The final balance of yesterday’s riots is 7 dead (protesters) and 40 wounded. Siniora declared a day of mourning with schools and universities closed today. It is still not clear who killed the protesters. Shots were fired from the crowd into the troops, the army fired back, but there are also reports of snipers shooting from rooftops in the nearby (predominantly christian) Ain al-Rummaneh neighbourhood into the (predominantly shia) protesters. The snipers are rumoured by local people and witnesses to be Lebanese Forces members shooting at both protesters and the army in an effort to provoke an escalation (which would make ample sense given the bloody and ruthless history and the current political position of the Samir Geagea’s gang). This would also have been the reason why some of the protesters went into Ain al-Rummaneh and threw a handgrenade which wounded some people there. Basically the cause of the protests was extended power cuts, with (largely pro-opposition) Dahiyyeh residents complaining they get more of them than the christian and sunni (largely pro-governement) neighbourhoods – hardly an unthinkable proposition in this country, where successive governments have consistently and systematically neglected the shia parts of the country. That is the reason why Hezbollah was able to create a ‘state within a state’ in the first place. If you’re gonna be the government of only half the country, you’re leaving an insitutional and structural void which is bound to be filled by another party.
Anyway, things seem to have calmed down for the time being. The army is investigating the murders (as well as carrying out overnight raids with massive arrests in Dahiyyeh) and has cleared all the roads closed down with barricades of burning tyres by the protesters (last night’s rains giving them a hand in putting out the fires). The M14 (government) are predictably accusing the opposition of orchestrating the riots and throwing in ‘Iranian and Syrian manipulation to foment unrest’ for good measure. In fact both Hezbollah and Amal were appealing all through the events to the protesters to return home and Aoun even called for punishing them harshly. The Amal official who was the first to get shot (in the back) was evidently trying to calm things down and negotiating between the army and the protesters. There have been ample protests over the power cuts all through the country over the past year, several occurring in the days before this one in various parts of the country, and they have been spontaneous outbursts of a population that is sick to the bone of bearing the brunt of their quarreling and ineffective politicians who are more concerned with fighting each other to get their share of the loot of government (government subsidies, contracts, jobs, positions) than with actually making the country work and providing the basic services that are the purpose of state institutions in the first place. But they clearly show the volatility of the general situation in Lebanon, as well as the danger of provocations of third parties that can easily escalate an already tense situation. With last friday’s assassination of the main ISF investigator into the series of political assassinations followed by sunday’s (totally unrelated) riots, there seems to be a speeding up of the rhythm already, with another increase in the number of Lebanese thinking seriously about leaving the country.
And oh yes, before we forget, the Arab League ministers have gathered in Cairo yesterday and taken the amazingly effective and revolutionary measure of ‘urging the Lebanese to set aside their differences and elect a president’. Now that will change everything.