(Edited 16/2 – link to speeches added.)
It was a good day for political tourism yesterday. The main attractions were a trip to Martyr’s Square in the morning and a funeral procession in Dahiyyeh in the afternoon. The weather was playing its part too: heavy showers and cold wind made for an awful day. 8000 troops and dozens of tanks made it virtually impossible to navigate through the city, blocking all main arteries. No violent encounters were reported (apart from Jumblatt followers clashing with Lebanese Forces goons on Martyr’s Square), which is probably not so strange with the entire city being militarized and everybody being fully aware of the disastrous implications of any provocation with over a million people coming to town to celebrate their respective martyrs. So how many people showed up at Martyr’s Square? I have no idea to be honest. How do you count a crowd like that? Claims vary between ‘almost a million’ and ‘a million and a half’. Check this article on Menassat for an analysis of ‘the numbers game. It was a massive crowd in any case, with a surprisingly high percentage of PSP supporters (considering that the druze only make up some 6% of the population). Other than that, all the M14 parties had also supplied buses and fuel coupons to their supporters – christians waving Lebanese Forces and Falangist flags were everywhere, large numbers of muslim Mustaqbal supporters came down from Tripoli, and I even saw one flag of the Communist Party, which for reasons incomprehensible to me has also joined the M14 forces. Despite the rain pouring down in heavy showers, people were generally in a festive and friendly mood, which didn’t stop them from continuously chanting aggressive anti-Hezollah and anti-Syrian slogans. Meanwhile all the usual politicians delivered all the usual promises and threats and other grandstanding in hours of consecutive speeches. For an overview see naharnet here or nowLebanon here.
After that it was off to Dahiyyeh for Imad Mughniyeh’s funeral in the Sayyed Shuhada complex (‘Master of Martyrs’). Somehow I always end up having to take taxis to ‘wrong’ places from ‘wrong’ parts of town. Even on the best of days, it can be hard to persuade a driver from Ashrafieh to take you to Dahiyyeh and vice versa. On a day like this, it is in addition a hell of a trip. The driver took almost an hour to negotiate the three or four kilometers around army road blocks, cut off streets and traffic jams, all this in the pouring rain. When we finally made it, the usual strict Hezbollah security men decided we didn’t have the required permit to enter the complex itself where the funeral service was being held, but finally agreed to let us stand outside where we could hear the service and wait for the procession carrying the coffin to arrive, while getting ever colder and wetter. So for two hours, we listened to prayers for the dead man and to speeches of Nabih Berri, Manucher Mottaki (the Iranian foreign minister had come over especially for the occasion) and an unusually angry and fiery Nasrallah, who declared ‘open war with Israel’. After another half hour, under shouts of ‘mawt li l-amrika, mawt li-isra’il’ the first part of the procession arrived. It consisted of hundreds of young kids marching past carrying the yellow flags, followed by a fanfare – all eerily reminiscent of the old Flemish catholic processions on Sundays. There is this strange thing about Hezbollah music and esthetics being very 19th/early 20th century European in feel and sound – they even use bagpipes in their music (so do Palestinians by the way – they claim the instrument was invented in the region). Another pause, then suddenly a huge, bustling, chaotic crowd of shouting and lamenting people bursts round the corner, a coffin draped in the Hezbollah flag seemingly floating on top of it. Women throw flower petals from balconies, security detachments hold parts of the crowd back with great effort and trouble before having to give way. Slowly, the coffin floats towards the entrance and finally disappears inside. Just as suddenly as the crowd has appeared, it dissipates.
It is a myth that the Lebanese ‘always continue to party no matter what’. Gemayzeh has not been really lively since the 28th of January riots and tonight it is positively dead. BO18, where I go to an art happening-cum-rave I’d been invited too, remains half empty. It’s only a small hardcore of party goers that comes out on a night like this, even though nothing of a really violent nature has happened today. This is the third Lebanon, after the first I saw in the morning, and the second that showed up in the afternoon. These are the people who don’t care about either side of the political spectrum, are thoroughly secular and consider the party followers of either side as brainless sheep. This Lebanon is very small…
(16/12: Some Lebanese blame the low turnout on Thursday night on a lack of money and jobs and low wages. They claim that the first week of the month is always busy, no matter what happens, and the last week of the month is always weak. I will check on this. It’s in any case a fact that the national minimum wage of $200 doesn’t get you very far in the Beirut nightlife after you’ve paid the rent and the bills.)