A news round-up of the latest activity in Lebanon. Electricity cuts, demonstrations, death, assassinations, Fairuz, it's been a very active weekend.
It's all becoming rather trivial, and I'm becoming a parrot who repeats the same message over and over. My message might seem utopian, but I'd like to believe in my head that the Lebanese people can at their basic humanity, learn to live.
All of our problems are intertwined, and come from the same historical sources that we have yet to confront and deal with. The inequalities between sects, regions and families, the fact that Lebanon exists is causing a headache for a people. Lebanon has not advanced since the French drew the line separating Lebanon from Syria in 1920. Our people have struggled and are still struggling to understand this new concept called Lebanon. The country was and is a colonialist project.
Behind the banners and colours of Lebanon's various political camps, we have - at the core - sections of the community trying to create a distinctive identity that will tie us to this new Lebanese entity, other sections ignoring this attempt and diving in old, pre-1920 roots as the base of their identity. One thing our various political sections do have in common is that they're all lost in this search for an identity. And in this age of uncertainty and ambiguity, the plague of fear and paranoia rises and barriers are fomented, and everyone sits in their corner watching every move of the other.
So when one hears stories of riots due to electricity cuts, it isn't about electricity cuts. It's about equality in this new state, it's about the question of identity, and where this community sits in the Lebanon pie chart. The protests of the Shi'ite southern suburbs is more to do with being at the bottom of the pie chart (which causes them to get the worst of services), than it is about electricity cuts.
The broader problem of March 14 vs Opposition also centres on this same, delicate issue of equal distribution and who sits where on the Lebanon pie chart. What these camps have yet to realise is that it's still possible to remove the pie chart and have an even rectangular establishment where each sect, each region benefits equally from the state's institutions. But as the old Socrates saying goes, "absolute power corrupts absolutely", and it is the ambitions of power which prevent the Lebanese from compromising and instilling harmony.
Seven killed in Beirut riots
BEIRUT (AFP) — At least seven people, including five political activists, were killed on Sunday when street protests over power cuts descended into violence in the mainly Shiite southern suburbs of the Lebanese capital.
The bloodshed came amid fears of civil unrest in Lebanon which has been gripped by a protracted presidential crisis, and two days after a massive car bombing killed a top intelligence officer.
Violence swept the southern suburbs of Beirut, a stronghold of the Shiite militant movement Hezbollah which is spearheading a campaign against the ruling coalition.
Youths wielding sticks and iron bars went on the rampage, pelting cars with stones and setting some on fire while the army was out in force in a bid to prevent the riots from spreading to nearby Sunni and Christian districts.
Prime Minister Fuad Siniora condemned the violence and called for a national day of mourning on Monday.
"This is an hour of sadness. Our country is passing through the most dangerous times," he said.
"I call on all the people to put their trust in the army at these most difficult times and await the results of the investigations that the army and the security services are undertaking."
The riots were the worst since January 2007 when seven people were killed in clashes between students loyal to rival camps, prompting the army to impose a brief curfew for the first time since the end of the 1975-1990 civil war.
An official from the Shiite Amal movement, a pillar of the opposition, said one of its members, Ahmad Hamza Hamza, 21, was killed along with four Hezbollah activists, a rescue worker and a civilian.
Officials said more than 19 people were wounded.
The violence escalated after Hamza, who was cooperating with the army, was killed. It was unclear who fired at the victims, amid reports of snipers shooting into the crowd from rooftops.
Amal and Hezbollah appealed for calm.
"The situation must be contained. We appeal to all the people who are on the streets to go home so that security forces can restore calm to the region," Amal MP Ali Hassan Khalil said, insisting his group was not behind the protests.
The ruling coalition blamed the opposition for the unrest saying it was being manipulated by Syria and Iran.
"The forces of the Syrian-Iranian axis are fomenting unrest and these events are very dangerous," a statement said. "The opposition, which answers to Syria and Iran, is solely responsible for the blood spilled today."
The army shut down many roads to stop the protests from spreading, and soldiers also took positions on rooftops.
As night fell, demonstrators temporarily cut the main airport road with burning tyres while gunfire rang out sporadically across the southern suburbs.
A car that had been set ablaze exploded, triggering panic in Beirut where only two days ago a massive car bombing killed a top anti-terror officer and four other people.
A top security official warned the riots could spread unless politicians reined in their supporters.
"The politicians alone can decide whether to contain their followers or to give them the green light to spread mayhem," the official told AFP. "But all indications are that the situation will escalate and that these protests will become our daily fare."
The unrest flared after demonstrators protesting at power cuts set ablaze tyres, blocking a main road linking the Chiyah and Mar Mikhael neighbourhoods.
