Lebanon: Demonstrations, Deaths and Specter of Civil War

“Beirut dusts off 1975 lexicon” is how Friday Lunch Club summarized the media reporting of yesterday’s demonstrations and clashes. The demonstrations resulted in nine civilian casualties and more than 30 injuries.

During the Lebanese civil war which began 1975 and ended 1990, certain terms and phrases were used to describe the security situation on the ground. Suddenly, the same phrases, like “cautious calm”, “snipers”, “axis” and “demarcation line,” which have long been forgotten, popped up in the news again, bringing with them a specter of the Lebanese worst nightmare: a civil war.

Here is a random selection of bloggers’ reflections on yesterday’s incidents which started as demonstrations against electricity shortages and against hikes in prices but ended in riots, shootings and deaths.

EDB at Anecdotes from a Banana Republic described yesterday’s incidents in a post that started with:

At around 4pm this afternoon, dozens of men–mostly followers of Nabih Berri's Amal Movement– gathered near the Mar Mikhael Church in Chiyah (in Beirut's southern suburbs) to protest electricity shortages. Riots over living conditions have been an almost daily occurrence in recent weeks; some neighborhoods outside central Beirut receive only 2 hours of electricity per day.

When the impromptu rioting broke out, the army routinely moved in to clear the burning tires from the road and disperse the angry crowd. They were met with a barrage of rocks. A scuffle between soldiers and protesters ensued; and then– sniper gunfire from an unknown location. A local Amal leader shot dead. On TV later, continuous rounds of gunfire could be heard; panicked soldiers ducked and elbowed their way along the ground as protesters tried to flee the scene.

EDB concludes her narration of the incidents by writing:

Prime Minister Saniora just declared tomorrow–Monday– a “national day of mourning”. All schools and universities will remain closed. Yesterday was also a national day of mourning, in honor of the 10 victims who perished in a car bombing the previous day.

Lebanon Reporter
compares the situation today with the situation right before the ensuing of the civil war in 1975, and sees some similarities:

It made me think about the unrest before the civil war in 1975. (I happened to be studying for an exam about the history of politics in Lebanon at the time I heard.) The circumstances back then were a bit the same: dispute over powersharing arrangements, protests about work environment, cost of living, etc. (in short: unfair treatment towards the lower classes, Shia in particular).

I am not saying we're about to get pulled in a civil war (who can predict that? + there were more reasons for the civil war to start… though I'd like to know who te killers were). It just made me think.. Why is it that after 30 yrs these problems still exist to a degree that people feel forced to show ‘civil disobedience’ (and then this happens)?

Marxist From Lebanon
draws many lessons from yesterday's bloody incidents, among these are:

Yesterday’s Scenario: Main Lessons
There are different scenarios to be learnt from yesterday’s events:

1) A civil war can break out any moment from now on

2) The leaders are losing their grip on their followers, they have been too much involved in mobilizing their followers against the “traitors” to the extent they are losing their grips on them

3) Government/Opposition leaders haven’t realized that their “escalation” tactics are not paying off on the negotiation tables (well through the mediators) rather it is reflecting on the people

4) The media needs to be controlled, the political party affiliates should impose on all media (including Al-Mannar) to report information as it happened, and not to build up a situation towards a potential civil war.

The Inner Circle groups sees a professional murderer behind all the disturbances, bombing and killing going on in Lebanon during the past few years:

An unknown murderer, who’s been sweeping Lebanon since Feb 14, 2004; has struck again. I’d like to bundle all the killings and public murdering of a professional hit man (or group – no idea) will get in the way of Lebanese dividing and confronting the other. Reality is, the rascals are the minority people, and the citizens of Lebanon, are the far majority. This time a 21 year boy, making a political statement. Not by economic strain, but mostly to collapse the government in which he views the Prime Minister Seniora heads. I stay neutral on the situtation, as my standards of drawing the line, has completely different game-rules.

Beirut Spring sees a third party, other than the demonstrators and the army, acting as “agents porvocateurs” to stir unrest and strife:

The nature of the first victim says it all. Ahmad Hamza was the man appointed by the opposition’s AMAL movement to coordinate the demonstrations with the army, so that things remain in check. He was the first to be taken down. It is obvious that those pulling the trigger knew what they were doing. But who are they?

The puzzle has a missing piece. It seems that a third party wants to stir things up by breaking the balance of restraint between the Lebanese parties. As political analyst Ossama Safa puts it: “This is the work of agents provocateurs — someone is in there stirring trouble [..] I really think they want to get a hold of the situation. But someone, somewhere is doing this.”

Beirut to the Beltway's take on the matter involves some questions:

Needless to say, we are tired of it all. If this is war, then could someone involve the dying public in the details of the fight? This public cannot subsist on the same old indirect accusations. Instead of declaring a day of mourning, how about a day of truth? How about teaching the interior minister how to speak? How about the army commander, instead of phoning the dictator next door, be asked to report to the defense minister and to the public? Is the enemy so powerful that we are afraid to at least give it the media treatment we have given Israelis when they were doing the killing?…
If the Siniora government wants to earn the trust of people from all sides, then transparency must be put on the agenda. There is no shame in admitting mistakes or failure. But there is shame in accepting causalities as a “price” for a war that the public was never asked to prepare for.

In the Middle of the East
posts about the reports of snipers on roof tops who shot on the demonstrators killing some of them to stir troubles:

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

Jeha's Nail sees a new dynamics of power which became evident as a result of the demonstrations:

Once again, Ain El-Remmaneh flares up… Well, almost.
Yesterday, when some fine lads decided to block the street with burning tires, a few persons died. It was not the fumes who got them, just some stray bullets that were fired in the air…
As in, like… horizontally… Either way, a few things were clear; Hezb does not have exclusivity anymore.

Bob's Blog warns of the genie of the civil war casting its shadow over Beirut for a few hours:

Yesterday was another day when the genie of “civil war” escaped from its fragile prison and roamed free for hours, in the streets of Beirut and its suburbs. It seems that this genie really likes the month of January.

Lebanon Update also mentions how the area where the demonstrations and deaths occurred yesterday is the same area where the civil war of 1975 began:

On April 13, 1975 unidentified people killed 4 Maronites at a church in Ain el Remaneh, an event that many see as the start of the Lebanese Civil War. That same church featured prominently as the décor of yesterday’s riots. Is history going to be repeated?

And many Lebanese now fear that history may repeat itself.

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