawn as a rectangle of 400 meter by 400 meter. Likewise, it is easy to calculate the demonstration covered 400x400 = 160,000 square meter.

Now let’s assume you can put 3 people on each square meter. This is rather generous: draw a square meter on the ground and try for yourself if you can fit 3 people. Real cozy, but hey, it was Valentine yesterday, so let’s assume people were standing shoulder to shoulder.

The turnout would then be: 160,000 square meter x 3 people = 480,000 people only! Note that a more realistic assumption of 2.5 people per square meter would lead to only 400,000 people. That’s not even close to the million were mentioning.

Sure, there were people still flowing to the demonstration while it was in full swing. So let’s add them. From Downtown to Jdeideh is roughly 5.5 kilometer. Let’s make it easy and assume 6 kilometer. Now assume that every car takes up 5 meters of the road (when standing still, the moment the cars start driving the distance between cars becomes much more) and let’s assume the cars were 5 lanes wide. Also, let’s assume every car had 5 passengers and that there were in total 3 roads leading towards Beirut like this. So how many people would have been stuck in traffic?

Easy: (6 kilometer / 5 meter) x 5 lanes x 5 passengers per car * 3 roads = 90,000 people were stuck in traffic. Again, these assumptions are rather generous, but hey, let's burst the bubble as softly and nicely as we can.

In total this would mean that 480,000 + 90,000 = 570,000 people attended or tried to attend the Hariri demonstration. That’s still quite far from the 1 million. Not that this little fact would matter much in Lebanon. Like three years ago, the demonstration yesterday will also go down in history as the 1 Million people demo.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

More pics of the Hariri demo

Just shot these pictures from demonstrators walking past my office. You have people who go to where the action is; me, I don't have to, it comes to me:-)

Photo 1: This is the first large group passing by on Bliss Street, Hamra at around 9:30AM. That's still quite a walk to Freedom Square (previously: Martyr Square)


Photo 2: Expect to see a lot of these banners today

Photo 3: And expect even more umbrellas!

Photo 4: Now that's a huge flag!

Pick you demo today

Lebanon has always been a country of extremes. Beirut was the only city in the world that had two Hard Rock Caf├ęs, now it can boost it holds two demonstrations simultaneously: either go to the long-planned memorial of Rafiq Hariri or try the daily special and visit the memorial of Imad Mughniyeh who was killed two days ago.

Whatever you choose, don't forget to bring your umbrella and a warm coat because it's cold (9C) and raining. A steady drizzle, almost Dutch-like weather, which is quite unusual for Lebanon...the heavens must be crying.

Despite the expected high turnout for both events, the roads were empty early this morning. Normally the roads would be packed around 8AM, but not today. Hardly anyone who has no business of attending, stays at home, safely tucked away behind the TV screens. It sure helps that the Siniora government has asked all businesses and schools to close down, but even without such a call, the Lebanese would not have taken any chances.

Rightfully so, because you never know what will happen. All it takes are a few rioters to turn the streets into a battlezone. Unfortunately, we have witnesses too many occassions during the last two years, let alone the Civil War which is still fresh in the memory of many people.

To give you an impression of how empty the roads are, see below pics that were taken roughly at 8:00AM. Normally, the roads would be busy with commuters and parents dropping their kids off at school:

Photo 1: Bliss Street, empty, wet, sad...

Photo 2: The Corniche, equally empty. Only a few pedestrians defy the rain and wind

Photo 3: An early bird going to the Hariri demo!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Surprise your lover on Valentine!

"Clorets is thrilled to announce the launch of its special Valentine flavor. Surprise your lover with our limited Onion edition. Valentine will never be the same again! Also available in garlic! In stores across Lebanon now!"

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Gearing up for a huge demonstration

The last few days, Lebanese leaders of March 14 have started to rally their followers to participate in the upcoming demonstration on Thursday, February 14. Purpose of the demonstration is to honor Rafiq Hariri who died three years ago on that day and to plea for an independent (read: free from from Syrian/Iranian influence) Lebanon.

No doubt it will be huge, but there is also a feeling among people I've talked to that they're just fed up with it all. Back in 2005, it was truly a demonstration for freedom. The pro-Syrian Karami government had just fallen two weeks before on Feb 28, the Syrian soldiers had left the country and to top it all, Hezbollah had just organized a "Farewell"-demonstration to thank the Syrians, which many Lebanese saw as oppressors.

