It may seem a little peverse for me to be talking about the days events in Lebanon at a time when over (at least) 15,000 people in Burma/’Myanmar’ are dead and thousands more missing after a huge cyclone, but this blog is, after all, about the Arab world and thus my world. And yet I can’t ignore the terrible catastrophe that has befallen those innocent people already suffering under a bonkers military junta and so I have to at least give my respects to the victims. The Burmese military rulers are only allowing in a pathetic trickle of aid: valuing politics and their positions more than their people’s lives. More should be done for the people- more should always be done.
So as for the Arab world: Beirut was today transformed from a hustling, bustling, car-crammed city into a virtual ghost town. There were almost no people out, no cars, very few shops open, and an unnerving quiet most alien to the capital. The General Confederation of Labour Unions (CGTL) had organized a strike, with the backing of the opposition, to demand the government increase the minimum wage from $200, which has been in effect since 1996. Of course, as is usual in Lebanon, what started as a strike over living conditions then became riots in certain areas, with teenage boys burning cars, tyres (and I think I even saw a carpet on TV), looking for fights and egging on riot police. An important call to demand the poorer sections of Lebanese society get better wages to meet increasing food and living costs therfore became a complete farce, was completely politicized and played into the hysteric scare-mongering that politicians here are so fond of.
It seems that the March 8 ‘opposition’, essentially Shiite Hizbullah and Amal, together with their Christian ally the Free Patriotic Movement, have hijacked the protests and say they will continue until the government repeals a decision to shut down Hizbullah’s phone networks.That decision was triggered by Walid Jumblatt, Druze leader and head of the Progressive Socialist Party (the leadership of which inherited from his assassinated father), who earlier this week ‘outed’ Hizbullah’s network, which was in fact public knowledge years ago. Jumblatt also accused Hizbullah of having surveillance cameras trained on Beirut airport’s runway 17 , which alot of politicians and private planes use. The government also returned the head of the airport’s security to an army position for his links to Hizbullah. March 14, of which Jumblat is a key member, has accused the riots of being “inspired by Iran and executed by Hizbullah”. March 14 usually blame Iran and Syria for their woes and the ‘opposition’ usually blame Israel and the United States.
Jumblatt’s move is a great example of the bitter rivalry between the main political groups here, March 14 and the ‘opposition’. The tension has been brewing for months- Lebanon has been without a president since last November because agreement over the formation of a national unity government and an electoral law cannot be reached.
Alot of news agencies are saying gun shots and explosions were heard in Beirut, but I myself heard nothing out of the ordinary. There are usually alot of sounds here that one could mistake for violence, but usually turn out to be fireworks, back-firing engines, exploding gas canisters, so perhaps I just didn’t notice.
(Photo from Al Jazeera article.)