Maskhara At USJ: A Sum-Up of What’s Wrong With Lebanon

They say our country’s future resides on our generation. You know, the generation that supposedly doesn’t have illiterates, that has people going to our country’s universities to get the education that the people before us did not get to have. We were supposed to be brighter, more aware, more critical and less extreme.

We are anything but.

One of Lebanon’s universities, USJ, will close its doors tomorrow because its students decided to express civility today. It was not enough, for instance, for Hezbollah supporters that the entire country has to deal with their party’s reckless practices and their consequences and not get a say in the matter or that their hypocrisy has redefined the definition of terrorism in Lebanon. No, let’s not talk about any of that. Let’s talk about how some of their supporters decided it was a brilliant idea to remove the pictures of an infamous politician in the area where Huvelin exists and to plaster the thug that assassinated him around the place while chanting his name.

Because the country needed such a thing happening in it now. Because there’s absolutely nothing else pertinent taking place currently, the least of which is dealing with the ramification of an explosion that happened in Hezbollah HQ less than a week ago. Because someone figured: Jeez, we lost the elections a few days ago there so wouldn’t it be fun to do such a thing? I’ll get away with it anyway because, you know, I’m a Hezbollah supporter and I never, ever get into trouble. Never. This is my country and all of you just have to deal with it.

The counter reactions were not at a better level.

USJ is a Christian university. Because employing sectarian rhetoric is precisely what is needed in such conflicts, precisely what the country needs right now and precisely what is required to diffuse the tension. Let’s just bring it right into the fold and make it part of the debacle. Let’s not make it a battle of politics anymore. Let’s give our constituents exactly what they crave and what they itch for. Let’s give them what resonates with them at this very moment of a Lebanon that has fundamentalism on the rise. Let’s make this a battle of us versus them, of them trying to control us and to take over our campus.

What campus, you ask? The campus of Bashir, referring to Bashir Gemayel, the former Lebanese president around whom the current debacle took place. The campus of those who believe in his ideology and who follow in his footsteps. So is everyone else not welcome? Perhaps such an argument is tough to swallow but just because someone attended a university, however important that person is, does not turn that university into his property or into something that should always pay homage to him, regardless of who that person is.

Hezbollah’s aggressions are unacceptable and are bordering thug-like behavior. But the replies to those aggressions, even if only verbal, do not a point make. They do not even advance the situation or try to resolve it. Instead, we are left with kids playing, unaware that their actions in the Lebanon of today can have ramifications that none of them, I suppose, would want to see. But let them play. And let the politicians who support them and are defending them in the closed circles meetings taking place as we speak play. Or perhaps I was just being optimistic that my generation would be more mature than this. I guess not.

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The Political Side of the Achrafieh Explosion

A three meter crater took the life of eight people in Achrafieh on Friday. One of those eight people was the head of Lebanon’s ISF intelligence, Wissam Al Hassan.

The assassination of Wissam Al Hassan cannot be tackled except by asking two main questions: how and why.

How was he assassinated?

No, I’m not referring to the bomb which went off but as to how this bomb found Al Hassan on the day that he returned from abroad, on a busy street in Achrafieh at the exact same time he was passing. The answer cannot but be clear: there was an informant among Al Hassan’s entourage who monitored his every move, waiting for the right time to press the trigger.

Why was he assassinated?

Some people want to think it’s Israel. Al Hassan has rounded up many Israeli spies – but the biggest fish that he caught was non-other than Michel Samaha who happens to be Bachar el Assad’s favorite man in Lebanon, possibly surpassing the allies that are giving men in Syria to defend the regime. Being the head of the investigation with Samaha, Al Hassan managed to find connections and revelations about the work of the former and the involvement of the Syrian regime in the everyday lives of Lebanese, something that existed in theory before. But never this practically. Al Hassan managed to create causality between Samaha and many incidences which took place on the Lebanese scene and by virtue of Samaha’s proxy, the causality extended to our neighbor to the East.

