December 09, 2006

It has no Lebanese feel to it

I went downtown today, for a bit of background information for tomorrow’s big demonstration. Downtown is where Hezbollah and its allies have set up camp in order to force the government to give the shia a greater – fairer – share in the power. I did not come back with a very good feeling. It was in the afternoon, so maybe the shifting light did it, but I came back with an ominous feeling.
I couldn’t quite figure out why, but I think I know now why.

I’ve been to many demonstrations and manifestations in this country. Not because I am politically the most engaged person, but because my job as (an occasional) journalists stipulated it. And usually, when you go to big gatherings in Lebanon, you can find hundreds of people to talk to. In fact, everybody wants to talk to you, preferably all at the same time. And what they like even more is that they will start arguing – in front of you – about what should be said to ‘al sagafiya’ (journalist). It is refreshing, this Lebanese habit. This freedom to speak, the desire to speak your mind. Sometimes they agree with each other, more often they contradict one another, but at least they talk.

Today, I found it difficult to find anyone who would talk. There are plenty of people around. It's downright busy, but nobody talks. Excruciating difficult. Really talk. I found a tent with a couple of guys who were smoking nargilah, and spoke with them. They explained that they were university students and that during the day they were in the university, then they’d go home for a shower, and they spent the night downtown in their tent. Hezbollah fed them, they said. But that was it. Then I found a couple of girls, who spoke a little, but felt shy about their language, and then the conversation was taken over by a guy. Who talked, but did not really say anything.
Nobody in the Hezbollah camp talks. I went to look for the organization that feeds all these people. Nobody knows anything. Nobody can tell you anything, answers are evasive at best. Who got all those tents there? ‘Their own parties.” 1,000 the same tents? Are you kidding? What company has 1,000 white tents in stock? Who feeds them? “Everybody organizes their own food; Hezbollah only feeds those that work for the party. Nobody else.” And how many do you feed? “Oh, we don’t know, it changes from day to day. With how many people do you sleep here? “That depends on the day.” The Indibat guys almost outnumber the demonstrators. But nobody is willing to tell you how many there are. You see some women, but it is mainly men, between the ages of 17 to 30, 50 maybe. The Timberland boots, black coats, little grey caps. Earpieces, al lot of them. Few smiles. Well, maybe after a week on the pavement with that march music going on at volume 10, there is very little to smile about.
But they do not want to talk to journalists. It just does not feel like a people’s movement. Not like I am used to. This is a professional organization. This has been planned weeks in advance. This is no spontaneous uprising from people that are legitimately upset. Hezbollah has just shifted its entire fighting force, which occupied the Israelis so professionally this summer, to downtown. There are no women. No families. The tents are occupied by their young men only.

It does not feel Lebanese. It doesn’t even feel Arabic. There’s this Iranian feel to it. It does not feel right. I think the Shiites have a very legitimate concern when it comes to their participation in the run of this country. Actually, either one is going to have to do a census, or get rid of this confessional system. But it does not feel right the way Hezbollah takes this think in hand.


Anonymous said...

you have been to iran?

Angry Anarchist said...

Are you sure you were downtown?

No women? no families?


And i was thinking there were more women and entire families and kids than men.

And i was talking to a journalist yesterday, and the campers were really friendly and were talkative, offered a chair and all.

I met women dressed all in black from head to toe, with their babies, actually I even held some of them. One kid, barely has started walking, came and sat next to me on the pavement. His mom said, aren't you going to say hello to her?

I don't know, but could it be that it has to do with your attitude? I found the indibat guys to be rather friendly too, and I am not *gasp* mu7ajjaba. In fact I chatted with 2 of them; I was actually walking through those iron barricade things, and two of them called me back and said I was entering through the wrong place, and pointed me to the right place, and they were smiling (no smiles? what?)

The crowds, too, are highly mixed and interactive. I've been going down there almost every day, and have seen people from different parties and sects sitting together, smoking argileh, discussing politics, people of all ages, and sects and political backgrounds.

I even walked through *gasp* the area where HezbAllah has set up tents. I got some strange looks, but I got out *gasp* alive. Unbelievable, eh?

Sietske said...

Yes kodder, I have been to Iran. I had a great time there. Very friendly people.

Angry Anarchist, yes, I have seen families, lots of smiling people, people having fun, and friendliness. That was last Sunday though, or during the evenings. And no, *gasp", it doesn't stink there, and no *gasp* they clean their garbage.
I am talking about the camp on the Riad el-Solh square. I was there from 2 to 5:30 on Saturday. Were you? There were few women, maybe a couple of families. Other then that, there were more indibat then regular people. The Indibat guys get paid to be there.
And what do you mean by 'the wrong place'?
That crowd is not mixed, and most defintely - according to Lebanese standards - not highly interactive.

Michael van Eekeren said...

