Pierre Gemayel-- "Sheikh Pierre" to his followers and "the Prince of Youth" to Prime Minister Saniora-- is dead. He was gunned down yesterday at point-blank range in Jdeideh to the north of Beirut, in broad daylight. An unknown assassin fired a dozen shots through the driver's window with a silencer-equipped gun.
Jumblatt, Saad Hariri, Michael Bolton and Nayla Maowad blamed Syria. The UN Security Council unilaterally condemned the assassination; and Hezbollah said the assassins were trying to sow chaos and civil war. Everyone left work for home in a panic when the news broke. Christian teenagers burnt tires and set trashcans on fire in the Christian neighborhood of Achrafiyeh and in Gemayel's hometown, Bikfaya. This all happened while I was down south in Aita Shaab.
I returned to Beirut this evening and drove straight into a horde of approximately 150 teenagers congregated outside the Phalangist headquarters in Saifi. They had arranged white paper bags in the form of a the Phalangist party's symbol-- a cedar tree that looks it was drawn by a four-year old. Not entirely appropriate for an organization with fascist origins.
The leader of the Phalangists' student organizations for all the Lebanese private universities -- a chubby young man in his early twenties-- said they were there for a "sit in". They did not want a big turnout tonight because that would discourage people from attending the funeral rally scheduled for tomorrow, he claimed. Speeches by the deceased Phalangist leader Bashir Gemayel and civil war tunes blasted from massive speakers perched on top of a pick-up truck. Youngsters waving the Lebanese flag, the Druze PSP party flag and photos of Rafiq Hariri circled the sit-in honking their car horns.
So who do you suspect killed Pierre Gemayel, I asked. "Hezbollah, of course," he responded matter-of-factly. "We will not resort to peaceful means anymore. We are ready for everything. We have nothing to lose. Our lives are not more precious than our leader's and he is dead. We will fight tomorrow." And then: "There will be a suprise." Sound familiar? The chubby student leader also informed me that he is still unemployed although he graduated a year-and-a-half ago, as if to lend weight to his claim that he has nothing to lose.
I spoke to another student leader of the Phalangists, who purportedly represents the party at all universities, public and private. He reiterated that they are "ready for anything", but took a more moderate line, insisting that they would consult with their allies before resorting to violence.
Just now a dozen cars operated by people barely old enough to hold a driver's license passed through Hamra and Qoreitem. They waved portraits of Hariri, Lebanese Forces flags, PSP flags and the likes, and tried their best to make a lot of noise. I have never seen the (Christian) Lebanese Forces flag flown in (Muslim) west Beirut so I guess that's a sign of how healthy and cross-sectarian the March 14th movement is. I felt sorry for these kids hanging out of the sides of their convertibles. Despite the fact that this assassination benefits the government, because it puts a hold on the opposition's plans to stage massive demonstrations this week and also invites international attention and hysteria over the death of another "pro-Syrian" oh-so-enlightened and inspirational figure, March 14th suffers from the political equivalent of penis envy. They might buy themselves a week or so, but no more. They can burn trash and beat up helpless Syrian cab drivers, but I doubt they can break the Aoun-Hezbollah alliance with one fell swoop.
There will surely be incidents of vandalism and possibly violence tomorrow, but I don't believe an all-out civil war will errupt. Pierre Gemayel was an uninspiring politician and -- by all accounts-- a slovenish lazy young man. Even if the hardened look of the teenagers present at the Phalangist rally tonight frightened me, it takes two to tango and they are no match for the opposition in terms of strength, size and organization.