Al Hassan has also created a tough link between Samaha and high ranking Syrian officials, such as Bousayna Chaaban, who – it transpired – had asked Samaha to work on dismantling the fragile status quo that existed in Lebanon. In order to do so, Samaha had too much help.

The investigation has also led to the unveiling of documents which accused one specific party on the Lebanese scene with an assassination that is uncannily like Hassan’s: a man who just returned from a trip abroad, as he went to a meeting, on a side street in a bustling region.

1 + 1 = 2

The informant who managed to conjure up the plan that took away Hassan’s life, as well as the lives of eight other people in Achrafieh, is most definitely Lebanese. You need to be Lebanese in order to have that much proximity to the second man of the ISF. The execution of the idea was also Lebanese – and God knows we have way too many Lebanese traitors in our midst who can’t wait but execute the commands they get. The command is, obviously, Syrian – straight out of Damascus. The Syrian regime in its current state can only send out a request. Some Lebanese are all too willing to abide.

The question to be asked is: why would a beaten but still fighting Syrian regime want to get Al Hassan out of the way, fully knowing that this won’t stop the investigation taking place into Samaha?

The answer is simple: the investigation was going way too fast for the liking of the crumbling regime and its Lebanese arms that were readied to be broken by it. Killing Al Hassan would buy time for the parties affected by his work to catch their breath and ready their upcoming steps. This is the tip of the iceberg for Lebanon. What will come soon will be much worse. After all, isn’t time valuable enough to kill for?

The assassination of Wissam Al Hassan is also another attempt by said “foreign agent” to instill chaos between Lebanon’s Sunnis and Shi’a. Those who benefit from such a scenario are Israel and Syria, the former because it would weaken Lebanon, especially its foes, and the latter because the Alawite leadership sees no problem in pitting the Sunnis against the Shiites. Iran, on the other hand, doesn’t have it in its best interest to have such a strife in Lebanon because it would damage the only section of the country it cares deeply about.

Israel is probably smiling giddily at what’s happening in Lebanon now. This is all too good to be true. But it stops at that – because the immediate interest in the whole matter is for the Syrians to defuse some of the tension on their regime. And that’s a gamble they’re willing to take. Will most fingers be pointed at them? They’re sure of it. But they can take it because the whole world, apart from Russia and China and Iran, have their fingers already pointed at the regime and they haven’t succumbed. They can kill their own people for months on end and get away with it. What’s a top ranking Lebanese official compared to the tens of thousands that have been killed already?

Israel may have done it too. They’ve killed tens of thousands and have assassinated Lebanese officials before (Imad Moghniyeh comes to mind). But I believe Syria is more plausible and it seems our president and prime minister share that belief.

The Future for Lebanon

This won’t be the last of assassinations to hit the country. I hope it is. But my instincts tell me it’s not. The March 14th movement is effectively comatose after what they did on Sunday. The big comeback they were planning to make turned into a knife that got sunk right through their heart – could they recover from it? I don’t think so. The anger in the streets is the most substantial in recent memory – even surpassing that of the May 2012 events in the Sunni streets. The dichotomy couldn’t have been clearer: as people celebrated with baklava in one part of the country, others were protesting with burning tires. Because burning rubber brings dead people back. The country is on the verge of a volcano if things keep escalating. Our politicians need to sober up for just one fraction of a moment and see exactly how big a mess they’ve all made out of things.

The 2013 elections are definitely in jeopardy. If the situation doesn’t start to get better really soon, I don’t expect we’ll be heading to the ballots in May to vote for the same people all over again.

The government should obviously not resign at the moment because a political void is exactly what those who planned the Achrafieh blast want from us. Our president needs to head out to the U.N. and immediately ask for “peace” keeping forces to be spread around our borders with Syria. I’d even call for the borders to be shut down because their economic value has become non-existent.

May all the victims of the Achrafieh massacre rest in peace.

Rest in Peace Lebanon’s March 14th

My name is Elie Fares. I will soon be 23 years old. I am a Lebanese citizen. I also happen to be born into a Maronite family. My registry number is 44. I vote in Ebrine, in the Batroun Caza.

I remember prior to 2005 when a friend asked me in class: “enta 3awne aw ouwwatje?”

