Across the Bay

Monday, February 06, 2006

What Happened in Beirut?

Some people took my last post as a quick and easy "Syria did it" bailout. It's actually not that simple, even when it seems clear that Syria was involved. At this point, and the picture is far from complete, here's what I think happened in Beirut. You'll find that this dovetails rather well with Michael Young's take, even as it expands a bit on it.

The Hariri version can perhaps be gathered from Naseer al-Asaad's latest column. This is the picture he draws: there were two different groupings: the traditional Sunni establishment and the Jamaa Islamiya (the MB) on one side, in a planned peaceful demo encouraged by the Sunni establishment and the Hariri party. On the other hand, this was quickly taken over by the Syrian-infiltrated hordes that were sent to sabotage: the Ahbash, Tawheed, Palestinians and Syrians, and even some Alawis from the north. Asaad claims the second group was operating under Syrian orders.

I'll give him this: there is no way that Hariri and the Sunni establishment would summon the Ahbash et al. They're simply enemies. As Young notes, Hariri is not close to the Jamaa either. Here Michael's theory is intriguing. Perhaps the Hariri party figured they would bolster the demo (which would have been under the auspices of Dar al-Iftaa', the traditional Sunni establishment, close to Hariri) with the Jamaa.

As Michael noted, that may explain why the security was lax. If this was a planned demo, the assumption was that it would be peaceful. However, it's quite clear that it was bad judgment -- stupidity, rather -- to use such an inflamed volatile event to show people up. Asaad claims that as soon as the violence began, the demonstrators affiliated with the Dar al-Iftaa' and the Jamaa left. Perhaps (this al-Hayat report also quotes sources saying the same thing). But there is also something here that may support this version. It's clear in some of the footage that there were clerics (seemingly from the Dar al-Iftaa') that were trying to stop the riots.

While I cannot say about the Jamaa, I think it's a fair assumption that those responsible for the carnage, who came down with the intent, and likely, the orders, to spread mayhem, were groups out of the control of Hariri and the Sunni establishment. I mean with 76 Syrians and 35 Palestinians arrested (and most of these, according to al-Hayat, are from the PFLP-GC, which is completely a Syrian tool, as well as from other Palestinian Salafi groups), not to mention the Ahbash who answer directly to Syrian intelligence, it's not a wild claim by any stretch of the imagination to say that the Syrians were directly involved. There is even a point of sorts in Jumblat's question: why did this same type of violence only happen in Syria and Lebanon? (And in Lebanon only after the Syrian regime orchestrated the carnage in Damascus. And Landis' lame attempt at portraying it as the regime taken by surprise is utterly bogus, as usual.)

The conventional wisdom is that a few days before February 14, the Syrians took this opportunity to scare the Christians off from the Hariri Sunnis, and break the back of the March 14th alliance, and perhaps dissuade people from participating in the upcoming commemoration ceremonies. Another point is my friend's in my last post, which is to show that the Sunni street is really fanatical, an excellent message for internal Syrian consumption as well.

But I wonder if one of the messages was to directly challenge Hariri, and in the Sunni realm in particular. After all, this was precisely the function of the Ahbash under the Syrian occupation. Don't be too quick to dismiss that either. Bashar is such a reckless thug that he even played this very dangerous sectarian game with the Druze with Jumblat! He has been launching a campaign against Jumblat within the Druze community in Syria and through one Druze sheikh in Lebanon (and his Druze cronies in Lebanon). It's been happening for a while too. Jumblat's reply to it has been classic -- and hilarious. Every so often, Jumblat would leak a letter to Future TV to be highlighted in the news. The letters come from all kinds of Druze communities, including the Syrian Druze community in Stockholm, the Druze of the Golan, etc. The letters pledge allegiane to Jumblat and one of them, from the Syrian Druze in Stockholm, even described the community as Jumblat's "soldiers."

It's often forgotten that Bashar is a sectarian thug. His Arab nationalist tripe and the condescension towards Lebanon sometimes clouds that even among analysts. But the whole logic of the system in Syria is sectarian. Some Syrians just like to think that it isn't to delude themselves. But unlike Lebanon, there is no mechanism to absorb it in Syria. This leads to the main reason why I and others say (contra [pseudo-]"realists" and Bashar cheerleaders) that Bashar is not only not a source of stability, but he is its total antithesis. He is a main source of instability. What Bashar (and his father before him) does is export that internal sectarianism across the border. And he will continue to do that because that's the only way for him to maintain his rule. Which is precisely why at the end of the day, Bashar must hang.

Addendum: Here's Fouad Ajami on Syria and the riots: "And when you are talking about these two capitals, Beirut and Damascus, you're really talking about the cynical youth on the part of the Syrian regime of this incident.

This is not about religion; it's not about the prophet. It's not about these cartoons. It's about the determination of the Syrian regime to use cynically this episode and to so[w] disorder in Lebanon and to make Syria itself, which is under the gun for all kinds of high crime, to make it seem like the embattled heart of the Arab and the Islamic world."