Lebanon does not look like a victorious nation. Dilapidated buildings greet you everywhere. Air pollution must have peaked during and after the war. To drive is to venture into a lawless jungle. To walk is to risk being flattened by a car. The country is like a heavy smoker with lung cancer. He tries to quit, but everyone keeps blowing cigarette smoke in his face.
Hizbullah’s billboards are the first thing you see when you drive into city. They proclaim "divine victory" in three languages--Arabic, French and English. In some of the banners, there are crying children. Some show silhouettes of heroic fighters with rocket launchers. The billboards, big and small, flank the country’s best looking highway ominously. When you pass them, you get the feeling you escaped a brainwashing cycle. However, and as soon as the city center looms, you see two banners that make you want to go back to the airport. One is a poster showing three head shots, side by side, of Hassan Nasrallah, Michel Aoun and Nabih Berri. They are, in the poster, the Sayyed, the President and the Ustaz (Master).
Not far from where that poster stands, a banner by Hizb Al-Tahrir proclaims the arrival of the holy month of Ramadan. The fundamentalist Islamist party, licensed not long ago by a March 14 minister, Ahmad Fatfat, is already organizing conferences attracting numerous pro-Syrian personalities, including former Prime Minister Najib Mikati. Their latest conference featured lectures by the party’s leaders calling for the dissolution of the state of Lebanon and the return to pre-1920 boundaries, as well as the establishment of an Islamic caliphate grouping all the region’s Muslims.
The city center itself is finally shedding off its Disney-esque feel. The rebuilt downtown has lived through enough bombs and revolutions to finally gain some character. It is Ramadan. The day is for sinners, Christians and UNIFIL on leave. The night is for all.
A few souvenir shops still stand, defying the dwindling number of tourists. But replacing some of the beautiful handcrafts are t-shirts of Hassan Nasrallah proclaiming victory. And key chains. And for those who don’t believe in divine victories, there are other souvenir shops with posters of the slain prime minister and his progeny.
You are bound to pass a TV screen discussing a planned demonstration by the Orange clad revolutionaries on October 15. Mission: topple the government. Other TV screens have divine leaders threatening the current government with treatment similar to one usually reserved to Israeli invaders. Expect a “great surprise” after Ramadan, Hizbullah promises. 20,000 rockets to be fired at the Serail? You wonder...
You stop to gaze at the many churches, mosques and remnants of polytheistic temples that make downtown Beirut such a historical wonder. And then you remember the blood that once flowed on those streets, and your own lost childhood. You leave the city center wondering whether your child will see this version of the city, or another.
Civil war. Is the country being dragged into a civil war? If it is, the country is kicking and screaming. But is anyone listening?
Just yesterday, someone fired a rocket at the headquarters of the country’s internal security forces (ISF), headed by an official loyal to Saad Hariri. Days before, the same forces tried to stop a few Shia residents from illegally constructing homes and shops along the old airport road. During the clashes, two young men mysteriously died from gunshot wounds fired at a close range, with bullets the ISF say they don’t use. Soon after, Hizbullah accused the ISF of targeting Lebanese Shia.
The tension peaked shortly after the celebration of divine victory. Armed Sunnis and Shias in a mixed Beirut neighborhood clashed. There were hate slogans and weapons long thought to have been confiscated. The incident was contained, but it prompted the country’s Sunni and Shia leaders to meet. Saad Hariri and Nabih Berri are now reportedly putting leashes on their followers. A street tale has Saad slapping one of his followers for gathering arms and thugs and moving into a Mazra'a neighborhood where followers of Berri’s Amal reside. Amal fighters appeared heavily armed and ready for a bloody confrontation. An alleged slap on the face and a few security forces saved the day.
Berri went on the record in magazine interviews as saying he was concerned for the country’s fate more than during the civil war. Berri, it is said on the street and in many circles, is the country’s new safety valve. He is defying the Bashar regime by refusing to join the campaign to topple Siniora, realizing the sectarian tension could turn into sectarian warfare if the Sunnis are made to look like Zionists.
Sectarian tension. Is it really about Sunnis and Shias? Many would disagree. They will tell you that it’s the Hariri tribunal, stupid. “Many heads are going to roll. Have you not read the list al-Seyassah published? Almost everyone is on the list, including Lahoud and son, Bashar and company.” Lahoud himself is obsessed with Zuheir al-Siddiq, the witness who is now spilling the beans and naming everyone. When Lebanon burned during the war with Israel, Lahoud was busy writing a letter requesting the extradition of that witness from France.
The word is the pro-Syrian camp is doing its best to at least change the government before it votes on the establishment of the tribunal. If Siniora won’t be toppled, then at least introduce a cabinet change to obstruct the passing of such bills. Hizbullah and Aoun and their pro-Syrian friends will stop at nothing to accomplish this. Journalists and media are being mobilized. A newly founded newspaper is being flooded with Iranian money. And so is a television station that always claims to be “new”. The message is: government is evil, Zionist. Tribunal is waste of money, an insult to Nasrallah who would have to testify, along with others. Even the Maronite patriarch has awoken to this ploy, and warned that the actions of those parties are designed to obstruct the establishment of that tribunal. He was quickly denounced by Aoun himself, who likened Bkirki to its Sunni counterpart in being a slave to Hariri’s whims.
Bashar, it is reported, is training al-Qaeda Islamists to send to Lebanon to blow up UNIFIL troops and other operations to destabilize the country. He will not go down without a fight, even if it’s in the forgotten Golan.
This is Lebanon after the divine victory. All it needs is some fireworks and the "victory" will be complete.