The protest downtown is in its seventh day. They have errected a huge screen which broadcasts Hezbollah's Al Manar TV. This evening, hundreds of thousands gathered for the transmission of a live address by Hassan Nasrallah.
The protesters have been beaming floodlights towards the Grand Serail, illuminating the entire second floor and perhaps blinding the inhabitants --the entire kabal of Muftis and half the Lebanese cabinet. Like it or not, witnessing the brazen harassment of the powers-that-be is somehow deeply satisfying. Its right out of the annals of
Can you imagine that late night phonecall to Saudi King Abdullah?
"Hello, oh Guardian of the two holy Sites, peace be upon you. I'm sorry to bother you at this hour. I know how very busy you are hunting near-extinct animals, snorting cocaine and threatening to break off diplomatic relations with the UK. But these little Shia buggers are shining bright lights in through my window. It's starting to give me a headache. Your intervention is required. Might you please call Speaker Berri and insist that he put an end to this? Perhaps they could also just lower the voltage of the lights, or go with a warmer hue of lighting. Yes precisely, they're using that unflattering white light. Thanks so much, oh Abdullah."
The tents downtown are now propped up on crates and sealed to protect them in case of rain. They are still dancing debka and eating kaak in the thousands. The soldiers have their own emcampment on the other side of the Grand Serail. The noise from the demonstration echoes westward across Bab Idriss and down towards the port. Chants of "Fatfat, you tough guy, one coffee and two teas", a reference to orders the earstwhile Interior Minister gave a Lebanese general who served tea to the Israeli army occupying a Lebanese barracks, keep spirits high. A man with a microphone on the eastern end of the tent city-- near the Marada encampment-- yells into a microphone: "Nayla Mouawad". The crowd responds, "Booooh". "Samir Geagea". "Booooh." "Sti rida Geagea." "Boooooooooooooh." "Fuad Saniora". "Boooooooooooooooh".
My friend A., the owner of a cafe, reports that a Lebanese soldier-- the ones who wear navy blue uniforms-- entered his cafe during peak hour the other morning. He walked up to the counter and requested a coffee. "But give me a good one. A really good one. I just ordered coffee in another cafe and I didn't like it, so I threw it in the man's face," he said. A. responded, "Well perhaps we should go outside then. If the coffee is not to your liking, you can throw it in my face without creating a mess on the floor." The soldier drank his coffee. He liked it and apologized. "I'm sorry, I'm just so stressed out. You see, I go down to the protest every day, and the demonstrators shout and curse me. They hate me. But there's nothing I can do. It's my job," he complained. As he finished his sentence, a woman in the cafe started yelling at him for serving in the army in the first place. A. felt sorry for the soldier.
I took a cab from downtown to Hamra last night through Basta and Bourj Abi Haidar (the site of recent street brawls between Hariri and Hezbollah/Amal supporters). The cab driver drove at a million miles an hour, refusing to stop for other passengers. It reminded me of cross-town cab rides during the war. While the Israelis were bombing the Dahiye late one night, I clocked a ride from Hamra to Achrafiye in 3 minutes.
A joke in circulation forebodes that Amal will refuse to leave the encampment downtown without receiving bribe money in exchange. After the civil war, the government had to pay off members of the Amal movement to vacate buildings they had squatted during the war.
Future (Al Mustaqbal), the newspaper of the Hariri family, reports that the sit-in has cost the economy $400 million. That includes "$100 million in potential investments." All this according to Hariri family friend and economist Marwan Iskandar, whose recent biography of Hariri included such pearls of wisdom as, "Hariri was not only a wise and a good man, but also a strong man. He valued physical exercise and ate egg-white omelettes for breakfast...".
“Iskandar told Al Mustaqbal that the Lebanese economy was now operating at 30% of its capacity, which raised the total of its losses since the beginning of the sit-in to over $300 million, in addition to around $100 million in investment losses. He pointed out that the investments that Lebanon had attracted during the first half of 2006, exceeded $3 billion. Iskandar said that: ‘There is a massive danger surrounding the state of investments in Lebanon if the daily carnivals and the evening insults continue, for that will change the image of Beirut from a shining civilized image…, to one of political disputes and the insults of a group of children’. (translation courtesy of Mideastwire)
Shining civilized image? Quick! Hide all the Shia! Madame Royal, the champagne socialist, is coming to town...
In his speech this evening, which broadcast live on all the major networks except Future TV, Nasrallah commanded his followers not to shoot in the air after he speaks and to stop hurling insults at those hunkered down in Saniora's bunker. He spoke of unity and forgiveness, and swore that Hezbollah would never ever respond to any provocation by turnings its weapons against the Lebanese. He also unleashed hefty accusations, claiming that Saniora ordered the army to cut off Hezbollah's supply lines, while they were under Israeli attack. Without naming them, he alluded to specific individuals from the ruling coalition, who encouraged the Israelis to finish Hezbollah off, because they (March 14th) are unable to disarm them. Instead of aiding the resistance by routing out infiltrators, they searched high and low for Nasrallah, and even informed the Israelis of his previous whereabouts so that they could eliminate him.
The protests will continue until March 14th agree to a national unity government (sans Saniora). The ruling coalition is finished. I wonder how long it will take the "moderate" Arab regimes and international cheerleaders of the "Cedar Revoution" to accept that fact, and let poor old Saniora off the hook.
In other news, former KGB-spy Litvinienko, who was poisoned in a Sushi restaurant in London, converted to Islam shortly before his death. And Dick Cheney’s lesbian daughter is having a baby from her partner Heather Poe.