Beirut to Doha

So the whole lot of bickering militia leaders has now been flown to Doha to continue their unending stubbornness in a different environment, leaving on two separate planes of course: the opposition on a regular scheduled flight, M14 on an ‘executive jet’‘ (noblesse oblige). At Beirut’s freshly reopened international airport, an organization of handicapped civil war veterans and other NGO’s waved them out with signs saying: ‘If you don’t agree, don’t come back!’ – probably the best and most concise representation of current national opinion across the board. One of the many Lebanese who have been forced to move to the GCC countries to make a living writes to Angry Arab: ‘Well i’ve been residing in Doha-Qatar for the past one and half years and all has been going nice, smooth and tidy. Hahaha, until those lebanese ‘leaders’ of ours came to Doha for their meeting. I tell you, for the first time in AAAAAAGES, Doha experiences a 20 minutes electricity failure!!! The day they arrive, the power shuts down! How weird for us Lebanese in here to feel the ‘darkness’ again, man…”

Other worrying recent developments include a pledge in an-Nahar newspaper from Fatah al-Islam to defend the sunni muslims against ‘the infidels blowing their heads in Beirut’…

For those of you who are bewildered by the seemingly endless list of parties, sects, militias and leaders in

this tiny country, here are some handy overviews accompanying an article in the latest edition of The Economist. The article itself, called ‘Iran’s tool fights America’s stooge’, provides an excellent and reasonably objective concise overview of political issues and developments in Lebanon since the end of the civil war in 1990, focusing specifically on the period since the last elections in 2005.

Other interesting recent articles:

– ‘The view from the left’ (here on menassat), an interview with socialist activist Rania Masri on the economic issues that were the initial reason for the strike on 7th May, also including an extensive description of the importance of the notorious communications network to the resistance.

– Asad Abu-Khalil’s take on the events in al-Akhbar: ‘A coup against a coup’ (in Arabic).

_ Karim Makdisi writes for Counterpunch: ‘With the army deployed throughout key areas, Lebanese citizens once again resumed their everyday activities under the more familiar conditions of a devastated environment, massive traffic jams, unregulated construction and urban planning, electricity and water shortages, state-sponsored theft or abuse of public lands and resources, rising poverty, inflation and unemployment, and one of the worst budget deficits per capita in the world. The illusion of normalcy, in other words, has returned for the time being but the real question is: for how long?’ Which is a nice cynical introduction, but the cutting analysis follows further down: Still, Hizbullah understands well that its take-over of Beirut—following over a year’s non-violent campaign that yielded much bating by March 14 militias but no political gains—required the betrayal of its long-standing commitment to the Lebanese people not to use its formidable weapons internally. Ironically it thus fulfilled one of March 14’s strategic objectives: dragging Hizbullah into an internal fight and portraying it as a mere sectarian ‘militia’ instead of a noble and widely-supported national resistance movement. Accordingly, the very idea of the national resistance in Lebanon, so effective in militarily defeating the Israeli occupation and puncturing the myth of Zionist supremacy vis-à-vis the Arabs, has been eroded following the battles of last week. Under these circumstances, it is not difficult to imagine yet another US-backed Israeli invasion of Lebanon in the coming months but this time, some of those that lost the street battles in Beirut might join the fight against Hizbullah.’

– This interview with Augustus Richard Norton on the LATimes blog Babylon and Beyond focuses mostly on the implications of all this for US foreign policy: ‘I take no joy in saying it, but the Bush administration has continued to blunder badly in Lebanon. In 2006, the U.S. stiff-armed attempts to reach a ceasefire early in the war between Hezbollah and Israel with the result that Hezbollah was seen in many quarters as the victor. Since the war ended in August 2006, the US has thrown spanners in the works to prevent a compromise that would be seen as benefiting Hezbollah or its allies. There is also credible reporting … that the U.S. has attempted to build up anti-Hezbollah militias (much as it did in Gaza vis-a-vis Hamas) and those efforts have come up short this past week.The latest statements by President Bush reveal that he has learned little from what has been happening in Lebanon, and he seems to be drawing battle lines for a confrontation in Lebanon, which would be unfortunate, in my view.’

– The International Crisis Group’s thorough analysis of the events can be downladed as a PDF file here:‘While these decisions could have been taken a long time ago, they were not, reflecting an unwritten modus vivendi between March 14 forces and Hizbollah. The issue of the Shiite movement’s weapons has been raised and debated regularly since 2005, but until now the majority had refrained from any tangible measure to undermine Hizbollah’s operational capability. Instead, attempts to weaken or corner the movement were limited to verbal condemnations and political manoeuvres. Conversely, Hizbollah consistently had pledged to reserve its weapons for the fight against Israel and not to use them domestically. Whenever its anti-government activities risked provoking intra-Lebanese confrontations, it had taken a step back, determined not to appear as a purely sectarian militia as opposed to a broader resistance movement. The violence that engulfed Beirut this month ended this precarious status quo and shed any remaining illusion about the ultimate stakes of the struggle. Whatever implicit rules once prevailed and helped maintain a fragile calm even amid intense political disputes no longer are in force. March 14 elements likely felt they could afford to embarrass Hizbollah and address head-on the question of its military apparatus without provoking a major flare-up because of the Shiite movement’s fear of the consequences of a sectarian clash. Hizbollah’s reaction, in other words, was expected to be relatively mild, but it was nothing of the sort. On 9 May, in his first press conference since the onset of the 2006 war, Nasrallah proclaimed the legitimacy of “defending our weapons with our weapons”, thereby violating his earlier promise never to turn them inward. Hizbollah’s subsequent course was methodical, deliberate, massive, brutal and fully planned. Although many in the majority evoked a possible coup, that does not seem to have been Hizbollah’s goal. Its attacks appear to have been undertaken for other objectives: to send the March 14 forces an unequivocal message not to touch its weapons and prove its military superiority and capacity to overthrow the government if need be. A well-informed opposition member said that: ‘Hizbollah’s fighters entered into Beirut because a red line had been crossed. Indeed, this was the first time a concrete measure was taken against the resistance, and this happened after several warnings were sent to the government, before and even during the fateful council of ministers meeting.’ Operating at lightning speed, the Shiite movement quickly conquered most key sites; it subsequently handed over some neighbourhoods to the military, which studiously remained neutral throughout the fighting – largely out of fear that its multi-confessional army could splinter if forced to take sides. The Siniora government has not been toppled, a sure sign that Hizbollah understands the perils of such an enterprise as well as the enormous challenge of ruling either against or without Sunnis – and with virtually no international support or recognition. A senior opposition official said, “the problem is not to take power, but what to do with it. In a multiconfessional system such as Lebanon’s, if we were to seize power by force, we would have every other community against us”. According to a wellinformed opposition member, Hizbollah’s actions were aimed exclusively at protecting the resistance and would end as soon as the government met its core demands: withdrawal of the two ministerial decisions and a return to the negotiating table. In short, Hizbollah did not conduct a military coup so much as it imposed militia rule in several areas previously dominated by the Future Movement.’

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