The army fired warning shots to disperse the demonstrators, a security official said.Des manifestations dégénèrent au Liban: au moins 7 morts
Des manifestations à Beyrouth et dans le sud du Liban pour protester contre les coupures d'électricité ont dégénéré dimanche en violences, faisant au moins sept morts et plusieurs blessés dans un pays plongé dans une grave crise politique.
Ces violences sont intervenues au moment où les craintes de dérapage augmentent dans un pays divisé sur le partage du pouvoir entre la majorité, soutenue par l'Occident notamment, et l'opposition, appuyée par Damas et Téhéran.
"Sept personnes ont été tuées dans les manifestations, quatre membres du Hezbollah, un d'Amal (deux partis d'opposition), un secouriste et un civil", a déclaré à l'AFP un responsable d'Amal qui a requis l'anonymat.
Il était cependant impossible de déterminer l'origine des tirs. Certaines télévisions ont parlé de francs-tireurs cachés dans les immeubles environnants.
Les violences ont éclaté lorsque des manifestants ont coupé en plusieurs endroits des routes dans la banlieue sud de Beyrouth, fief du Hezbollah et d'Amal, et la principale route menant à l'aéroport international. Elles ont pris une plus grande ampleur après la mort du partisan d'Amal.
Des hommes armés ont ouvert le feu sur les soldats qui avaient effectué des tirs de sommation pour disperser les manifestants, ont affirmé des témoins et des sources au sein des services de sécurité.
Selon les images de télévision, des petits groupes de manifestants ont occupé les voies de circulation, bloquant les voitures. Des bennes à ordures ont aussi été incendiées.
Certains manifestants étaient munis de bâtons et de barres métalliques et d'autres étaient armés. Plusieurs dizaines manifestaient entre les quartiers de Chiyah et Mar-Michael, dans le sud-ouest de la capitale. D'autres s'étaient rassemblés plus au sud avant de bouger dans différents secteurs.
Une voiture qui avait été incendiée par les manifestants dans le sud de la capitale a explosé sans faire de blessés, selon les services de sécurité.
L'armée a indiqué dans un communiqué avoir ouvert une enquête pour connaître les circonstances des incidents et identifier les responsables des tirs.
Dans le sud du pays, des dizaines de manifestants ont coupé brièvement les routes principale et secondaire entre les villes de Saïda et Tyr, distantes de quelque 35 km, avec des pneus enflammés.
Ces violences sont les plus sanglantes depuis les affrontements de janvier 2007 entre partisans des deux camps rivaux qui avaient fait sept morts.
La majorité accuse l'opposition d'utiliser les manifestations à des fins politiques. Mais celle-ci dément.
"Les partis de l'axe syro-iranien ont sciemment voulu faire exploser la situation et répandre le chaos", a affirmé la majorité dans un communiqué. "L'opposition qui répond aux ordres syro-iraniens, porte entièrement la responsabilité du sang versé", ajoute le texte.
Le député Ali Hassan Khalil, du mouvement Amal, a démenti tout lien de son parti avec les rassemblements. "La situation doit être maîtrisée, nous appelons tous les gens à rentrer chez eux", a-t-il dit à la télévision.
Un responsable des services de sécurité a estimé que les manifestations pourraient s'étendre dans les jours à venir. "Seuls les hommes politiques peuvent décider de retenir leurs partisans ou de leur donner le feu vert pour semer le chaos", a-t-il dit sous le couvert d'anonymat. "Tout porte à croire qu'il y aura une escalade et que ces manifestations seront notre pain quotidien".
Le Liban est sans président depuis le 24 novembre 2007 et a été le théâtre d'une série d'attentats ayant visé pour la plupart des personnalités antisyriennes, le dernier ayant tué le 25 janvier un officier des renseignements libanais.
Au Caire, les ministres arabes des Affaires étrangères étaient réunis dimanche pour tenter de trouver une issue à la crise libanaise.
March 14 continues assault on Fairuz concert in Syria
By Nicholas Blanford | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor
BEIRUT, lebanon - Revered throughout the Arab world for five decades, the much beloved and iconic Lebanese diva Fairouz has found herself embroiled in Lebanon's bitter crisis with Syria.
Fairouz, long the doyenne of Arab singers, traveled to Syria last week to appear in a six-day run beginning Monday at the Damascus Opera House of her classic 1970 musical "Sah al-Nom," an Arabic expression for "Did you sleep well?" Her appearance is a highlight of a series of cultural events in Syria this year to mark UNESCO designating Damascus as the 2008 Arab capital of culture.
Her decision to sing in Damascus, however, has caused a split in her huge fan base in Lebanon between those arguing that Fairouz should not perform before the rulers of a country blamed for a string of assassinations in Lebanon over the past three years, and others who maintain that the Lebanese diva is above politics and should sing wherever she wishes.
