Here is my latest piece for VICE. Photos by the one and only Sam Tarling.
Friday’s assassination of General Wissam al-Hassan has rocked Lebanon to its core. Every night since the car bomb exploded in the Achrafieh district of East Beirut, people have been fighting in the streets. Thick plumes of black smoke are choking the Beirut sky and kids as young as 11 roam around wearing masks, setting shit on fire and terrifying the local population. I was shot at while driving through Tariq al-Jadida on Friday night, and in a separate incident a friend of mine was shot at 16 times.
The anti-Syrian Sunnis of the March 14th Alliance are making a show of power to their pro-Syrian foes in theMarch 8th Alliance, the latter of whom currently retain a precarious grip on government in Lebanon. Heavy gunfire could be heard around the country, with incidents reported in Naama, Sidon, Tripoli and all around West Beirut. From what I read, in Naama, Sunni gunmen set up roadblocks and were checking people’s ID cards to find out what sect they belonged to – a throwback to the civil war days.
I also read that a person was stabbed and three people – two of them children – were killed during last night’s sectarian clashes. In the Sunni stronghold of Tripoli, a nine-year-old girl was shot in the head by a sniper.
General Wissam al-Hassan’s funeral, which took place on the streets of downtown Beirut yesterday afternoon and was attended by thousands, turned into a mass political rally in Martyrs’ Square. Every political group whose flag flies under the banner of the March 14th alliance and that opposes Lebanon’s ruling body’s links to Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian regime was there.
At the end of the funeral, popular Lebanese TV presenter Nadim Koteich grabbed a microphone and demanded that the young, angry men in the rally rush to the offices of Prime Minister Najib Mikati and occupy them. “Mikati will fall down today,” he shouted. On Saturday, Mikati did indeed hand President Michel Suleiman his resignation, but had been asked to stay on for the time being in the interests of stability.
And so, a crowd of several hundred tried to storm police barricades and reach the governmental buildings but were dispersed as police forces fired tear gas and gun rounds, which put two people in hospital. Many people see Mikati (a Sunni) as a Hezbollah puppet and blame him for not preventing the assassination of the General. As the crowd ran in the streets, they chanted “Mikati’s sister’s pussy” in Arabic, which is a less eloquent way of saying “Fuck your sister, Mikati,” in Arabic.
In Lebanon the political system is based on confessionalism, which basically means that instead of voting according to political ideology, people base their vote on whatever religious sect they belong to. After the assassination of Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri in 2005, the sects formed two major coalitions: March 14th (comprising of the Hariris’ Sunni Future movement, and the Christian Lebanese Forces led by Samir Geagea) and March 8th (made up mostly of the Shi’ite militia Hezbollah, Nabi Berri’s Amal Movement and Michel Aoun’s Christian Free Patriotic Movement).
Essentially what we have now is a struggle between March 8th – who currently lead the coalition – and March 14th, whose leader Saad al-Hariri has lived in exile in Paris since losing control of government and surviving yet another assassination attempt.
What many in this country believe but hardly talk about is that Wissam al-Hassan, Rafiq al-Hariri (Saad’s father), Wissam Eid and countless others were assassinated because of their opposition to the Syrian regime. Not by Syria though, rather by their allies in the March 8th Alliance. Hardly anyone knew Wissam al-Hassan was back in the country, not even his own boss. This was a highly coordinated attack that would have required serious internal intelligence, more so than the Syrians could achieve singlehandedly.
But everyone in politics in this country has blood on their hands, and on top of that they are elected according to their religion so it’s a little hard to find someone to trust as a political leader. It was only last month that Lebanon was commemorating the Sabra and Shatila massacres and a month later, the same pseudo-fascist Christians responsible for the atrocity are waving their flags and beating their chests alongside supposedly pro-Palestinian, al-Qaeda-leaning Sunni militia men, all clad in black and calling out in bloodcurdling screams for the heads of Shi’ite militiamen.
Some have said that yesterday’s rally was a show of Lebanese unity. It only takes one look at the different flags in that crowd to see that it didn’t – there’s barely a Lebanese one in sight. All you will see instead, is a bunch of sects, factions and militias brought together under the illusory notion that “my enemy’s enemy is my friend”.
Today, we find ourselves teetering on the brink of civil war once more. Many businesses have shut their doors as gangs of armed assholes roam the streets trying to prove a point. Until the day these religious differences are put to bed, the Lebanese will continue to live in fear, and the country’s young people will continue to be duped into picking up arms in the name of people pointlessly “martyred” decades before they were even born.