Was this a (mini) Civil war?

For those not interested in academic empty quarrels you can skip this post. Our colleague, friend and fellow blogger Abu muqawama, has proposed to call the conflict that is happening in this little slice of land that came to be called Lebanon another civil war. And here, he provides more evidence of that. I think one should wonder why we try to call a war “civil” in the first place. Is it to differentiate it from wars that take place between “armies”? What makes a militia become an army? What’s the sanctifying procedure? Usually classical reasoning would be to say that an army is ‘the regular army’ when it answers to the commandment of the State in place. Here there are so many question that opens up on our way to understand State formation especially in post-colonial divided regions like the Middle East. What’s the difference between Hizbullah’s military structure, other military structures (like those they fought), and the Lebanese army one? What “causes” are each of them defending?

The interesting aspect of what’s going on in this place called Lebanon is the fact that a party is trying to adopt State discourse without really holding State power. A party adopting State-like practices without really claiming to become a State. I’m still astonished as to where Hizbullah think it can go using such method without really controlling the country.

But to go back to our point, calling a war ‘civil’ adds to it another moral (legitimizing) dimension, it hints on the idea that a war is happening between ad-hoc military formations emanating from within the population. This discursive insertion of ‘civil’ takes for granted the idea that there is some sort of an imagined community (here the Lebanese) and that this community is tearing itself apart. Hizbullah actually uses and is constrained by this discourse, the one projecting the existence of a Lebanese community (the one of multi-confessionalism, consociationalism, etc). In the case of the last few days, the party considered itself doing a “cleaning job” that in the end will serve the interest of the State. So it was considered very normal for its media channels (and other opposition medias) to talk about the storming into offices of the Mustaqbal militia, and the collection of weapons as a ‘restoring order’ operation, and relegating the matter to The Law (i.e. the army in this case).

I won’t write more because I promised myself not to make lengthy posts. I will probably re-articulate these (very disarticulated) ideas in other coming posts.

The Salafi spectre and some other conclusions

Fida’ Itani is back with this haunting idea that behind every weakening of Mustaqbal, there is a strengthening of Sunni Salafi groups that are more anti-Shi’a than anti-Israeli. I do agree with his analysis, in the fact that there is an increasing anti-Shi’a sentiment in the country. But I do also think that anti-Shi’a feelings have always existed and shared by the population at various level, social, economic and political. I wonder how much these groups can have political clout, and I don’t know how much their alleged ideology (judging from the quotes Itani provides) is really sustainable in the future. Also this demonization of “The Salafi” is very much akin to the one made of Hizbullah. Now that Hizbullah is supposed to be ‘the good guy’ wanting to build cooperatively the “Lebanese State”, the frontiers of the sanctified and not sanctified has been broadened. That said he makes a good point, and weakening Mustaqbal is certainly a lose-lose situation.

The opposition cannot weaken a party, humiliate him, etc, and then claim it wants to share power the traditional Lebanese way. This is the biggest contradiction of Hizbullah: It wants to play by the rules of the game (confessionalism, consociationalism, etc.) but uses vanguard party methods of takeover. The biggest problem of Hizbullah is that it is not a state-within-a-state it is a much better functioning State than the Lebanese State at any point of it history, yet wants to bring itself down and play by the rules of the figments of a State that is the Lebanese State. This political schizophrenia (present in Tayyar to a certain degree) may turn out to be more detrimental to the stability of the political system.

What happened? A “Real politik” reading

If there is one main idea that can capture what happened in the preceding days it would be the resolution of the security struggle that started after the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon. As I said in previous posts, Hizbullah found itself in an unforeseen situation after the dismantling of the security system that was in place under the Syrian-Lahoud regime, a system that guaranteed a security protection to Hizbullah’s infrastructure. Once the Syrians were out, Hizbullah entered in a destabilizing spiral culminating with the Israeli murderous incursions, and then today with the decision to shut down their telecommunication network, provoking the armed actions against the newly built security militia structures of the ruling coalition. Destabilization here means on the one hand that Hizbullah has to face new threats, but also that it will try to grasp new opportunities to create security-stable spaces. The seizure of the soldiers in July 2006 followed the long fruitless negotiations with the ruling coalition. This seizure was supposed to create new ‘national’ imperatives, new status-quos. And today the elimination of the Mustaqbal militia is geared at changing the terms of negotiations and giving a higher bargaining position for the opposition.

