Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Miltias, "Kidnapping Activities" & the Armed Kaak Salesman

John Bolton (or Michael Bolton, as I've mistakenly called him for the past year) has resigned. I am very pleased. For some reason he irked me more than almost anyone else working for the Bush administration. I usually don't pay attention to the personal shortcomings of repulsive ideologues (aside from my fascination with those meth-sniffing callboy-banging evangelicals). But the image of Bolton chasing a female employee down a hotel corridor haunts me, as much as the rumors that he coerced his ex-wife to partake in orgies. That moustache. Yuck.

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)


dr said...

If classic weren't such an overused word then it would be the best way to describe this post. Absolutely fantastic is all I'm left with after that. Get home safe.

Anonymous said...

Is the comments section only open for post rating? Well, if so...I would give this one a 5 out of 10. I like the Michael Bolton stuff. (I myself tend to focus on his incredible neck fat whenever I see him on tv.) The paranoid part at the cafe reminded me of sitting at Torino Express and listening to the conspiracy stories being told from one side of the bar to the other (every day was a week before the next civil war and every non-regular sipping espresso was a Syrian spy). A friendly reminder that the media are not the only ones hyping the inevitability of a new cival war. Alas, I brought back a Hezbollah t-shirt to the States...I didn't have one problem with airport security.

Oberon Brown said...

Only 5? That's not very generous, anonymous... I'm on the antipodes of EDB's political (clearly left-winged) views and I give her a 9. I really can't wait for her posts, and I wish more march 14'ers would read them...

L said...

I remember the American guy at the bar. I'm surprised you didn't tell me anything about your suspicions; I had the exact same feeling. He asked me if I was a blogger, I found it weird and funny. By the way, he wasn't reading the book, you are right.

EDB said...

Hi L.

I didn't tell you of my suspicion because I had already informed the waiter, and the spy/cyclist/slow reader seemed to know we were talking about him. But when he started talking to you, I made an effort to avert your attention.

And anonymous, I don't know what my spy paranoia has to do with "hyping the inevitability of a new civil war". I still don't think there will be a (fullblown) civil war, although I really wonder what the government's strategy is-- turning a political issue into a sectarian one.
Paranoia keeps you young, a doctor once told me. And of course Beirut is crawling with spies. It just surprises me that none of the suspects I have encountered have "real" jobs. They're all freelance musicians and hobby cyclists. Except for one guy I accused of being a CIA agent, one boozed up night back in May. He worked for USAID, first in Afghanistan eradicating poppyfields and then in Beirut. And he didn't deny that he was a spy. He just didn't understand why we couldn't hang out and drink beer, despite his morbid intentions and godawful politics.

EDB said...

P.S. If anybody knows HTML and lives in Beirut, I could use a helping hand to add some features to this site.

jad said...

umm.. just wondering, what cafe were you in? teh-m?

btw, paranoia is a hobby of mine lol

EDB said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Guthman Bey said...

Paranoïa... what would Beirut be without it. And yet what's supposedly there that would be worth spying on? If anyone wants to hear Maronite Oberonesque nonsense ('all the Shi'a in Haret Hreik are paid a second salary by MEA'), he doesn't have to go to Beirut, frequenting Lebanese restaurants in Georgetown will do just fine.

EDB said...

Yes, Jad, Teh-m.
How did you know?

outofliban said...

so many actors on the scene..don't know if anyone speak french? this to remind amazing edb about one of her hobby enlisted in her blogger profile..

"Après tout, qu’est-ce qu’un pape, un président ou un secrétaire général, sinon quelqu’un qui se prend pour un pape ou un secrétaire général ou plus exactement pour l’Église, l’État, le Parti, ou la nation. Seule chose : ce qui le sépare du personnage de comédie ou du mégalomane, c’est qu’on le prend généralement au sérieux et qu’on lui reconnaît ainsi le droit à cette sorte « d’imposture légitime » comme dit Austin. Croyez-moi, le monde vu comme ça, c’est-à-dire comme il est, est assez comique. Mais on a souvent dit que le comique côtoie le tragique.."

tragedy is so close to comedy.. btw, half-lebanese only, but it seems I inherited that paranoid thing, too. A kind of adaptive genetic feature to survive lebanese life i suppose. Would playing Molière be a good therapy?

Anonymous said...

"And anonymous, I don't know what my spy paranoia has to do with "hyping the inevitability of a new civil war"".
If there was a word that combined paranoia and gossip I would have used that instead. The cafe Syrian Mukhabarat story wasn't entirely all that I was referring to when I insinuated that you are guilty of the same civil war hype as the media. Stories of European women staying in for 3 hours a night and Future Militia members roaming the streets of Tripoli are better examples of _______ (wish I had that word) and hyping an inevitable return to street fighting. But all this is said in good faith as I do enjoy your posts (not that you could care one way or the other) and I have my own spy stories from Beirut that are quite fantastic. One more thing...I can't imagine what a spy worth his salt would get out of eavesdropping in a neo-beatnik coffee house in Hamara (sic). Couldn't he just read a couple blogs on his computer in Damascus?

Jad said...

lucky guess..

gotta keep my eyes peeled from now on it seems. oh and btw, their lemonade today was way, way too sour lol

keep up the good work

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