I looked at him blankly. Both those words were foreign to me. I didn’t know what “3awne” or “ouwwatje” meant. So I just shrugged and said neither. Why didn’t I know what “3awne” or “ouwwatje” meant? Because we never discussed such things in my household. The only thing that got transiently mentioned among my parents was the need for the Syrian army to leave from my hometown back then. And that was my only political truth back then. Get the Syrians out of my country.

Up until 2005, I never believed in anything political. I never thought I’d be interested in politics. I remember getting the news of February 14th while my school bus drove me home. I looked at the driver worryingly: what would this mean to my country?

I didn’t like Rafic Hariri. He had been with the Syrians for way too long. But I had come to appreciate him switching sides over the past previous months and the hope I saw in my parents’ faces as they spoke about voting for the “opposition” in the upcoming elections, hoping to change things.

I watched the news like every other Lebanese. I saw hundreds of thousands go down to Hariri’s funeral. I saw the youth of Lebanon run to the streets every week. I saw the army trying to stop them from gathering. I saw people sit down in Martyr’s Square to fight for a freedom my country longed for. I saw more than a million Lebanese fill the streets of Beirut on March 14th 2005. I felt my heart fill with joy as I hugged two of my friends who happened to be of opposite political affiliations (one is ouwwatje, the other is 3awne). I felt on top of the world. I felt like I could change things. I felt empowered. I felt proud to be Lebanese – and nothing, to me back then, could change that.

The following day in an Arabic class at school we started discussing what happened with our teacher. My entire class had gone down to the protest. One of the two friends I hugged told the professor that the country seems to be heading in the right direction for the first time in a long time. Everyone was united in one cause – there was a “minority” which didn’t agree.

Our teacher said similar sentiments had surfaced before in the public but were short-living. My friend shrugged his words off. My teacher was right. The 2005 elections rolled around and I found myself taking sides. I decided then to become a supporter of the “ouwwet.” My friend was “3awne.” My parents, like so many other Christians that year, voted for Aoun. I had never seen my mom that resilient about voting for someone except perhaps when she voted the opposite way in 2009. I actually feel proud of that moment too – the fact that I came into my own political opinion independently of my parents, even opposing them. Therefore, I feel offended whenever someone infers that my political opinion was instilled in me by my parents due to excessive repetition.

The people, though, were not united anymore. My friends and I became on opposite sides. And years started passing as the divide grew bigger. The July 2006 war happened and we took sides then. Following the July 2006 war, March 8 set camp in downtown and I looked upon them in disgust. They were the “bajam” hurting our economy, damaging our reputation, working against the country I wanted to build. Their sit-in lasted two years during which my hate towards them grew. And my friends stopped talking to each other. But March 14th fought onwards, or so I thought, until a few months into 2008, the country’s real crisis began.

The May 2008 events happened and we also took sides. I was an AUB student who was forced to stop going to class for two weeks. I remember braving the protests on their very first day and going to classes, which were supposedly going to be held. My chemistry class had eight people. Our Jordanian teacher gave us a lecture about the importance of our country. That lecture was probably the most memorable one in my entire three years at AUB.

Starting with 2005, politicians got assassinated and innocent people got killed and we took sides. And with each March 14 politician dying, my resolve to support them grew stronger. How could anyone not see that they were the only ones being targeted? How could anyone not see exactly how wrong it was to support those “others” who were not suffering because of their love for the country?

The 2009 elections rolled by I had so many quarrels with family members because they wanted to vote for “the others.” I had heated debates with elderly people who reverted to civil war times in their talk, telling me I was “too young” to understand. But we won and I felt happy. I felt like we could now, possibly, take the country forward.

But then it started going down hill. Forming the government took such a long time. But I blamed Bassil and his father in law for not seeing the disgrace of his son in law’s loss in my region. The government eventually got formed but it wasn’t effectively ruling. It was all color by number – let us get the wheels of the country to move as smoothly as possible without damaging the very fragile equilibrium of sects that we so proudly paraded around to show our diversity as a nation. I started blaming Hezbollah for being armed and for not letting us rule. I blamed Aoun for spinning faster than a weather vane. I blamed Aounists for being so hateful to Geagea that they couldn’t see the many problems in their leader of choice.

