civil unrest


The Lebanese media is reporting that a 30-year old woman died and three more people were wounded in Ayshah Bakkar this evening as a result of fire exchange between Hariri and Berri supporters. The army is now in control of the area with orders to shoot at anyone carrying arms in the vicinity. The Corniche (seaside promenade), which is just off the neighborhood where I am staying, is unusually quiet for a Sunday night and I have seen two columns of army tanks rumbling by this evening.

This might come as a surprise given the prevailing mode of reconciliation after the elections, but tensions are still running deep beneath the smooth surface. The reason, according to al-Akhbar, is that Syria and Saudi Arabia cannot agree on the details surrounding Lebanon. Some of the tension seeped through in Thursday’s parliamentary session for the election of speaker and deputy speaker of parliament. At most 24 of Hariri’s bloc, “Lebanon First,” voted for Nabih Berri. The disappointment of receiving 90 votes instead of the expected 100+ was obvious on Berri’s face. The reply came swiftly during the ensuing election of deputy speaker Farid Makari, who received 74 votes — meaning that only a handful of opposition members voted for him.

The lightness with which politicians took the election in parliament was so far removed from the seriousness of the situation. A vote went to the deceased singer Farid al-Atrash, another to the deceased Sabri Hamadah, a third to the “parliament,” and so on so forth. Extremely cute. The naming of Saad al-Hariri yesterday to form a government, together with the blow that Berri and the opposition felt they were dealt on Thursday, raised the level of tension on the streets last night — while the parliamentarians were still wiping tears of laughter from their eyes.

Tension peaked this evening and al-Mustaqbal and Amal members took to their guns and rockets in Ayshah Bakkar. It is, after all, one big laugh. The perpetrators bear full responsibility for the murderous outcome, no doubt. But until they be held responsible for it — which they probably will not — their representatives bear the responsibililty. The murder of an innocent passerby, Zeina M., and the wounding of three others should, therefore, be declared the first act of the parliamentary flying circus.

One of  Slavoj Žižek‘s recent pieces in Le Monde Diplomatique has nothing to do with Lebanon… and everything to do with it. It is about the war in Congo, but — like this previous post — it is also about how seemingly archaic forms of civil strife are actually embedded in their “modern” conditions and about the banality of trying to separate the one from the other. It is also about why Africa receives less attention in the media than places like Lebanon or Palestine: the more “tribal” the conflict seemingly is, the more “natural” its violence is perceived to be.

I have not been able to find the original article, so some of the subtleties might be lost in this translation of a translation, but Žižek’s main point is this:

We can discern the contours of global capitalism under the facade of ethnic conflict. After the fall of Mobutu, Congo no longer existed as a unified, operational state, especially not the eastern part which is a patchwork of territories ruled by local warlords each controlling their own patch of land with an army which normally includes doped children. All the warlords have business contacts with foreign companies or industries who (mainly) profit from mining the riches of the region. This arrangement works well for the partners: the businesses receive exploitation rights without being burdened with taxes or other inconveniences, the warlords get money… The irony is that many of these [extracted] metals are used in high-technology products like laptops and mobile phones. In short, this is not about the local population’s primitive customs: if we remove the high-technology companies from the line, the entire structure of ethnic civil strife driven by old hate will collapse.

You might not agree with the final conclusion about the collapse — and Žižek is prone to theatricals — but the heart of the argument holds in the concluding sentence, a play on Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness:

There is definitely a lot of darkness in the dense Congolese jungle, but its heart is to be found elsewhere, in the illuminated head offices of our high-technology companies.

The beating Omar Harqous received Thursday at the hands of SSNP members and the party’s subsequent apology — shamelessly packaged in justifications — have elicited a wave of reactions from various Lebanese journalists, including news sources invariably described as pro-Syrian or pro-Opposition. One of these is Samah Idris, editor-in-chief of al-Adab magazine. Idris is one of the few Lebanese public figures who have tried to shape a third line since 2005, balancing a respect for the necessity of resistance while simultaneously being very critical of Hizballah and its allies. Below is a translation-on-the-go of his op-ed in al-Akhbar on the Harqous beating.

In defense of myself… not of Omar!
by Samah Idriss

I do not like most of what Omar Harqus has written, particularly his classist and sectarian criticism of the Opposition’s sit-in (notwithstanding our position on that sit-in and on that dubious opposition). I still feel anger whenever I remember his repugnance at “the grilled meat under the statue of Riyad al-Solh,” “the hubbly bubblies that block the way,” and “the outhouses in the middle of the street” (al-Mustaqbal Newspaper 8/12/2006)! But I feel that the punches directed at Harqus were directed at me. And I feel that the blood that flowed from him is part of my blood… Or could be part of my blood and the blood of other writers if we overlook or make up excuses to justify what has happened. The hands that attacked Harqus do injustice, first and foremost, to their own principles and to their martyrs assassinated in Akkar [Halba] at the hands of people who took advantage of their defenseless small numbers. It would have been more worthy of [Antun] Sa`adah’s deep-rooted party not to use its members’ refusal to be photographed by Harqus as an excuse. What is worse is that the perpetrators called Harqus “Jewish”: Being Jewish is not a disgrace and should not be treated as such… Particularly not by those who adopt the causes of secularism and the fight against confessionalism.

