That's all for the good news.
Street fights between Sunni Hariri supporters and the Shia opposition have errupted in various neighborhoods around town for the past few nights, and between Druze and Shia at the Lebanese University. The army is not able to control the sporadic and widespread incidents of violence. Future reports that the Shia "invaded" their neighborhoods "in vehicles". I guess invaded on motorscooters doesn't sound quite as threatening. The (Sunni) Mufti of Aktar compares the demonstrators to pagans who protested against the Prophet Mohammad in Mecca. Ali Hamade-- brother of Marwan Hamade-- writes in An-Nahar that Hezbollah (i.e. the Shia) are impossible to "Arabize" and "Lebanonize."
Hezbollah's al-Manar TV screened footage from the shooting of 20-year old Ahmed Mahmoud on Sunday, which supposedly incriminates Hariri followers.Al Manar refered to Hariri's armed supporters as the "Future militia" and named the suspected killer. A billboard at Riad al Solh Square, the site of the opposition's sit-in, depicts Mr. Mahmoud who was "martyred by the ruler's militia". He was buried this afternoon.
The Future Movement, in turn, accused Hezbollah of staging "kidnapping activities" in Bshamoun. What in God's name is a "kidnapping activity"? I do not believe anything Future TV reports unless it is confirmed by additional sources. And I am writing all this while seated next to the slimy first cousin of the equally slimy heir to the Future throne...
A European woman who lives in Basta says that everyone has grown accustomed to staying indoors between 9.30 and 10.30pm because young men routinely attack eachother with rocks and knives. I asked her, "what happens at 10.30 to make them stop? Does the army intervene?" "The army or someone else. Another party," she responded. She looked tired. I asked her if she was planning to stay in Beirut. She said she would not stay if things get much worse and more "unpredictable".
Yesterday at a cafe in Hamra, a middle-aged foreign man in casual dress sat down next to me at the bar counter. He was at least twenty years older than the average clientele and looked rather out of place sitting at the bar, a book in hand. He ordered a diet Pepsi and remained engrossed by the same page of a Henry Thoreaux novel for the better part of two hours. Not once did he turn the page. Which reminds me of stories about the Syrian mukhabarat (secret police) standing in the midst of a crowd of protesters, holding a newspaper to their face while peering over it to scrutinize the crowd. My spy radar went on high alert and I stared intently to see if his eyes were actually moving across the page. They were not.
Then my friend arrived and we began to converse about politics. He conspiciously eavesdropped, to the best of his ability, holding the book close to his face. I lowered my voice occasionally and he would strain to catch what I was saying. At one point in the evening, he leaned over and asked me where I was from. I responded and inquired the same of him. He was American. What was he doing in Beirut? Cycling from Jordan through Syria and Lebanon. Why? Well, because he's never been to those countries. I smiled and turned away.
At the sit-in downtown, I bumped into an elderly American woman sporting a plethora of Hezbollah scarves around her neck, a Hezbollah baseball cap on her head and other Hezbollah paraphenelia attached to the travelpouch around her waist. The travelpouch and white sneakers were a dead giveaway. She was eating something that resembled greasy chunks of pork and wiping the fat on her pants. A friend of mine had described an American woman who attended the "International conference in support of the resistance" a few weeks ago at the UNESCO Palace. She fit the description. He had left the conference after she railed on and on about how much she loves Hezbollah and how Americans love Nasrallah. I stopped to talk to her. She was accompanied by an elderly gent from the International Action Committee, a misguided, reactionary "leftist" organization headed by Ramsey Clarke. They were on a solidarity visit. They expressed concern about transporting all their Hezbollah souvenirs and "gifts" back to the US. I wished them good luck and split.
Most of the protesters I encountered, who have been camping out in downtown for the fifth day in a row, were not from Beirut. I bumped into an acquaintance from Bint Jbeil and another from Tripoli. At least half the people staying overnight were from the Christian Marada and Free Patriotic Movement parties. The weather has been kind to them; it hasn't rained yet. A Marada supporter who lived in Germany for eleven years described how fearful and alienated he has become from his neighbors. "I lock my door since Hariri died," he said. "I don't know what to do. They are afraid of me, and I am afraid of them." He complained of endless harrassment by the Internal Security Forces. "If you have a picture of Hariri in your car, they let you pass. If not, they search you from top to bottom." He said that militiamen roam the streets of Tripoli and that they are affiliated with Hariri. "Officially they don't exist," he said. "But we see them."
He spoke at length about the government's inadequate concern for the poor, about unemployment and healthcare. I asked him if he thought that would change if Hezbollah and Aoun gain additional seats in the cabinet. "No, we need a new government entirely. They will not change anything." He worries that infiltrators will attack the tents at night, and reported that a kaak salesman had pulled a knife on the demonstrators yesterday. He said Hezbollah's security handed him over to the army.
I can hardly keep track of all the incidents of violence and intimadation, but I wonder how both sides intend to get out of this mess. Before long, the media incitement will lead us to the point of no return.
It is late and I don't know how I'm going to get home. Cabdrivers scoff when I request to cross town from Hamra to Achrafiye, because the army checkpoints slow traffic down to a crawl even after midnight. Plenty more to report and photos to follow. Here's something that might amuse you:
Ahmadinijad welcoming a delegation of Orthodox Jews in Tehran. (hat tip)