And I saw March 14th start to go downhill but I still had hope that one day things might change again. I saw them make mistakes but I always deflected the criticism that March 8 people ran at me with: “Shut up, you’ve done much worse.” And to me, that was the absolute truth. They were ones to talk – ruining my country with their love for Iran and Syria, two countries that I despised.

So on March 13th 2011, I braved the cold of the snowstorm that had just subsided and figured it was divine intervention that the weather was that good when it was snowing the day before and I went down to Downtown Beirut to protest my right as a citizen to live. I went down in hope that being present there would reinvigorate the political movement I staunchly supported. I went in hope that being there would get the politicians I supported to man up and know that they have people who support them and who want them to take back the country from those who stole it by the force of their black shirts. I went down and felt proud doing so. But it was all in vain.

Nothing changed after that. The country only went further downhill. I continued believing that March 14th was the lesser of the two evils, the less hypocritical bunch out of the two, the saner one. But as I saw radical Islamists become part of their base supporters, I began to wonder where was the youth that was the heart of March 14? Was it replaced by bearded men who were enabled by some of March 14th’s politicians to enact out agendas that they were too cowardly to do?

I saw those politicians start leaving the country one by one, fearing for their lives. And I was here, struggling through everyday life because I did not matter. I was nothing more than an irrelevant individual compared to them. I still am. But I still convinced myself that it wasn’t all too bad. Our current problems were all to be blamed on the one-sided government that was making our lives hell with its inaptitude. I wasn’t getting neither electricity nor water in the heart of a capital that was losing its identity to foreigners who only visited it a few months per year. I was reaching the realization that my prospects in the country were as limited as they can get. I got to the realization that Lebanon is not the country I wanted to live in. I was broken.

I went to France. I saw how it is for people to truly live without worrying about the meaningless things that cause anxiety in us in Lebanon. I lived the life that I could have been living if my country hadn’t been such a mess, if my politicians truly cared about making my country better, if my country hadn’t been in the fancy geographical location we always brag about, if my country hadn’t been this chaotic mix of segregated people who had absolutely nothing in common among them except the ID card that they believe ties them together.

But I carried on with life because that’s what you do. I went to classes, working to leave one day to a place that would appreciate what I had to offer. And then Wissam Al Hassan got assassinated.

March 14th immediate reaction was to call for the government to collapse and to blame the prime minister. And I started wondering what good would that do. March 14th called on people to start going to Martyr’s Square to protest. They had no plan except to get the people there. I expressed my concern with the matter only to have their followers barrage me about living in high towers, behind a computer, blogging, while the country burned. I was used to getting criticism from both parts of the spectrum as I criticized parties in both (yes, even though I am politically affiliated, I still managed to criticize my party.) March 14th then called on their supporters to come down to Downtown Beirut in order to turn the funeral of Wissam Al Hassan into a national event for their rejuvenation. I refused to go. They had no plan. They didn’t know what they were doing except to get the people worked up. They only wanted Mikati to resign. They couldn’t answer the simple three-word question: And after that?

The funeral was supposedly a Lebanese matter. Few were the Lebanese flags there. There were Brazilian flags, some from Bangladesh and others from Uzbekistan. I failed to see the relevance. But the majority of flags there were of the Syrian revolution. The only thing Lebanese about the funeral were the people and the location. Its heart was entirely not there. The heart of it was not the man who was about to be buried.

As I watched the funeral on TV and saw Wissam Al Hassan’s boys weep their father, I felt sorry for what they were going through. What should have been a personal matter to them became a national event. What should have been Al Hassan’s family taking their time with what remained of their father became a televised event as politicians worked the crowds that were beyond angry. Then those people that were supposedly attending a funeral decided to turn Downtown Beirut into mayhem as some irrelevant journalist became relevant when he was given a loud voice.

