Wednesday, April 13, 2005

The "Other" Perspective: Part I - Sunni Politics, Jumblatt & the Opposition

Hey raja, here's my thoughts:

There are some places where I quote Arabic phrases, it's just the original quote that I translated, so don't worry if you can't read it.

I will also address major sects as a whole, so please excuse the generalizations. I know there are exceptions, and some of them are very refreshing, but the fact remains that this is what the main players are basing their moves on. Very few political leaders can claim they represent many people outside their sects. The opposition forces itself to put up with liability/allies like bassem sabeh in order to say they have a shia figure with them. There are other examples…

I may sound harsh/sectarian at some points, so please bear with me. Keep the following in mind:

The groups of Lebanese youth gathered in downtown are mostly driven by a true sense of patriotic duty, albeit slightly misdirected. Some are acting out of sectarian interest or vendetta, but these shouldn't tag the crowd. I believe firmly that they are acting out of their ideals and a belief in a unified free Lebanon, despite all the crap u hear from pro-Syrian politicians on TV. However, I fear that in many ways, the end results of the movement will shock them, disgust them and make many of them doubt the idealism of youth which now moves so many of them. Following this disappointment, many of them will go back to not dealing with politics, as they did before they discovered they wanted to be "Cedar Revolutionaries" or "Gucci Revolutionaries" as BBC called some. The others will just lose most of their perfectionism and adopt the stereotypes of their ancestors, really blowing the chance we have now for change.

Anyway, here goes:

Sunni Politics, Jumblatt & the Opposition

The political situation in Lebanon seems to be heading towards some rest, with some surprising results. I still think that hassan nasrallah is the strongest "player", and holds most of the keys to the situation, even regionally. However, it's usually more fit to track the situation through one of the most-involved, and smartest in regional politics, walid joumblatt, who's much more engrossed in it all. Joumblatt currently heads a parliament block of around 17members, including many Christians. Note: should he continue in the opposition, he is bound to lose many of these seats to give way to his new maronite allies in the mountain. He has been known to shift alliances at just the right time, making two major shifts in the last four years. In each of these times, he attacked the Syrians harshly enough to attract the maronite votes in the mountain, then shifted back after the elections.

In the first few weeks after hariri's assassination, the opposition were able to make enormous political gains: the government resigned(more by the pressure of the hariri legacy than the actual parading, but it still fell), the syrians are withdrawing faster than any one expected, and the people mostly seemed to be "100% behind us", a statistic which the opposition never failed to overrate and exaggerate.

On the ground, a source of easing the tensions is that there was no direct blame of any local sides. The sunnis refrained from adopting some rumors spread in the first few days about a Shiite involvement, and didn't seek any vendettas. There was news of a huge retaliation campaign against Syrian workers, but that seems to be exaggerated.

In sunni parts of Beirut, such retaliation was probably directed at the (alawite) minority regime of Syria, but this was a relative failure, as most of the Syrian workers in Lebanon come from the far eastern side of Syria where places like "Deir Al-Zure" are. It is a sunni region whose poor come to work in Lebanon. The poor among Syrian alawites mostly join the army.

Back to the sunni street. The sunnis of saida and Beirut have been acting with great carefulness, though still not guided by any single side the way it was when hariri was around. This attitude, which will hopefully continue long enough to avoid any serious sectarian clashes, is nourished by the hariri family's flexibility after the government resigned, and by the general sunni unwillingness to associate with some members of the oppositions, mainly samir geageah's Lebanese forces, shamoun's free patriotic party (7izb al-wataniyin al-ahrar, not to be mistaken with the free patriotic movement, aka tayyar), and, to a lesser extent, joumblat's Progressive Socialist Party. This is seen in the sunnis rejecting the attempts to compare hariri's martyrdom with basheer gemayel's or dani shamoun's.

One note on Joumblatt is that he has been able to "inherit" hariri's constituency for a relatively long period. He became the actual (i.e.effective) leader of the sunnis, in addition to his own constituency, especially while the hariris sort their own internal business. To do this, he used his excellent relation with rafik hariri, the fact that "it was bound to be one of us two", as he says hariri told him fewdays before February 14. It was obvious for some time that sunni support would give great advantage to whoever gains it. This is true because the sunnis are a big population (20% of the population?) and without a leader or a clear agenda.

However, the sunnis of Lebanon are mostly urbanized traders and coast dwellers with little willingness for combat or tendency to cluster, so, as a sect, their participation in the last war was very limited, so they got few political gains after it, which hariri was able to change by giving them more political power. Now, they are still not intent on clustering, as the Lebanese fashion suggests.

The sunnis are more also reluctant to take extreme sides now because of the idea that they, as a sect, have lost twice, in "Lebanese terms". They lost hariri, then they "lost" karami when his government resigned. For the layman, even a futile leader is a good one in the absence of a replacement.

So, when the opposition said "all of Lebanon is with us", they were wrong, of course. The urge to highlight this was very obvious when they started asking for Hezbollah disarmament. It also became obvious when the opposition started to reply to any governmental procedure with a now-famous quote/threat "we'll let the street decide"(al-i7tikam ila al-share3/ literally means letting the street arbitrate).

Comming up: Part II - Hizballah and the Maronites


Michel said...

Is it just me, or does there seem to be a sense of inevitability to all this?

Syria will leave. The opposition will take power.

The question then becomes, what happens next?

I say we declare war on Greece.
What do you suggest?


Mustapha said...

As a Sunni from Tripoli, i will have to say that some of M's points are, well, a bit un-informed.

Jumblat the effective leader of the Sunnis? Sunnis "losing" when karami fell? give me a break Raja.

If Bahia al hariri says that jumblat is no more a friend, most sunnis will believe her and line up behind her. Moreover, i know from anecdotal evidence that tripoli was euphoric when Karami was kicked out; the sunnis' disgust of karami is much stronger than their carefulness for the position of the "premiership". Alas, a stand not shared by our Maronite Brethens who seem to be careful not to harm Lahhoud in a similarly humiliating fashion.

The Beirut Spring

Raja said...

hey mustapha, why are you asking ME to give you a break!?!?!?

please, remember, I did not decide to do this because I believe "M"'s words manifest Truth! There maybe some truths in there, but I certainly don't agree with all of his opinions....

The value of this excercise is that we get an insight into the way another individual percieves what is happening in Lebanon.

If you, or anyone, disagrees with an assertion "M" makes, then I expect that he be made aware of it.

Anonymous said...

there is a rumour circulating in Lebanon that rustom ghazale has been murdered.

it is supported by certain people with access to the syrian regime.

bashar is cleaning his house before investigators move in!

Anonymous said...

i heard that rumor too some two weeks ago.