Day 4 of the opposition’s sit-in in downtown Beirut; Day 14 of the ruling coalition’s slumber party at the Grand Serail. What are the sleeping arrangements? Perhaps the Mufti advised that prayer is better than sleep...
On sunday morning, helicopters hovered above my neighborhood for hours on end. After this summer war, my ears are tuned to the sky. A bird pooping on the roof is enough to wake me up. Then the marathon began and the relentless sectarian car anthems ensued. Boys on motorbikes waving the Hezbollah and Aounist flags zip through Achrafiye; late saturday night the army set up roadblocks to stop provacateurs from entering the Christian areas. My Aounist neighbor blasts Nasrallah's speeches, while the elderly shuffle to Sunday mass.
A friend's younger sister, a studious and polite student at LAU, is enraged by her fellow students' attitude towards the demonstrators. "I never cared about politics. Never. But I get so angry when I hear the way they talk about the demonstrators, as if they have no right to protest because they are Shia." She says her ex-boyfriend phoned her and complained about the "fucking Shia". Her sister adds, "And why does Hezbollah have to claim they speak for all the Shia? Both sides, push us into a position we are unwilling to take. I mean, this government can push you to prefer General Michel Aoun over them."
Indeed it's high time for a third front. Many people oppose this government, but refuse to align themselves with the opposition bloc, whose demands are not far-reaching enough. What if Siniora's government agrees to allow Aoun and Hezbollah due representation? What then? And if not? March 14th youth are itching to take to the streets. Over the weekend, they gathered in the hundreds in Tripoli to show support for the government.
The Shia presence in downtown is raising territorial fears amongst the city's more glamorous inhabitants. Didn't you know that downtown used to be bustling full with people from all sects and now the Shia have taken it for themselves? That's what I've been hearing from March 14th bloggers.
While the government warned of riots and a coup, the demonstration proceeds peacefully, albeit too peacefully for some people's taste. My landlord complains of the carnival-like atmosphere. "Why do they have to smoke narghileh and dance debka? Its not all fun and games." I don't see it ending anytime soon, with all the fun they're having. Jamal reports the rampant consumption of cotton candy and corn-on-the-cob; icecream trucks and fortune tellers line the streets, concerts and fiery speeches every evening. It's like a permanent fairground. They should re-name the area, Hezbollah Fun Park or Four-Flags Adventure Park.
Mr. Saniora yesterday concludes that, "protest is no solution." What he meant to say is, "protest is no solution... for them," least we forget that their coalition is named after the date of a choreographed demonstration. Can we all agree to abandon our infatuation with million-man marches?
Yesterday evening in Qasqas, supporters of Hariri's Future party tried to stop a bus full of protesters from the Dahiye who were returning from the demonstration. Fights ensued for three quarters of an hour; hundreds of young men joined in, wielding sticks, bottles and stones.
The army tried to intervene. A photographer for An-Nahar newspaper sustained broken facial bones. Ali Ahmad Mahmud, a 20-year old supporter of the Amal movement, was shot dead by supporters of Hariri's party.
Hariri supporters also set Syrian-owned shops on fire near Sabra. In Bourj Abi Haidar, a member of the Internal Security Forces was shot in the neck by men presumed to be Amal supporters. In Barboor, the head of Future party, Imad Fatha, for that area was arrested for a shooting incident. In total, at least fourteen were reported wounded in street clashes in Qasqas, Barboor, Sabra, Shatila, near the airport road, Corniche Mazraa, Salim Salam Bridge area and Basta. Rightwing Lebanese bloggers blame Syrian intelligence operatives -- not savage Haririites-- for the killing in Qasqas.
The international tribunal must investigate and prosecute the coldblooded cowardly murder of Ali Ahmad Mahmud. The local authorities cannot be trusted to carry out an investigation, as witnessed by their inability to solve not a single murder or assassination since they took power. I suspect Hariri's Future TV and a few other sectarian media outlets could be prosecuted for incitement to sectarian violence.
Hariri’s Future TV runs an ad mocking the opposition’s demands for a “clean government”. They show garbage from the protest accumulating in downtown Beirut under the headline, “They say they want a clean government. But are they clean enough?” While the pro-government media increasingly employs classist arguments against the (Shia) demonstrators, the protesters chant, "We are fed up with lies; fed up with tears; we want a government that ends hunger."
Naharnet now refers to Hezbollah as "the Iranian- and Syrian-backed Shiite" group. No mention of Lebanese there.
Meanwhile the former head of Israeli military intelligence, Aharan Zeevi Farkash, warned that a summer war with Hezbollah would be increasingly likely if Siniora resigns. He however discourages Israeli intervention, because Israeli support for the Lebanese Prime Minister would encourage Syria and Iran to assassinate Siniora.
Fijian soldiers stationed in southern Lebanon are missing out on their very own army coup back home in the south pacific.
Lebanese billionaire and Minister of Public Works and Transport, Mohamed Safadi, is under investigation by the British Serious Fraud Office for involvement in the Saudi arms deal inquiry. That's "serious" fraud, folks. Thank God they can still get away with it in Lebanon. Perhaps the reconstruction funds to rebuild southern Lebanon will cover his legal expenses.