I looked as people from the party I supported attacked barricades and fought to get to the Grand Serail. In order to do what? I had no idea. I looked in disgust as the funeral of a respectable man suddenly became a national circus. I looked in disgust as the politicians of March 14th turned the last memory of a man whom they were milking politically into what I was seeing in front of me. Then their supporters started using the same rhetoric that I had used before to justify what was happening. And those excuses didn’t work with my conscience anymore. It doesn’t mean we should do the heinous stuff that took place just because they excel at them. This is not how you build anything, let alone a country.

There was no justification for what happened. March 8 have done worse is not a justification – but I still refuse to see a March 8 person criticize what happened. They’re ones to talk.

March 14th became a hypocritical movement. It became a movement that I didn’t want to be associated with. It’s no longer a movement that wants to build a country. It’s no longer a movement I feel as comfortable voting for as I did a couple of days ago. It’s no longer a movement of youth that make me feel proud, it’s that of youth that make me feel nauseous. It’s no longer a movement of people who got to believe in it on their own accord, but that of people who either grew up hearing their parents ramble on about it or people who support it out of pure sectarian principles. It’s no longer a movement that can drive Lebanon out of its stillbirth. It’s no longer a movement that can make Lebanon a free country by design as opposed to the free result of a lucky break in a neighboring country. March 14th is no longer there. It is a shell of what it used to be. The dream of it is dead. March 14th is dead. And this is its obituary.

Samir Geagea’s Assassination Attempt

Head of the Lebanese Forces narrowly escaped an assassination attempt in his house in Meaarab, Keserwein, earlier today.

While taking a stroll outside, Geagea heard gunshots. So he ran for a safe place only to find the spot he was standing at had two bullet holes.

The security of his house was not breached. But the attempt is believed to have been taken out using high-tech equipment that can establish a perimeter of up to 4 kilometers. The Lebanese army is currently sending its helicopters to search the woods surrounding the area for possible suspects but the dense forests make the task extremely difficult.

The team that tried to assassinate Geagea obviously knows what it’s doing and has possibly done it before.

Now I ask – are we back to the assassination period in Lebanon where every single politician that has the guts to speak out against certain factions and regimes gets shot down? Are we back to a time where some people think gunning down Lebanese top politicians will get the people to cower away and not fight for their rights anymore?

Samir Geagea is the only Lebanese politician whose opinions, since he got out of his forced imprisonment in 2005, haven’t spun like a weather vane. He’s the only Lebanese politician who has asked the people for forgiveness for anything his party might have committed during the civil war. He’s the only Lebanese politician who served jail time. He’s the only Lebanese politician nowadays whose rhetoric doesn’t cower away from telling things like they are. He’s the only Lebanese politician who doesn’t equivocate over his beliefs.

I never thought I’d be this upset with such news. Why? Because I never thought it would actually happen. But now that Geagea has been targeted for assassination, years after the latest figure in Lebanese politics was killed, I cannot but be disgusted by the cowards and the filth of society that have tried to kill such a man.

I address them directly because I know they’re reading this: you disgust me. If anyone needs to die, it’s you – your guns, your backward mentality and your fear of those who can speak out against you.

They know who they are.

Samir Geagea lives. And his resolve will only grow stronger. His supporters will only grow more determined.

February 14th in Lebanon: Should It Become Hariri’s Day?

Every year since 2005, February 14th has served a double meaning in Lebanon, as I’ve tried to convey through this meme. For many, it’s your regular Valentine’s day: a chance to take your loved one out, etc…. For others, however, it serves as a commemoration to the late prime minister Rafic Hariri. Schools and universities close, as well as governmental offices – the whole country is shut down for one day in mourning for Mr. Hariri.

And it is here that I have to ask a question: 7 years after his assassination, aren’t we overdoing it?

Simply put, yes we are.

Sure, Hariri was considered a great man by many. Sure, he was prime minister for a very long time. And yet, we do not mourn any other politician by shutting the country down on the memory of their death. Case in point? He’s not the only politician that got assassinated. I can think of at least two Lebanese presidents that met the same fate.