Heel erg interessant deze stukken Siets, spannend en goed geschreven en dat komt denk ik omdat er echt iets gebeurt op dit moment. Er gebeurt iets in Libanon en daarom gebeurt er ook iets met jou. De gebruikelijke ironie raakt steeds verder op de achtergrond. Intuitief, ik ken de situatie niet, denk ik dat er inderdaad een goed uitgedokterd plan achter zit en dat is opvallend, omdat traditioneel gezien, vanuit de vooroordelen van het Westen, de regio verdeeld en niet georganiseerd is. Ik denk even aan het beeld van het tot op het bot verdeelde Palestijns Bevrijdingsfront in de film The Life of Brian van Monty Python. Het klinkt alsof de tijd van 'verdeel en heers' misschien wel voorbij is en dat is inderdaad zorgelijk, bezien vanuit het westen. Het cliché wil dat in een oorlog en dus ook na een oorlog de waarheid het eerste slachtoffer is en het lijkt me voor een 'objectief' journalist heel moeilijk om alle waarheden van mensen om je heen te wegen. Het is maar goed dat je gehamsterd hebt. You never know.

Angry Anarchist said...

Sietske, yes I have been there every day, and at different times during the day, in the morning, afternoon, and on a number of occasions, evening, and no I did not see what you are talking about. So are you sure you were at the right place?

The crowd is not mixed?

Did you actually stop by to ask them? Or you based your views on what they were wearing, i.e. if they were not wearing orange it means they are not FPM, etc.?

I stopped and talked with A LOT of people, there were Druze , Maronites, Orthodox, Armenians, Sunnis, Shi'ites, atheists, agnostics; liberals, conservatives, Islamists, communists, ultra-nationalists, and so on. They were sitting together. I did not ask them their sect, but I assume that a follower of Talal Irslen would be... Durzi, and someone who is holding a communist flag and talks about communism, um, well, a communist. And so on. You get the point. The crowds were mixed. More mixed than I have ever seen. Quit it with the propaganda, because you are not say ing the truth and you know it. You don't want me to provide pictorial proof of the mixed crowds, do you? Let me know, I am up to the challenge. Not highly interactive? How do you define interaction? Kissing and hugging? Sitting together and talking is not interactive enough? Standing together and chanting slogans is not interactive enough? I am sorry, but there is far more interaction down there than I have ever seen in many years of activism in the West. If you think this is not interactive, then you have not seen anything.

Sietske said...

angry anarchist,
I understand your point of view, but I've been 'doing' crowds for the past 16 years in Lebanon, and I don't see it your way. But that's okay.
What I did not like about your comment, is that you imply that I give the impression that it is dangerous downtown. I have never ever said anyhting like that. You wrote "I even walked through *gasp* the area where HezbAllah has set up tents. I got some strange looks, but I got out *gasp* alive. Unbelievable, eh?"
I've worked with Hezbollah for 16 years now, never had a problem with them. Was never direspected, never got strange looks, was never ill-treated, threatened or abused. So why would it be so 'unbelievable' that you made it out alive? Why wouldn't you?
You should not get so offensive right away, it does not help dialogue.

Ibn Bint Jbeil said...

heute bin ich ein berliner
zeek heil Kohlwurst
moderne geradlinige Architektur
hallo Auf Wiedersehen

Ibn Bint Jbeil said...

it has a german feel to it!

Sietske said...

Ya Ibn bintjbeil, it sure has. How's your beautiful daughter? I love her website!

Nicolien said...

Ha Sietske,
Groeten terug van Ruud! Hij vond het erg grappig dat jij zei dat jouw aanwezigheid in Libanon zijn schuld was... hij dacht dat er nog wel een paar andere factoren meespeelden :)

Dankjewel voor je blog, verder, het helpt me op de hoogte te blijven van de ´sfeer´ ipv alleen de feiten. Al hoop ik dat je binnenkort weer wat meer reden tot optimisme hebt, al was het maar om zelf optimistisch te blijven over mijn terugkeer volgende jaar...

EDB said...


I was quite shocked by your account. And despite what you say about sixteen years of experience with Hezbollah, what feels "not Lebanese" to you? I mean, are Saatchi& Saatchi designed billboards and slogans MORE Lebanese?
I agree with you that during the day there are more men present, and that in fact many of the men who stay there fulltime are security staff. And with good reason. But they are from individual parties-- not all Hezbollah. Marada has the entire brigade of Franjieh's security staff there. That's what might feel "organized" about the whole event. Have you seen the women's tent at Riad el Solh square? And the other square which is full of tents from the other non-Hezbollah parties. There is also a women's tent for sleeping; not for the Hezbollah ladies but for the Communist, SSNP and FPM members.

Oddly I find it much friendlier than for example the February 14th, 2006 rally, which was full of angry teenagers with no one to restrain them from acting up; a state-sanctioned anarchy fest.

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