Back then, the mood was right for a huge counter-demonstration to show Hezbollah that they and their Syrian friends are not the one running the country. But now, three years later, things have changed. That Paul Simon song captures the current mood in Lebanon quite well:

"And I don't know a soul who's not been battered
I don't have a friend who feels at ease
I don't know a dream that's not been shattered
or driven to its knees"




People here feel that the upcoming demonstration is basically a pissing contest between kids-cum-politicians and that they're played as chips in some kind of poker game. Let's raise the stakes one more time, why don't we? Not that it matters much, but that's all they are capable of. What doesn't help either is the perception, especially among March 14 Christians, that this demo will be all about Hariri. He was the first, but certainly not the only martyr, or so their reasoning goes.

Still, despite such feelings, have no doubt that many people will attend. Not the least because of all the efforts being put into getting everybody down to Beirut. From the tiniest villages, free transportation is organized. Also, the government has given everybody one day off. I wonder if they would do the same if March 8 would call for a demonstration sometime later.

Below are some pictures of the many banners and posters that have appeared in Beirut during the weekend, with hopefully correct translations:

Photo 1: "Go down, they won't come back. They will not get our Lebanon"


Photo 2: "2008: Go Down, they won't come back. They will not get our Lebanon"


Photo 3: "2005: We went down, they withdrew. They will not get our Lebanon"


Photo 4: "They will not get our Lebanon"


Photo 5: And my favorite..."The Hamra Association will not forget the one who saved lives as well as the economy"

Monday, February 11, 2008

March 14 accepts 10-10-10, tension rises further

In a surprising move, March 14 has accepted the 10-10-10 division of minister seats during a meeting with the Opposition in the weekend. Not that it has lead anywhere due to Aoun’s refusal, but it is a significant step. Unfortunately, it didn’t do anything to reduce the tension.

Quite the opposite as this weekend saw gunshots fired at Nabih Berri’s residence after Hariri’s speech (trying to stir up things between the Sunnis and the Shiites?), a guard of the Parliament wounded by gunshots (apparently by supporters of Hariri who were brandishing their guns in celebration firing after his speech on Saturday) and two members of Jumblatt’s PSP wounded by men firing at them.

These events overshadowed the concession made by March 14 in accepting the 10-10-10 division, meaning 10 seats would go to both March movements and 10 seats would be chosen by the future president, on the condition that this will be Michel Suleiman, the current army commander. Although it was reported earlier that March 14 had already agreed to this formula, the French language newspaper L'Orient-Le Jour brought it as opening news in their weekend edition.

Aoun, apparently taken aback by this concession, had to refer to his allies. After making the necessary phone calls, he came back into the meeting to put additional demands on the table: the identity of the prime minister should be known in advance whereas March 14 states that it is up to the new president to appoint a prime minister.

Also, March 8 wants control over the ministries of Interior, Justice and Foreign Affairs, not coincidentally crucial positions to block the UN Tribunal. In addition, March 8 wants a new electoral law before appointing a new president, to ensure that it gets a fair shake during the next elections. The casual observer will remember that the last elections were held under the patronage of Syria and thus would have been fully skewed to favor the pro Syrian parties. They lost anyway despite the manipulation of the electoral law; so one can only wonder what March 8 tries to achieve by changing a law already in its favor.

March 14, in the mean time, is mobilizing its supporters for the demonstration coming Thursday, February 14, the third year memorial of the killing of Rafiq Hariri. By all accounts, this will be a huge rally with an expected high turnout and despite Berri’s call for unity, it will be a March 14-only event. Saad Hariri’s speech this weekend was an indication of the mood within March 14: fierce, aggressive and, may I say it, a little desperate.

The strong worded speech of the otherwise calm Hariri in which he claimed to elect a president no matter during the parliament meeting that was scheduled for today, didn’t result in much since Berri cancelled anyway, leaving Hariri empty-handed.

Not to be outdone by Sunni leader Hariri, Jumblatt gave an even stronger speech, basically saying that if March 8 wants war, they can get it. He toned it down the next day, but still, the message was one of increasing impatience with the current situation. Hezbollah responded in kind by saying that Jumblatt threats to the Opposition were like “an ant threatening a lion”.

Statements like this do nothing but build up a moment “in the streets” where the followers on every side seem to be gearing up for another round of confrontation. The riots on Bloody Sunday might not have proven enough opportunity to blow off steam, but should rather be considered a warming up.

Beirut under siege

It's fascinating how things can change slowly without really noticing it. Like the security measures throughout Beirut. Tanks have gradually entered into view and somehow, they didn't register. Until you force yourself to notice them and then they're all around.

It has been mentioned many times before that the Lebanese have a tremendous capacity for self delusion which no doubt help them in their current resilience to the madness around them. Yet, it is equally helpful to stop and realize that, actually, this is not normal, that tanks in the street are not a Good Thing© and that anyone numbing to them is sliding down a slippery road you shouldn't wish for anyone.

