Across the Bay

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

The Phalangists Rally... But on Which Side?!

This is just to show you how dumb it sounds for a Lebanese to hear people making references to "Phalangists" wanting to reestablish "facsist" rule in Lebanon (with theories that they might be involved with Hariri's murder and all kinds of brilliant nonsense) take a look at who's participating in Hizbullah's planned demonstration for today to declare thanks and loyalty to Syria and rejection of foreign interference:

Demonstrators will include: MP Adnan Araqji; Lebanese forces and parties, Islamic committees, Palestinian factions in northern Lebanon; the Najjada Party; the Independent Nasserite Movement (Murabitoun); Amal's politburo; the Syrian Social Nationalist Party; the Nasserite Gathering; Jamaa al-Islamiya; the Islamic Charity Projects Association; the Popular Nasserite Organization; the national forces and parties in Sidon; Hizbullah's central education enrollment department; Amal's youths and sports bureau; the Baath Party; the Youths' Association for Projects; the Federation Youth's Organization; the Phalange Party's students department; the Zawarian Youth's Organization- Tashnak; the Islamic Unionist Movement; the Workers' League; the National Youths Federation- the Lebanese Popular Conference; the Lebanese Democratic Party; the Waad Organization; the Gathering for the Right to Return and Opposition to Settlement; the National Gathering of Lebanese University Teachers; the Self-Employed Professionals; the Islamic Gathering for Teachers; the Jabal Amel Ulemas Committee; the League for the Children of Earth, Human Rights and the Lebanese Association for Lebanese-Syrian Fraternity; former minister Joseph Hashem; the Nabatieh Merchants Association; the Tyre Merchants Association; and the South's fishermen's unions and the Baalbek-Hermel Gathering for Physicians and Pharmacists.

Also, if I'm not mistaken, the Waad Organization is the party formed by the wife of the late notorious Elie Hobeika (unless it's an organization with a similar name)! Now doesn't that beat all!

Also, An-Nahar reports that the Syrian mukhabarat has been pressuring municipalities in areas directly under its control in the north of Lebanon and the Bekaa to participate in the loyalist rally today. In one particular town, in the northern district of Akkar, clashes broke out between citizens and the mukhabarat. The mukhabarat had arrested a young man after an argument on participation in the rally, so the townspeople intercepted their vehicle and disarmed them and forced them to release the young man. More interesting is the report about busloads crossing the Syrian border carrying Syrians to participate in the rally. Hizbullah's station, Al-Manar, had a program urging people to show up, and it had call-ins from Syrians who confirmed that they will be attending the rally (with the Phalangists!!!). Anyway, anytime you hear some idiot like Cobban (or Leverett) talking about "fascist Phalangists" planning to retake power, nod your head in pity, and carry on. These people are totallyout of touch with any semblance of reality. They're stuck in a moment and a mindset that's over 20 years old.

But Hizbullah's prestige will suffer as a result. As a friend put it in an email: "[the rally] doesn't actually mean anything except that the party may slowly be losing its ability, and conceit, to remain above the fray in Lebanon. It's become a Syrian tool (the Syrians reportedly insisted that they organize tomorrow's demonstration), and that can only erode the party's credibility domestically in the medium term." However, the opposition is still holding talks with Hizbullah in order to find common grounds and compromises.

For commentary on the Hizbullah demonstration, check out Rich's take. It's well worth reading. I will add to it what my friend said, and that's the Syrian pressure that they organize the rally. You can tell there are two lines in Hizbullah's actions nowadays that highlight their dilemma, and perhaps an internal disagreement as to where the future of the party lies. I also heard from a friend with contacts in Iraq that a lot of Shiites believe Hizbullah is making a big mistake. If there are any Iraqis reading this blog, I would like to hear what they think and what they're hearing. But one thing must be applauded and that is that they are emphasizing the peaceful nature of the march, and they are forbidding their party flags. Only Lebanese flags are allowed. However, as Rich said, with such diverse elements participating, including professional pro-Syrian thugs, and apparently Syrian "citiziens" (you can bet they will be infiltrated by the mukhabarat), whose business is violence (the Nasserists, the Mourabitoun, and the Baath Party are participating), the risks are great. These guys' job is violence. Asem Qanso and Nasser Qandil are hired professional pitbulls. They are brought specifically for provocation. So, as Rich pointed out, Nasrallah put himself in a situation he can't control and that's risky, which leads me to believe my friend's email, and echoe Rich's statement, that they were forced into it. Not just by internal disagreement, political maneuverings of rivals (Amal, who are also participating, and who are responsible for the shooting of an 18 year old Christian boy), but also by direct pressure from Syria. If the rally goes bad, they will suffer greatly. Already, regardless of potential violence, their image has been tarnished. Syria is trying to pull the rug from under Hizbullah's feet, by divorcing it further from the Lebanese. That's vintage Syrian policy. I wouldn't be surprised if they instigate violence to do achieve that, but let's hope for everyone's sake that no violence takes place. For Iran's position, see this brief article.

My own brief two cents are in my "Authoritarian Idiotarian" post below. I'll have more later.

On a funny note, remember how Bashar mocked the anti-Syrian rallies, claiming that the cameras' zooms were focused in, but had they zoomed out, they would have shown how no one was really there! The Lebanese had a field day with those stupid remarks (including Ghassan Tueni's editorial, which mocked Bashar's conspiracy theories about the media!). So yesterday's massive anti-Syrian rally (150,000-200,000 people) had banners that read "Zoom out your cameras, Bashar!" Indeed, An-Nahar's carried a zoomed-out picture of the crowds! (Here's another picture from L'Orient-Le Jour.)

For commentary on Bashar's speech, see this article by Robert Satloff. Rich's post linked above also deals with it. The Lebanese opposition was not satisfied with it, nor were France, Germany, or the US. Jumblat, who had called it a "positive step" has pressed on saying to a Saudi paper that "the battle with the security apparatus will continue, and so will the demand for the removal of the Lebanese intelligence and security officials. Furthermore, the pull-out should be toward the Syrian interior [and not a redelpoyment within Lebanon]." The crowds on the streets were certainly not impressed. More attempts at figuring out Bashar's long-term vision (or lack thereof) can be found here.

I also posted some comments to Josh Landis' post on Hizbullah (he had quoted some emails, and I updated my views), but his site is down for some reason (hmmmm!).