The complete absence of the security forces has created an atmosphere of lawlessness in Lebanon in general not only in the northern city Tripoli.
North Lebanon contains regions of severe poverty and deprivation: a fact the Lebanese government(s) will never make public in their touristic advertisements.
The recent wave of unrest is not new to Tripoli and some like to blame it on the Salafis and, yes; they do bear responsibility in agitating the masses in a sectarian way. Blaming the Salafis alone is not looking to the source of the problem. Poverty, the absence of state institutions, and neglect from the government are to blame. These impoverished communities in the north have been used and abused, bought, and sold by the local political leader on various occasions. This void of state institutions and social services left the ground wide open for extremism to flourish.
Lebanon’s rather fragile military is keen to not involve in these sectarian clashes that might lead to its division. This has been clearly demonstrated by the army’s failure to intervene and stop ferocious gun-battles. Unrest erupted over the General Security Department’s arrest of a resident from Tripoli Shadi al-Mawlawi (by tricking him to an office of Finance Minister Mohammed Safadi’s welfare association under the pretext that he would receive health care). Al-Mawlawi was seized for allegedly contacting a terrorist organization. Media reports said that the suspect is an enthusiastic supporter of the Syrian revolution against President Bashar Assad’s regime.
These clashes in Tripoli between the Alawite community and its Sunni surroundings have been frequent over the past few years; almost a permanent presence since the civil unrest on May 7th 2008. But this time it seems different than those in the past. This time it seems some of the political thugery in the North have decided to invest in these clashes and thus escalate it; so that now the whole city of Tripoli, and not only to the traditional outskirts, Bab-Tibani (Sunni impoverished stronghold) and Jabal-Mohsin (Alawite impoverished strong hold), is becoming involved in small skirmishes.
Last February there were some clashes in the above mentioned areas which lasted for two days: on that day I was at the Jeffinor-Rotana hotel in Beirut waiting in the lobby for a meeting. While waiting; I was eavesdropping on a conversation between two bellboys at the hotel. My notebook reports that these two were at the entrance discussing/sounding their fear of Salafis. “Tripoli is full of them”. “They are worse than al-Qaeda, there are millions of them around the world”. One told the other it was…“Salafis who were clashing last night”. While the other replied: “in Tripoli there is nothing to worry about, it is the Salafis that are the problem, and they are the dangerous element”.
It seems to me that the Salafi threat is blown out of proportion, they and poverty are two sides of the same coin if poverty was abolished the Salafis have no grounds after that.
CCTV footage of the arrest of Al-Mawlawi.
A short Documentary about Tebbene & Jabal Mohsen shows that poverty is what both communities suffer from.