To give you an idea of the daily images we see in Beirut, here below are some photographs of an average drive throughout the center and some suburbs. I didn't go to the obvious places with lots of security, like the areas where our beloved leaders live. instead, I tried to present a more or less unbiased picture of Beirut Feb 2008:


Photo 1: A soldier manning a tank, ready to shoot if necessary


Photo 2: A huge tank next to a checkpoint

Photo 3: A tank overlooking a street


Photo 4: Posters of martyrs who fell during the battle with the Lebanese army. Once your own people start fighting the army and become martyrs as a result, all bets are off


Photo 5: Soldiers behind sandbags at a checkpoint

Photo 6: Another checkpoint, this time unmanned


Photo 7: Tanks, tanks tanks...

Photo 8: Soldier on a tank with his finger on the trigger

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Predictions of Michel Hayek

For those who have missed it, here are the predictions of the famous clairvoyant Michel Hayek. His website is "coming soon", sure wish Michel could be a bit more clear! Anyway, every year, he predicts what’s going to happen in Lebanon and the Middle East.

Whether or not his predictions come through is a matter of debate, but just so you can judge for yourself, it might be interesting to check out what he’s been seeing for this year.

  • There will be interesting changes in the Maronite social order
  • Lebanon will remain an example of cultural and religious unity and will see great investments, an improvement in the airports and infrastructure.
  • Lebanon will see a president very soon.
  • Troubles ahead for newspaper publisher Charles Ayoub.
  • All eyes will be on a woman from the Hariri family.
  • The Beirut airport will witness a large gathering.
  • The international court will face an assault.
  • The Bekaa valley will be in the headlines.
  • Abbas Zaki will be targeted.
  • General Aoun and his party will face some serious challenges.
  • Dangerous accusations between UNIFIL and Israel.
  • An incident between Sidon and Tyr.
  • Dangerous confessions against the state and security forces.
  • The beginning of railroad renovations.
  • Interesting events in Rabieh and Metn.
  • The diplomatic corps sees a setback.
  • Lebanon will see a surge of Lebanese tourists.
  • The Druze will all be seen under one umbrella.
  • Crime details will be revealed.
  • Spy stories in the media.
  • A king, friend to a Lebanese personality, will be assaulted.
  • The Mouawad residence will see a huge event.
  • News surrounding a journalist.
  • Resignations and withdrawals from politicians.
  • Clergymen turns politician.
  • Baabda Palace and the neighborhood will remain cursed for a while.
  • Lebanese director in the spotlight.
  • Information will be leaked about a planned terrorist attack in Lebanon.
  • An official figure will be targeted.
  • First official talks of borders and diplomatic relations between Syria and Lebanon.
  • Beirut will see a revival after a clash.
  • Medical card will slowly be launched.
  • A fire from and within a Palestinian location.
  • A UN Lebanese employee will be promoted.
  • For the first time ever, the Nobel Prize for Peace goes to an Internet blog: the Lebanon Update*
  • A Lebanese personality will receive a recommendation from the Vatican.
  • The Lebanese Forces and Samir Geagea will be targeted.
  • Negative energy surrounds former deputy Fares Soueid and Lebanese Forces deputy Antoine Zahra.
  • Counteraction to something concerning Abbas al Hachem.
  • A name in a municipality will be make headlines.
  • Historic handshakes between various personalities.
  • Concerning the prisoners, Hezbollah sees a new accomplishment but at a high price.
  • A Lebanese personality will leave the country for unknown reasons.
  • Clergymen in both physical and emotional danger.
  • A daring confession from a renowned figure will change the direction of events in Lebanon and Syria.
  • Lebanese politicians abroad such as former diplomat Johnny Abdo will be asked to take on important missions, despite the danger that surrounds them.
  • Names of the troika will be included in front-page news.

*: Obviously, this one is a joke, but hey, if Al Gore is good enough, so is anyone. As for the rest of the predictions, you be the judge.

Friday, February 1, 2008

The Daily Star on the weather

"When you're alone and life is making you lonely, You can always go..." read the Daily Star.

Like, yesterday's article about the weather. First, the ever-intelligent reporter asks an expert of the Civil Aviation Department at the Rafik Hariri International Airport (who wants to remain anonymous) if similar storms are to strike Lebanon anytime soon. After a thoughtful pause, or so I can imagine, the official said: "Everything is possible."

Uh-huh, I can see why this expert wanted to remain anonymous! What a wonderful quote and what amazing display of insight in weather forecasting. Good thinking of the reporter to ask an expert and not a random person on the street.