Every time the opposition tried to pressure the governments to back down through strikes and other demonstrations, there were snipers, checkpoints appearing, and other intimidating (if not murderous) actions that left the government unshakable and the opposition paralysed and frustrated. Since Hariri’s assassination, American and Arab aid came to help in the armament and training of these new military-security groups such as the Mustaqbal militia you now here about.

In addition to that, all the groups left out of the new post-Syrian withdrawal setting that came to form “the opposition” wanted some form of revenge. In this case, I have in mind the SSNP that was quite humiliated throughout these years by Mustaqbal and so came gladly to work with Hizbullah to foment this mini-coup (a new type of coup indeed that requires a coalition and that is not aimed at completely destroying the power in place). The SSNP is the less credited organization to have worked for decades in resistance efforts against Israel (they still have training camps). The SSNP and Hizbullah stayed historically very close not the least because of their visceral rejection of Israel. Recently, Hariri militiamen had burnt they’re offices in Tariq el Jdideh explaining why they quickly did the same thing with Mustaqbal’s buildings.

The position of the Lebanese Army is quite interesting in this whole process. I would not be surprised if they had previous knowledge of what was going to happen. That would explain the anger of 14th of March politicians who a couple of days ago were still glorifying their nominee for the presidency, the general of the army Michel Suleyman. Beyond the strategic gains the army achieved with the decision to disarm the militias Hizb and co were neutralizing, there is a clear stand being taken with regard to what constitute the prevailing ‘nationalist’ doxa. More on that later.

Creating disgust based on projected cultural and class differences

In a couple of years, the history of the recent ‘upheaval’ years of this country that came to be known as Lebanon, will mainly be remembered through this dark spot that is the history of the Mustaqbal movement. It will probably be the first and (hopefully) last Sunni chauvinistic movement in the history of the Middle East. I wonder to what extent will the Mustaqbal party succeed in producing a somewhat nationalist Lebanese discourse, given the pan-arabist antecedent of Sunni Lebanese movements. If it does it will be built on the hatred of the Syrian people and other sects (in Lebanon) affiliated with it. The politics of Lebanese-Syrian relations may change with the changing wind of interest and influence, but the worldviews and understandings of the Lebanese followers may well stay chauvinistic with or without a rapprochement. The days where most Lebanese thought they were either Syrians, or simply not very different from Syrians (and others in the region) are very much gone.

Now I’ve looked a long time to get a picture of this because for some reason they quickly removed that particular ad from all of Beirut’s billboard. I had to wait until I went to the Bekaa yesterday in order to capture some pictures of remaining billboards in the Dahr el baydar area.

This picture is part of the desperate campaign to mark the territory of what was dubbed the Cedar revolution. The objective here is simple: Do you want these ugly and dirty dudes to come back in our opulent backyards? Please, think a bit about this image. It is not a picture of the Syrian president, it is not one of any decision maker in Syria or even the picture of some murderous act the Syrian could have committed, but simply poor simple soldiers who look, well, “Syrian”. And the slogan says it all: “Come down so that they don’t come back”. Yes, this is the only reason why people should come down, because those ugly bastards you see in this picture could come back. Of course here, one can clearly see, beyond the works of the party, the actual efforts and morbid talent of advertising agencies professionalism in playing on people’s most obscure emotions, if not creating them and nurturing them. They excel at the task of crystallizing the idea that feeling of disgust must be associated with something you can now point out that is called “Syrian”. Certain extreme types nationalism (the fascistic trend of Europe for example) start out like that.

On another billboard ad, there is a picture of the 14th of March rally in martyr square and the following slogan: The field (al sa7at) is ours, and the martyrs are ours (al sa7at sa7atouna, wal shouhada2, shouhada2ouna). Horrible possessive exclusionary types of slogans. I think I don’t need to comment here, and that’s without mentioning how desperate this campaign looked, as I decided to only focus on the formation of differentiation based on feelings of superiority.

