Ask any Lebanese today and they try to distance themselves from Bab el Tebbaneh and Jabal Mohsen as much as they can.
That’s simply not us, they’d tell you. They’re just not us, we’d all rationalize.
But the simple truth is Bab el Tebbaneh and Jabal Mohsen are the perfect representation of the Lebanese id, Lebanon without limits, Lebanese without boundaries, Lebanon let loose.
On one hand, you have Jabal Mohsen. The only thing Lebanese about Jabal Mohsen is its location. Even the people who are from there would rather be Syrians. Their leader had even asked for the return of the Syrian army to Lebanon not very long ago. In fact, this is their official Facebook’s cover picture, just to show exactly where their allegiance lies:
On the other hand, you have Bab el Tabbaneh: the poorest region in Lebanon, where people follow politicians not because they are convinced by them but because they are a source of food and living. It’s a place where many families live in what used to be prisons with no basic facilities and with each elections coming up, politicians come and throw a lot of promises around to get these poor people’s votes. And then they go into the realms of forgetfulness again.
Both neighborhoods are heavily armed, as is the entirety of Lebanon, whether we like to admit it or not. Jabal Mohsen’s weapons are provided by Syria or its allies in Lebanon. Who’s providing the weapons in Bab el Tabbaneh? Your guess would be as good as mine. Or as good as Mustapha who wrote about it here (interesting read, by the way, so check it out).
Why are they fighting?
The struggles between Bab el Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen are very old. They are making news more than usual these days because they’ve become more recurrent than before, because they are being linked to the crisis Syria is going through next door and because of the different kinds of weapons used.
My friends from Tripoli have been telling me about how they’re spending their nights, cowered away in one corner of their house with their family – where the bullets wouldn’t reach them. The fights had never been this heavy. The weapons had never been this strong.
The fights between Bal el Tebbaneh and Jabal Mohsen have been recurrent since 1986 with the Bab el Tebbaneh massacre. The wounds run too deep for the healing.
You have the poor Sunnis on one side and the empowered Alawites on another. The fights are sectarian.
You have the staunch pro-Assad group on one side and the staunch anti-Assad people on another. The fights are political.
Both regions are marginalized, forgotten, and impoverished. The combination of their living conditions make them much easier to be manipulated. Both regions are puppets in the hands of those who are stronger than their people. The fights are a mere expression of other powers wanting to meddle in Lebanese affairs.
Everything aside, Bab el Tebbaneh and Jabal Mohsen are us. They are sectarian Lebanon. They are politically divided Lebanon. They are poor Lebanon. They are controlled Lebanon. They are armed Lebanon. The only difference with the rest of Lebanon? Their self-restraint regarding violence is much weaker.
It is here that I stop and give a biology analogy. A neuron, which the most important cell that makes your nervous system, responds based on an all-or-none law. That is, if the stimulus given to the neuron is above a certain threshold, the neuron will give a maximum response no matter how much you increase the stimulus.
Beirut is not much different from Jabal Mohsen or Bab el Tebbaneh. It just needs a higher threshold of stimulus because of its apparent “civility” in order to fire. And we’ve already crossed that threshold a few times.
In a way, Jabal Mohsen and Bab el Tebbaneh are a compas of some sorts to the Lebanese situation. Whenever they explode, know that there are worse things going on behind closed doors and that the crisis that our country (the Syrian affair, Sunni vs Shiite, etc…) has always found itself in is in one of its upward, rather than downward curve, of the alternative current that is Lebanese politics.
Interesting take on the topic. But I think that the conflict between the two regions is blown out of proportion.
Several mistakes. The Alawites are not “empowered”, they’re as poor as the Sunnis. And the fighting began around 1975, not 1986. Alawites have been around Tripoli for hundreds of years, whereas many Sunnis were planted there by the Ottomans, so no, Alawites have no problem with Lebanon and the Lebanese flag.
And yes, the Sunnis are getting weapons from the US and Saudis, through March 14, to counter Hezbollah. This has been common knowledge for years.
1) Empowered is not meant from a social perspective, as is evident by another paragraph where I say both are poor places.
2) The fighting started before but took a different turn with the 1986 massacre.
3) Who was there first is irrelevant. I didn’t say the Alawites had a problem with Lebanon. I said the residents of Jabal Mohsen. And yeah they do, whether you want to admit it or not.
4) You seem to be pretty sure who gave them the weapons so good for you.
1) So what is the following dichotomy supposed to convey?
“You have the poor Sunnis on one side and the empowered Alawites on another.”
2) That meaning is not clear from the text at all. And an important point, the area was one mixed neighbourhood until the war. The Tawhid movement had basically turned Tripoli into an Islamist emirate until Syria turned up.
3) Yes, but you start out by questioning the loyalty of the Alawites to Lebanon, which is sectarian in itself. At the same time, you downplay Sunni relations with the Gulf, which are just as strong.
4) See: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2007/03/05/070305fa_fact_hersh
1) The people of Jabal Mohsen, who happen to be Alawites, have been always politically empowered by the people they support, much more so than the people of Tebbaneh.
2) The meaning in my text is perfectly clear. I wasn’t going into the history of things, I was merely pointing out that the struggles between both areas are not new.
3) The people of Jabal Mohsen do not have an allegiance for Lebanon. None at all, actually. Rifaat Eid, their leader, had proclaimed he wanted the Syrian army back in Lebanon. All of Jabal Mohsen would rather Syria be here instead of a few miles away. When it comes to the Sunnis, their allegiance to Lebanon is increasing and them feeling strongly about other states will never be akin to that of Jabal Mohsen’s attitude towards Syria.
4) One report does not make things a fact.
And yeah, more or less. I don’t see it reflecting on Lebanon like fights elsewhere do but they cannot be ignored as well.
1) Tabbaneh has always received support from wealthy Islamists abroad.
3) That statement reeks of bias. The Alawites of Lebanon have been forced to look to Syria for help, since the useless Lebanese army has always been too weak to keep the Salafists from attacking them. It’s natural, but has nothing to do with allegiance, it’s pure survival. The Alawites of Lebanon have never attacked the Lebanese army, unlike the Salafists.
4) That report is just the tip of the iceberg.
Let’s see, the Lebanese army has also failed to protect the Christians in Lebanon. It also has failed to protect many Sunnis. You don’t see those turning for Syria’s help. Your argument is, therefore, invalid. And no, my statement is not biased because I simply have nothing invested in any of the two regions.
And you act as if the only people active in the conflicts are the Sunnis of Tebbaneh when we both know that is far from being the case and we both know the Alawites of Jabal Mohsen are not the pseudo-saints you make them out to be.
At the end of the day, all of this conversation doesn’t challenge the point I made which is that these regions are a mini-representation of Lebanon.
I have to smile (and frown) when you write Lebanese Christians didn’t turn to Syria for protection. They did exactly that in the late 70s, and that’s one of the reasons why they were able to wipe out Palestinians in Karantina and Tel al-Zataar. Only later did their relations deteriorate. As for the Sunnis, what did they need protection from?
No one is claiming anyone is a saint, but bias has to be called out. I agree with your mini-Lebanon point, of course.
And I’m against what the Christians did and I condone it even today. But this is not about that era of Lebanese history, as I’ve already told you, and at least Christians today know that them asking for Syrian help back then was a grave mistake.
That would probably only be half of the Christians today. Or perhaps the Free Patriotic Movement are traitors?