I am not only defending Harqus. I am also defending, perhaps primarily, my right to say and write what I want. When I remain silent about [Paul] Shawul’s trial, Harqus’s beating, [Michel] Kilo’s imprisonment, the banning of Edward Sa`id’s books, or Samir Kassir’s murder, I am contributing to my own trial, beating, imprisonment, ban, or murder. Because with my silence I am preparing the ground for my own future oppression. I know that some of those expressing solidarity with Harqus would have kept quiet about the beating of another journalist form outside March 14. I also know that they kept quiet about my own trial — after an adviser of one of Iraq’s sultans filed a lawsuit against me — while they vied for the defense of Paul Shawul against General Aoun. And I know that some of them express solidarity only with the prisoners of conscience in Syria (who should be released immediately). Despite this, we, the people of the pen, make a grave mistake if we turn the slogan of “freedom of expression” into a political expedient. My position could be described as idealistic. But I do not find an alternative to it if we still believe that intellectual struggle is the only admissible weapon against our intellectual opponents.

A musalahah (reconciliation) has been concluded in Tripoli, similar to the musalahah in Taalbaya and Saadnayil earlier this summer, only this one involved bigger fish. To those less familiar with Lebanese political jargon, musalahah is the younger sister of the “no winners, no losers” (لا غالب ولا مغلوب) formula. Both are invitations to pretending that nothing happened. It is very telling that although they were invited to the musalahah, the fighters on the Tibbaneh side were not responsive.

But something else caught my eye. Something that would have been so funny had it not been equally tragic:

وسجل على هامش توقيع الوثيقة تحفظ النائب السابق علي عيد على توقيع الوثيقة لسبيين: الأول ورود اسم النائب بدر ونوس قبله، ما عدّه عدم حفظ اللياقات والمواقع، والثاني طلبه إيراد عبارة ممثل الطائفة العلوية مقابل اسمه، ما استدعى تدخلاً من الحريري ومن النائب السابق أحمد حبوس، وتأكيد الحريري لعيد أنه مستعد لتدوين العبارة بخط يده إذا كان الأمر يحل المشكلة، وقد أدى ذلك إلى تجاوز أزمة عدّها البعض شكلية وكادت تنسف الجهود دفعة واحدة

Ex-member of Parliament Ali Eid Ali’s two reservations were noted in the margins of the document [of reconciliation]: First, that the name of parliamentarian Badr Wannus comes before his own, which he considered a breach of etiquette and ranking, and, second, his request to add “representative of the Allawi sect” before his name. This necessitated an intervention from Hariri and ex-member of parliament Ahmad Habus and Hariri stressed that he is ready to write the phrase in his own handwriting if it solves the problem. The crisis, which some considered formal, passed after it almost sabotaged the efforts [at reconciliation] altogether.

The inferiority complex of this petty za`im of a minor minority is only the mirror image of the overblown self-confidence of the other za`im of a larger minority. This specific mix of pathos, machos, and wackos is just too much.

The prices of weapons are down on the Lebanese market, no doubt influenced by the Doha agreement. There is another reason, though, diametrically opposed to the first as far as the country’s chances for peace are concerned. Apparently, the weapons confiscated from pro-March 14 armed men (and women?) by the Opposition during the recent clashes in Lebanon are flooding the market. Read more on BBC and al-Akhbar (Arabic links).

M. at Nihil Declaro has posted a scan of the cover of Time Magazine. It pits an image of conflict-torn Lebanon against one of the (economically) booming Gulf. The aim: making a sensational contrast between a conflict-ridden Middle East and a successful one. But really, aren’t those different facets two sides of the same oily coin?

To follow up on yesterday’s post, the Doha debates on electoral districts see some light of day. Notwithstanding Atef Majdalani’s confidence that al-Mustaqbal would win Beirut regardless of the electoral divisions, the Hariri team proposed a division that provoked the ire of many  – whose exactly depends on your news source.

The central issue has been dividing Beirut. According to al-Safir, the Opposition suggested a tripartite division of a Sunni, Christian, and mixed/Shiite area which includes minorities and Armenians. The Hariri group insisted on including Mazra`ah, Musaytbah, or Ras Beirut in the last district, which would have the effect of adding more Sunni supported seats to their foregone gains in the Sunni district. al-Akhbar has more details, adding that Christians in the Opposition also objected to the Hariri suggestion. al-Nahar, quoting Akram Shuhayyib, says the Opposition rejected the ruling coalition’s division, but does not explain why.

Not to go into too many details, this conflict shows how war and peace in Lebanon complement and complete each other. As the front lines in Beirut take form in electoral pie-sharing, it becomes yet another reinforcement of the divisions that would become a reality on the ground should a party decide to use military means for political gains, as Hizballah did just recently. The illusion that things get better when there are no clashes is just that: an illusion. As long as the political system serves to reproduce the same politics and political class, the transformation of peace time politics into war time conflict is just a matter of time and setting.

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