Isn’t it unfair to the memory of those presidents that the only thing that takes place on their day in the whole country is a mass? Weren’t those presidents as cherished in their communities as Hariri was in his? Don’t they deserve a day off as well? Don’t all the other politicians that died before and after Hariri also deserve to be commemorated in such a way?

I understand taking the day off the first or second year after the assassination. But 7 years later? I hardly think it’s justified. If anything, I think it’s high-time that we, as a Lebanese society, work on moving on – especially that the wheels are in motion to bring
justice for Mr. Hariri. February 14th has quickly become a day where Hariri’s assassination is used for a political agenda, more so than to actually remember the man who was killed on this day. And frankly, we cannot as a country afford to add extra days off to our already extensive list. And when the Hariri off day is being added and the government was speculating about removing Good Friday from the list, you know they’re doing it wrong.

If anything, the political meaning the occasion has taken on February 14th is a detriment to the memory of Rafic Hariri, a man who managed to bring together people from different sects and religions together under one roof to work for Lebanon. I’m certain he wouldn’t appreciate using the memory of his death as a way to increase the divide in the country.

And note, I’m a supporter of the current political movement that Rafic Hariri’s movement, headed by his son Saad, is part of. So take this to heart. Don’t hate. I’m not saying ignore the occasion. I’m not saying we should forget what happened to Rafic Hariri. On the contrary, we should always remember because his death has turned into a turning point for the nation. I’m saying remember without shutting the country down in remembrance. And that would be a first step in advancing as Lebanese society: make it less about glorifying individuals and work towards bettering the country as a whole.

Regardless, rest in peace Rafic Hariri. It’s been 7 years and the country is in a worse situation than ever before.

The Samy Gemayel Assassination Attempt

When I heard the news that Lebanese security forces thwarted an assassination attempt directed at Kataeb MP Samy Gemayel, I was shocked on two accounts.

1) Our security forces actually managed to do something and that, by itself, is something to make your jaw drop in shock. How about that something being thwarting an assassination attempt? Do we applaud them for a great effort or do we simply shrug it off as them doing their job for once? It’s up to you.

2) I thought the whole assassinations in the country were, at least for the time being, behind us. If you thought about it, the Syrian regime is too preoccupied with killing its own people to stage assassinations in Lebanon but still remain politically influential. The politicians in Lebanon who are prone to getting assassinated, such as Samy Gemayel, have almost no political say in the country. The government is not with them, the parliament majority is not with them – and even if they had both parliament and government, it’s not like they were going to do much with all the hurdles thrown at them primarily by FPM’s Michel Aoun and Hezbollah in the background as the master puppeteer.

So why was there an assassination targeting Samy Gemayel?

The answer goes back to Syria. It looks like, even though they’ve got their hands full, their feet are still stretching across the border and still able to play. An assassination of a political figure with a lot of promise, like Samy Gemayel, would instill disappointment in many people who believe Gemayel has the potential to be a major player on the political scene. It will also instill fear in those who believe the Syrian regime’s reach is decreasing. There will also an unsurmountable amount of rage amid Gemayel’s supporters.

Couple a Samy Gemayel assassination with the current mess the Lebanese government is finding itself in, and you’re set for true chaos in the country. In fact, one can look at the recent crisis amid Lebanon’s one-sided government as either a play between allies for power or it could be a last hope attempt by the Syrian regime to bring Lebanon down with it. I’d go with the latter because if Syria wanted to calm things down amid yesterday’s friends, who also happen to be its allies in Lebanon, it would have taken a simple phone call from Damascus to tone it down. But that’s not happening anytime soon because the Assad mentality, as he loses the diplomatic and tactical wars, is fast becoming that of a suicide bomber. “Bring down with me as much as I can.”

The whole situation can be summed up in simple terms: if the current government crisis is the bomb Syria is using to make Lebanon explode, the Samy Gemayel assassination would be the lit-fuse.

At least the lit-fuse was turned out. I’m sure Syria will find another way to light the Lebanese scene though and for that, I truly hope our politicians who are currently in power rise above their pride and think about the mess we will be in if they don’t.