The spat hardened on Friday when a top Lebanese police officer became the latest victim of the bomb assassinations that have blighted Lebanon for over three years. Capt. Wissam Eid, head of the technical department in the paramilitary Internal Security Forces, died along with five other people when a powerful car bomb exploded beside his vehicle in a Beirut suburb.
Lebanon's gridlocked pro- and anti-Syrian factions have been unable to elect a new president since November, and the crisis continues to defy regional and international mediation.
"Those who love Lebanon do not sing for its jailers," says anti-Syrian legislator Akram Shehayeb. "Our ambassador to the stars, you painted for us the dream nation, so don't scatter that dream like the dictators of Damascus scattered our dreams of a democratic free country."
A poll conducted last week by the "Now Lebanon" Web portal, which is sympathetic to the anti-Syrian March 14 coalition in Lebanon, found that 67 percent of respondents were against Fairouz appearing in Damascus.
"Simply, this is not the moment for a musical love-in," a Now Lebanon editorial said. "Fairouz must decide. She is a Lebanese icon, and, as such she must repay the people who have backed her and who love her with a modicum of solidarity."
Born Nohad Haddad, she was given the stage name Fairouz, Arabic for Turquoise, by an early mentor. Her first major concert was in 1957. She became an instant sensation and, in collaboration with her musician husband, Assi Rahbani, and his brother Mansour, her acclaim rose during the 1960s and 1970s.
Fairouz has consistently remained aloof from politics, saying her music was for the people only. Apart from a single concert in 1978, she famously refused to sing in Lebanon during the 1975-90 civil war in disgust at the warring militias, who continued to adore her nonetheless.
Her songs are regularly played during times of difficulty in Lebanon, and, for older generations, they evoke a nostalgia for Lebanon's golden years in the 1950s and 1960s.
A recluse who has given only three interviews in her five-decade career, Fairouz has not responded to her critics. However, her former musical partner Mansour Rahbani said her decision to sing in Damascus was "a message of love and peace from Lebanon to Syria. A message of friendship, not subservience."
Certainly, Syrians are delighted that Fairouz is back in Damascus, her first appearance in the Syrian capital since 1982.
"The Syrians are thrilled, especially the Damascenes," says Sami Moubayed, a historian of Syria's postindependence period in the 1950s. "She reminds them of the 'good old days'," adding that apart from "nostalgia, talent, her gigantic standing [and] heavenly voice ... everybody is pleased that she is defying the anti-Syrian team in Lebanon and coming."
Still, for most ardent fans, Fairouz is a symbol of unity rather than division and her standing will doubtless outlast the current quarrel. As the famous Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani once wrote: "When Fairouz sings, mountains and rivers follow her voice, the mosque and the church, the oil jar and loaves of bread. Through her, every one of us is made to blossom, and once we were no more than sand; men drop their weapons and apologize. Upon hearing her voice, our childhood is molded anew."Torture still an every-day occurrence in Lebanon
Last year's battle in Lebanon between Islamist militants and Lebanese soldiers was the country's biggest internal conflict since its civil war ended in 1990.
The fighting took place at a Palestinian refugee camp, and reports have since emerged that refugees, as well as suspected militants, have been tortured by the military.
The army calls the foreign fighters "terrorists," and says they infiltrated the Nahr Al-Bared camp, with help from its Palestinian residents, to destabilise Lebanon.
But human rights groups here say that's irrelevant: nobody, including terrorists, should be tortured.
Lebanese soldiers are bitter that 168 of their comrades were killed at Nahr Al-Bared, and some say the suspects deserve everything they get. Many Lebanese agree.
There's an acceptance that torture is justified. Not by everyone, but there's a lot of people that think that torture might be justified in interrogating people like Fatah Al Islam.
Journalist Omar Nashabe says Lebanese authorities have a well-established record of using torture, with techniques ranging from the use of electricity on suspects to the removal of teeth and fingernails. The most common technique is called "farooj," or rotiseried chicken.
They tie a human being on the bar and they flip him and beat him and flip him and beat him so he takes the beating all over his body.
Among those taking a beating are Palestinian refugees like Abu Saleh, suspected of aiding the Fatah Al-Islam fighters. But he says he fled when the conflict broke out, and was arrested when he went home after the battle.
Like most Palestinian detainees, Abu Saleh was released without charge and told to keep his mouth shut. However, Nashabe says Lebanese need to speak out about torture.
Nashabe says ending torture in Lebanon will mean reforming not only the military and police force but changing people's attitudes.But with torture in Lebanon widely condoned, that sort of change may take some time.