On Sunday May 20, driving towards the sunny beach in Batroun, my friends and I declared excitedly that this was the official start of the Lebanese summer. Later that day, still on the beach, sea washed and sandy, exactly at 9:31pm I received a text message that declared the start of another Lebanese summer: People block Mazraa and Bechara El-Khoury roads in protest against the death of Sheikh Abd El-Wahed. Two hours later on the way back to Beirut, anxious to get home to my computer and find out news about the first message, I got a 2nd text message confirming that the Lebanese summer this year probably wouldn’t be the one we announced from Batroun Beach: Unknown gunmen open fire on Lebanese Army members in Tariq Al-Jadida Beirut.
Last Sunday the deteriorating security situation was aggravated by the killing of a leading, anti-Syrian regime, sheikh by the Lebanese army. Sheikh Ahmad Abdel Wahed was shot when his car failed to stop at a military checkpoint. With the killing of this Sheikh it seems that there were enough pretexts for fighters affiliated to the Future Movement to get involved in clashes in Beirut; a gesture to gain-back their lost pride from the May 2008 clashes, back when March 14 alliance took it to the streets against the March 8 coalition.
9 long hours, overnight, of clashes left two people dead and 18 wounded. It seemed clear that the fighters from the Future Movement were looking for an easy target to prey on since they only attacked one place. Shaker al-Berjawi, the head of the Arab Movement, who now is an ally with the March 8 coalition and the Syrian regime, was the only visible target in the sea of Future movement (March 14) supporters. He represented the enemy; located in their playground, in the middle of their territory, he was attacked easily and quickly. Its worth mentioning that Berjawi ( and his Arab Movement) in 2008 fought alongside the Future Movement fighters. He is a Sunni from Tarik el-Jadideh, but all this did not prevent the fire power of the Future fighters from being directed only at the office of Berjawi’s party. (So this wasn’t a direct sectarian fight) The next morning, beneath the office, burnt motorcycles and destroyed cars littered the whole street, stripped down to the frame.
Residents of the neighborhood where the fighting took place said that this was not new and the fighters have been preparing for this attack for a month now. Other male residents who were hanging out at the scene of clashes said that “the Sunnis have been getting so many slaps in the face and it was about time to slap back”; this comment came in an atmosphere of euphoria that was surrounding the scene. One woman who lives in the neighborhood attested that there were Syrian and Palestinian fighters present on the night of the fighting. She was upset by “these ignorant boys”, and thought the incident had happened “only because Berjawi had a different opinion and supported the Syrian regime…This is how they want to deal with people of different opinions?” She asked.”They are ignorant” she continued “they said that he has no god…that Shiaa are not Muslims and have no god. Who told them we want this mentality to be ruling our city and this neighborhood?”
Yesterday at the scene there was no presence of the Lebanese army, instead they were replaced by the ISF blue uniformed Special Forces al-Fouhood (panthers). One of these “ panthers”, snacking on bag of chips next to us, unexpectedly joined our conversation about the unrest that has been happening in the North of the country and how this is linked “the Salafis in the north are good people”. He told us. “I’m from the north: you should get to know them before you start judging them. They preach god’s words, pray and are very peaceful, but the Lebanese government has mistreated them for so long and it is only natural that they are now hitting back”. That was a statement by the policeman from the panthers’ brigade who was there to control the situation and protect. Interesting statement from a policeman!
The question is: where were these Panthers, the Army, and the whole security apparatus when for 9 hours militants clashed in the middle of Beirut the capital? Did they too think it was only natural that some people are hitting back?
At the scene, in Tarik el-Jadideh I tried to see if I could spot the men who showered the first floor apartment, which served as an office for the Arab Movement, with bullets and RPGs. There was no way to tell the bystanders from the involved parties but the young men that were at the spot were not worried, upset, or alarmed by the clashes. Their expressions and reactions, which they were trying to not make clear to the many journalists, cameras, and Lebanese officials, felt something like a pride regained and a thrill of victory. When I asked a group of 4 if it was the Future party fighters who shot all night, some agreed it was while others said that they were men from the area who were not actual members of the party but support it.
The nature of the battle was a territorial one. The office that was destroyed was the last visible landmark the “enemy” i.e. The March 8 alliance who are allied with Hezbollah and the Syrian regime: this was a cleansing. Was it spontaneous? No. This was a well-planned attack meant to create provocations; as one resident from the neighborhood said; “they were only practicing, they have been planning for this attack for a month”.
This time the fire power that Future Movement used was a much bigger and more organized than that of 2008 clashes, but it still took those 9 hours to devastate an office on the first floor of a residential building. As my friend remarked today: “judging by their fighting competence on Sunday night, I can tell you, the next civil war is going to last for a long time”.