October 21, 2012

Lost Momentum

The coffin of Wissam el-Hasan carried out from the mosque in in downtown Beirut

T’was a good day for a funeral. I went downtown to the mosque for Wissam el-Hasan’s funeral, but had difficulty seeing much. Everyone kept calling me on my phone, telling me how very grand it all looked on TV. I am sure it did. The military funeral apparently was J.F. Kennedy style; i.e. very impressive, I was told, while I was standing in a heaving and sweating crowd of young boys, who were all looking for trouble, and not the least bit interested in the funeral. Well, at least I got the ‘jauw’.

I have covered quite a few funerals of the anti-Syrian March 14 movement. I was there right at the start; went to most demonstrations as well.  But somehow I have the feeling the movement has lost its momentum.  

Way back in the beginning, February 2005 and on, there was this massive surge, this feeling that we, the Lebanese, could, and would, make a difference. The feeling that we actually had a say in it all, and that my son’s country was going to be a ‘real’ country. And we did for a while. We got the Syrians out. And we were united (I thought).  I never noticed Hezbollah & co were not present until after a while. Yes, I know, call me blond. 
But somehow, we lost all that. We lost the feeling that WE as citizens could make a difference. We lost the feeling that THEY actually cared what we thought.  

Martyr's Square in Beirut , today

Today there was yet another funeral of the March 14 movement. They (whoever that may be) are slowly working their way through the front men. There was a crowd, but not as massive as the crowds that would gather in 2005 and 2006.  It used to be entire families, grandmas, kids and all. But things have changed.
Now the majority are men. Quite a few of them men you’d typify as future militia members.  And somehow I feel that’s where we’re heading. The lines have been drawn, some time ago already, but the conflict in Syria is widening the gap, and both sides are sharpening their knives.

May Chidiac, a Lebanese journalist and a 'survivor'; she was lucky and survived a car bomb, although lucky is relative;  she did lose part of an arm, and a leg. 

While preparing for the funeral, these young men, boys actually,  were strutting around Martyr’s Square, chanting that the shias should go fuck themselves, and that the sunnis would rule. Not very elegant at a funeral. Not very elegant at all. Shameful. People looked at them, but nobody said anything. In the past people would have made a remark; they would have said it was "ayb" to talk that way. But the dynamics are different. You can't call on them anymore. They are out of control, and angry.

There’s tons of young men within this movement, without a job, without a future, without money, looking for some action. Perfect militia material. 
Unfortunately, I don’t think they’d stand a chance. The other side has a militia is quite a bit more advanced. You can call it an army. They’ve got more money, more training, better weapons, better discipline, and more experience. They’ve taken on the Israelis, and – although they didn’t exactly win – they did manage to piss them off quite substantially. What military force in the Middle East has been able to do that? The Syrians, the Jordanians and the Egyptians all failed miserably..

The Syrian flag is actually one of the Syrian opposition (3 stars, instead of 2)

I believe we owe it to ourselves. When the Syrians got thrown out, March 14 became too sure of itself. They got arrogant. And they started making mistakes. Right at the start they slighted an overly enthusiastic army general with an ego a- la-Napoleon, forcing him (with an ego like that, you’ve got to be careful) in the camp of the other side. They picked a leader that  – albeit very charming and nice - lacked the wickedness and slyness needed as a politician in this part of the world. They had one of their own change sides, for reasons that I am sure were valid for his people, but not for the overall movement, and when they finally were in power, they didn’t do anything memorable, other than having their own people pluck public money left and right and stuff it into their own bank accounts. By all means, it wasn’t pretty, and this was only on a public level. From personal experience I can tell you my annoyance with these so-called blue plate car owners abusing their privileges, double parking left and right and intimidating me with their Rambo-type body guards and arriving to rock concerts with screaming sirens, pushing all the ‘normal’ people out of the way because lo and behold, someone from March 14 was arriving. And while this side was losing points, the other side was slowly working at gathering them.
The army moves in

And so here we are, some 7 years later, at yet another funeral, (which ended with a bang, or several of them, I should say) and I feel that we’re not getting anywhere. Somehow, we’re doing something wrong. The feeling that we had in 2005, that feeling that we had a say in it all, that we could make a difference, is all gone now. I could see it in the crowd today.  

On the other side of the bridge, there's a pre-dominant shia neighborhood. They're looking at the protesters advancing to the Grand Serail. The amry, quite smart, separated them; they couldn't enter downtown. These guys are looking for a fight too. 

The funeral ended with some skirmishes when some of those 'shebabs' walked over to the Grand Serail, the office of Prime Minister Mikati, a man who right now is not very popular with them . The police/army fired some shots, and then everyone was on their way home again. I am not too confident of the future of this place.


Anonymous said...

Nicely written.

Fadi said...

Of everything that's been said on this matter, not that I've read it all, I think this is as touching and to the point as it gets. Cheers Sietske :)

Anonymous said...

Sietske, you rock, your articles rock, never stop blogging!

Anonymous said...

Well written . I cry for my country and pray for the innocent. I agree with your sentiments. Please keep blogging.

Huda said...

Erg mooi en krachtig geschreven! Vind het mooi om te lezen hoe een nuchtere nederlandse blik op de situatie naar mijn mening precies weergeeft waar het fout gaat in libanon. Ben erg bedroeft over deze situatie en hoop dat dit niet escaleert. Hou je goed en blijf vooral bloggen!! Groetjes uit nederland

Anonymous said...

Klopt het dat er mensen met al Qaeda vlaggen aan het zwaaien waren tijdens de begrafenisplechtigheid?

z said...

To the point, but missing the part of the pre-planed confessional divide and the Serail attack that resulted in a failed coup d'etat by Hariris'thugs.. Thus, the political shortness of sight of that gentelmen, and, the spark effect of that action..
Ps: Beautifully constructed.:)