Tuesday, May 22, 2012

#SayNoToWar in Lebanon

The first images I remember from Lebanon are images of destruction. Explosions. Houses shelled apart. Dismembered bodies. Children crying. Women running. Snipers. Tanks.

You travel to Lebanon?, people here sometimes ask me, slightly shuddering. You own an apartment there? In Lebanon? The images of the horror of a war that had besieged our TV screens for many years is forever burned in our collective memory.

Memories of civil war have come back to Lebanon this past week. Clashes in Tripoli and in Beirut have left more than a dozen people dead. Roads were blocked and tires were burned. Smoke hung over the cities. Bullets bounced off the walls. Are we back to square one in Lebanon? Are we again opening the gates of hell? And - and here I become very trivial and very selfish - and how about my apartment, now that the electricity is finally flowing and the internet is streaming? Is it safe?

Blame it on the Syrians, blame it on Assad, many Lebanese are quickly tempted to say. Up to a certain point, they are right. The past, present and future of Lebanon cannot be separated from its big brother Syria. In peaceful times - as relative a term peaceful is in the Levante - Lebanon is the lifeline of Syria. A dollar dealt in Beirut is a dollar earned in Damascus. Beirut has got everything Damascus is lacking: access to the sea, access to foreign investment, an unbridled night life, high heels and fat cigars. In less peaceful times, Lebanon is the spill over basin for any conflict that hits the Middle East. That conflict is now in Syria. Or better yet: that conflict is now Iran. 

at the end of the night: Beirut

Here's my theory: everything in Syria today is about Iran tomorrow. Don't get me wrong: the common Syrian on the streets of Deraa has every right and reason to be there, if he dares so. But how much does he or she count in the understandings on Syria between Washington, Ryadh and Doha? Iran is about to construct a Shia arc of influence from Tehran to Tyre, from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean. Her opponents left the dogs out to stop this. Thanks to George "mission accomplished" Bush and his stupid intervention to dispose of Saddam Hussein, Iraq is already under the black belts of the Mullahs. The next place to halt Iran is Syria. With Assad's regime shaken from within, this might be the time. And if Assad keeps standing, there is still Lebanon to fall. The crude art of geopolitics displayed in all its ugliness. Stop the Iranians before they reach Greece! If Saudi Arabia and Qatar are so keen about democracy in Syria, why don't they introduce it in their own countries first?

The Gulf countries and the United States are now openly supporting the Syrian opposition militarily, sending weapons and funds their way. Supply lines for the Free Syrian Army logically run through their neighboring countries. A remedy for Syria means side effects for Lebanon. Nobody in the West and in the Gulf seems to care. Lebanon is a "quantité négligeable" when it comes to saving the world from Iran. A recent paper by Harvard professors favoring a foreign intervention in Syria asked for regime change in Beirut in order to establish buffer zones for Syrian refugees and fighters inside Lebanon. Regime change? We are trying democracy here, free speech, free press, as imperfect as it might be. Many Lebanese would be happy to have a regime at all. The power and the blessings of a functioning state are mostly absent in a society where everyone is on his own - or with his clan.

Is there a Lebanese with a national agenda? Is there a nation with an agenda for the Lebanese? All of them? For a people to develop a Staatsgefühl, a state must deliver first. But who is first to chip in for a national project? Rather wait for oil to be discovered off the coast of Lebanon and a new ministry of oil coming into business. Let's get the money spilling - our way. People in Akkar or in Nabatyeh don't feel like Beirut looks after them. They are left alone. They seek shelter in the arms of their sect. They are at the receiving end of their diaspora's money transfers from Europe or Africa. They pay tribute to their sheikh, they are loyal to their clan chief. They are on the payroll of Syria. Of Iran. Of Saudi Arabia. Beirut is a two hours traffic jam away. In Beirut they dance on a volcano.

say no to war: Beirut

And then something is happening. And within a minute or two, the streets are filled with men. Angry men. Men in black. Men with no future, living in the present. Cut off from reality, from humanity. Men and arms. Gunmen. Where arms are abundant, arms want to be used. It is easier to get men with guns running the streets than to get people marching for basic rights. For human rights. To mobilize against rape, to stand up for civil marriage. 

While angry men walk their loaded guns, the rest of the country is in denial. Do I look good on the photo like this? My designer nose is perfect, right? Yes, yes, I have fun! No, no - there's no problem in this country. Are we the world's top party spot or not? Good thing there is Facebook. God bless Zuckerberg. How else could we show the world how much fun we have here in Lebanon. Was this gunfire I just heard? Or another bottle of champagne being cracked open? I can't see, really. Maybe you should take off your sunglasses, it is already past midnight.

Lebanon is sliding dangerously along the rim of a new civil war these days. Some people seem to have forgotten about the tragedy that was the old war. Some people do remember, but they don't care. It is the environment they thrive in. It is the life they have come to know. It is time to develop a national agenda in Lebanon. It is time to develop a civil society in Lebanon. A society asking for its right to peace. Don't wait for wrecked up politicians to get you to the next round. They are busy fighting on Twitter and suing each other in court. Say no to war. Say yes to Lebanon. I will be back in September.


  1. You speak so much sense and bring so much clarity to the ugly reality. These days international affairs and geopolitics just fill me with despair. I have lost all or any penchant for following it closely as i used to in the post. Cynicism has taken over my existence.

  2. thanks Noufel for commenting. Cynicism will save the day these days. Or complete abstention from news.