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.