Thursday, January 25, 2007

Why Lebanon is on the road to Sunni-Shiia confrontation

What happened yesterday in Beirut? Here's the quick summary:

Daily Star: "Clashes erupted between government loyalists and opposition supporters...

NYT: "Violence erupted in Beirut on Thursday..."

Stuff erupted (namely between the party in authority and those not in authority). This is what the English professors call parataxis, and you see it in the Iraq coverage every day: Coalition forces clashed with [guerillas, terrorists, etc]. People died. People were wounded. The paper gets to stick the labels on, and you're all set. Same exact thing the next day.

But there's syntaxis too. That's when you use language to join events together with complex things like subordinate clauses, cause and effect, aims and implementation, that sort of thing.

Here's a good example of that, from the start of the today's Al-Akhbar front-page version of what happened yesterday:
The governing faction responded with bullets to the opposition's strike of Tuesday, while for a few hours dozens of armed individuals from the factions including the "Future" movement [Hariri's group] and the Progressive Socialist Party [Jumblatt] were deployed in the streets and fired on those who opposed them, burned cars, and offices of the Syrian National Socialist Party, the result being 3 dead and around 250 wounded... And Jumblatt repeated several times on Arab satellite TV that what happened yeterday was the response to the Tuesday of the opposition, and a demand that they leave Beirut.
And Al-Akhbar explains in a lengthy piece inside the paper by Ibrahim al-Amin what the government factions are hoping to accomplish with this, under the heading: "The government accelerates fitna and bloodshed, having felt that its collapse is near". His introductory point is that while the government continues to say it is being opposed by a minority sponsored by Syria and Iran, what it is doing is working to change nature of the confrontation from a political one to a sectarian one, by relying on "mobilization" by its constituent factions (Jumblatt's group and others), with the particular aim of making this a matter between Sunni and Shia, thus drawing in regional and international support.
And they [the government faction leaders] think that the occurrence of a catastrophe of that nature would bring them two things: (1) First, it would pull Hizbullah, as the top Shiia organization, into direct controntation with the "Future" [movement led by Hariri] as the top Sunni organization, and this would mean that both the official Arab establishment and the Arab street would get involved, making this a situation like that of Iraq in that respect (in spite of the important differences). And the United States, along with France, have found the most fired-up people for this task in Walid Jumblatt and Samir Geagea [leader of the "Lebanese Forces" Christian group] and leaders of the "Future" movement, all of whom find in this strategy the only way to prevent comprehensive political change in Lebanon...and [I think this is his point number (2)] Jumblatt wants to recover complete and absolute leadership of all of the Druze population of Lebanon, with all the revenue that goes with it in blood and money in times of civil war; and Geagea, for his part, thinks this strategy will make the Christian street turn to him as the person who knows best how to defend them. And one of the things they get from their alliance with the "Future" movement is regime-leadership [and hopefully a way to finesse the eventual need for a Shiite partner in the coalition].
In other words, what the opposition paper Al-Akhbar is saying is that the proponents of violence and fitna are the gangs that constitute the governing coalition, and they have motives both local (recovery by Jumblatt and Geagea of complete control over the Druze and Christian areas respectively) and non-local (since they can't put down Hizbullan on their own, they need to get the region and the US involved by turning this into a Sunni-Shiia conflict).


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