Luckily, there’s more. The expert goes on to say that he “could not deny or confirm claims that the current storm is to be followed by a wave of freezing cold.” No, of course he couldn’t. Everything is possible, remember?

This guy is doing great, so let’s hear what additional pieces of wisdom he’s willing to share with the readers of the Daily Star:

"Every cold wave might be followed by a freezing cold wave," he said. "But it is difficult to confirm this. It is also difficult to predict when it will occur because any storm needs time to be formed."

Ah, yes, a cold wave might be followed by a freezing cold wave. And that’s difficult to predict because a storm needs time to be formed. But wait, isn’t Lebanon already witnessing a storm? So hasn’t the storm already been uh formed for that matter?

And what about the difference between a cold wave and a freezing cold wave? The next sentence of the article doesn’t provide the much-needed clarity. Instead, it brings more confusion:

“An extremely rare biting cold wave has swept Lebanon over the last two weeks, leaving at least three people dead and inflicting heavy losses on agricultural crops.”

OK, so we’re currently having an extremely rare biting cold wave…which will be followed by a freezing cold wave. Presumably, this last wave will be even colder than the wave we’re in right now. Somehow, that’s doubtful, though. After all, can there be anything even colder than extremely rare biting cold?

Thank God the laughter caused by reading this article warmed me up considerably!

The aftermath of Sunday’s events

Now that the initial shock over Sunday’s events that have killed 9 people and wounded dozens is gone, conclusions are being drawn. Were the riots helpful for Syria and Hezbollah, or was it actually detrimental to their goals? There are as many opinions as the people who read them, so allow me to present you with a summary.

Hezbollah’s first response was to accuse the Lebanese army for killing 9 demonstrators on Sunday (1 died two days later in the hospital). During a meeting between Nasrallah and general Suleiman, the former claimed to have videotapes showing soldiers aiming and shooting directly at the demonstrators.

Too bad Nasrallah doesn’t want to release these tapes because it could clarify the rumors about snipers, namely that the army wasn’t the one shooting, but snipers on the rooftops. These rumors have been collaborated by footage of snipers has been shown on various TV stations. It exonerates the army from killing the demonstrators, who were throwing stones at the army.

After the sniper story was more or less confirmed by these images, the Opposition changed its accusations: the Army was no longer accused of killing demonstrators. Instead, they accuse the army of not preventing the snipers from shooting. I’m not a sniper expert, but it would seem rather difficult to prevent snipers. Anyway, it seems the Army was not the one doing the actual shooting, so that’s one question answered.

This begs the next question: who were these snipers? Given the location of the Shiite demonstration on the border with a Christian suburb, it would seem logical to conclude that it must have been Christians sniping away at the Shiites. However, this has not been confirmed. In fact, it is still unclear from which buildings exactly the sniping took place. Once you know the building, you know the identity of the snipers, or at least their religion.

[People who were in Lebanon in 1974/5 must be having flashbacks: lots of small demonstrations, some fighting, the occasional death and above all snipers to turn people and sects against each other; it all seems eerily like the period prior to the Civil War]

Another question is if the events have benefited Hezbollah and the Aounists. Whereas the first questions were relative clear to answer, this last one depends on your personal beliefs. March 8 would say that the army has been put on a leash because it is now under investigation as to whether soldiers have carried out their duties professionally or not. As long as this investigation lasts, the reasoning goes, the Army will be very carefully to confront demonstrators the next time around.

What’s more, the mere fact of an investigation launched against the army shows that they are not as untouchable as everybody always thought. Even the army can be hold accountable and that is certainly a victory for Hezbollah which wants to minimize the role of the army as it takes away from their role in defending Lebanon against its enemies.

Clearly, March 14 has a different take on things. They feel that Michel Aoun has been put in a difficult spot, now that his Shiite buddies have been attacking Christians in the Ain el Remaneh area. The fact that a gang of Shiites ravaged through a Christian neighborhood made painfully clear that Aoun’s friendship with Hezbollah will not protect his own followers from theirs. Granted, Ain el Remaneh is considered to be a stronghold for the Lebanese Forces, a competing Christian party, but still.

Furthermore, Christians typically side with the Christian army commander, especially when the army is attacked by a group of angry Shiites. The reasons for the demonstrations (electricity cuts and the price of bread) seem unlikely and many Christians would see the riots for what they were: an attack against the army and especially against Suleiman.

Whoever is right, the conclusion must be that a solution is further away than ever. In case Hezbollah is correct, it means they feel more powerful to push through their demands. In case they’re wrong, they would feel to be running out of options to achieve their goals relatively peacefully.

Either way, more violence is to be expected