Hussain’s answer

Hussain answered me by email to what was written in a previous post. I will answer soon to his comment that I quoted below:

bech, apokraphyte, boumb and all,

In my article on Hariri, I gave numbers and evidence. Bech you should know better, you used to work with such numbers. So if you have evidence against his theft and monopoly, please point it out. Solidere is a private company with public shareholding. Other economic monopoly, please cite verifiable examples. Don’t tell me the Dalloul/cellphone deal. Dalloul has connections in Syria before Hariri was born.
Anyway, I cannot discuss the whole Hariri policy in this small post. My piece was a personal experience.
As for leftism ya Bech, you should know better. Any social welfare program can never pick up without prior accumulation of wealth, walaw… this is 101 leftism.
Hariri’s plan was not my favorite for Lebanon. I disagree with his no diversification of economy. But that’s too luxury of a debate in a country that has Assem Kanso and Nasser Qandil. Hariri had a plan, but he was never given a chance to implement it.
And ya boumb, for your own credibility and good image, drop the Najah Wakim style of how much Hariri paid me or others. Let’s be more civilized in our debate.

Did Fatfat meet with Al Absi in Tripoli one week before the events?

Well, I will tell you a really nice story this morning. But first and although unconventional the morale of the story: Without ‘security officials’ leaks where would we be?

Mustaqbal sponsored Lebanese Minister of “Youth and Sports” Ahmad Fatfat, Fath al Islam leader Shaker Al Absi, and a bunch of other ‘high profile’ guys supposedly met in an apartment in the Abboud Center in Tripoli on the 5th of May 2007. This was leaked by a Lebanese security 3amid “Mahmoud al J…” to the Jordanian Al Watan newspaper.

This 3amid who still works with the Lebanese Interior Ministry assures that the meeting was organized by Jordanian officer Zaher Abr Abu Jandal (a Salafist and one of the ‘Al Dinyeh Islamists’ that were released by Saad Al Hariri along with LF leader Geagea) and who was killed by the Mustaqbal party militia-like structures (the Lebanese Internal Security Forces) one week ago as he was the only witness to the meeting and that ended up with a big disagreement.

Just to go back a bit, according to the security source, Fatfat was invited to a meeting in Washington in “the winter of 2006” in order to assess the potential use of Salafist movements in Lebanon. This meeting was allegedly held by Saudi, Jordanian, American, and Israeli intelligence, as well as the Lebanese 3amid Othman, and the Lieutenant Colonel Wissam al Hassan. It was decided during the meeting that Wissam al Hassan, Ahmad Fatfat, and the now-killed Jordanian officer (and who supposedly lived 10 meters away from the Abboud building in Tripoli, where the other meeting took place), to coordinate and prepare the ‘terrorists’ for when they could be useful.

The 3amid Mahmoud al J… insists on the fact that there is a very intimate relation between Fatfat and Salafist movements in Lebanon because of their concentration in the region of Al Diniyeh from where Fatfat is. The latter was supposed to coordinate and get closer to their leadership and try to win them to the Mustaqbal cause. Some Salafists are already aligned with Hariri according to the source, and these include: Sheikh Issam al Rifai, Al Islam Al Shahal, and Hassan al Shahal.

Now the moment we are all waiting for: What happened during the meeting? According to the source, Fath al Islam leader Al Absi was welcoming in his group recruits that somehow were not aligned with the Americans and so he was asked through Fatfat and Al Hassan to hand them in but he refused. So they stopped paying him the monthly sums given to him by bank transfer to an account in the name of Abu Jandal (the now-killed Jordanian) who was the medium between both parties and whose account was at the Mediterranean Bank in Amyun (you guessed it: it is the bank that was robbed by Fath al Islam, and needless to say that the Mediterranean Bank is held in partnership by Hariri).

An interesting revelation is that Baha’ Al Hariri (the brother of Saad today’s leader of the Mustaqbal party) is in a disagreement with his brother, as 3amid Mahmoud al J… is very close to Baha’, and that (and I keep the quote literally translated from Arabic): “Saad the American and Saniora the Israeli is something, and Baha’ the Hariri is something else”.

The 3amid insist that his story is true and invites the opposition groups to form a committee that would investigate on the matter and take fingerprints in this apartment in Tripoli.

For those who want the Arabic original version of the article can just ask me. and for those who know what is ‘3amid’ in English please do tell me.

More "Shi’ia crescent" propaganda

Especially for the pedantic “I don’t believe anything, it’s cooler to be Grey (because more sophisticated)” type:

Prime Minister Fouad Seniora and the “Mufti of the republic” Mohammad Rashid Qabbani made some phone calls in order to stop the arrest wave and ask for the release of most of the suspects which ended up being members of the Mustaqbal party.

Yes, this did not take place, they are making it up.