Monday, May 12, 2008


I know we are all immersed in the Lebanese crisis, but lets get some perspective here: an estimated 100,000 have died in Burma in the aftermath of cyclone Nargis, and agencies estimate that the death toll could rise to 1.5 millions if clean water and sanitation are not provided. A 7.8 Richter earthquake hit south-east China, and the number of victims is still unknown. Elsewhere in the world, the food crisis is still unfolding, and the number of people who are hungry keeps increasing by about 5 millions a year. That's 10 persons becoming hungry every minute.

Now back home. West Beirut is fully paralyzed, there are road blocks everywhere (see previous post) and, in spite of what the Opposition has declared, there are still armed elements in the streets. The ones I saw were very young, and did not really look like the seasoned fighters who can control a city or even a street. They were hanging out at short distances from their headquarters.

In the mountains, the fighting that took place yesterday afternoon had almost ended by last night. The army is taking over some of the offices and some of the strongholds of Jumblat's Progressive Socialist Party. No doubt that Jumblat did not want a war, although it is said that his militia, which used to be called the Popular Army- Al Jaysh al Shaabee, has kept some of its structure and much of its weapons. In 1991, Jumblat refused to surrender his weapons to the Lebanese Army, and preferred to give it to the Syrian Army, which may have allowed him to keep some. This was when Jumblat was still a close ally of Syria.

Negotiations between the Loyalists and the oppositions have of course already started. I say "started" and not "resumed" because we are in presence of a totally new balance of power, as if the last card game had been stopped, a new one has been started, and new hands distributed to the players. Now, before formal negotiations (euphemistically called "dialogue", al hiwar) take place the players are trying to consolidate their hand.

For the Loyalists, this means rallying as much external support as possible, from the Arab League to the Sixth Fleet. This is taking place concurrently with the establishment of physical control over regions that are traditional Loyalists strongholds: Tripoli where street battles are still going on, and Akkar, where several members of the SSNP were killed yesterday in what appeared to be an execution; Koura and the North, where the Lebanese forces moved to take control, which prompted some of the inhabitants to call for the Lebanese Army to take over.

For the opposition (and this refers mainly to Hizbullah) the most important goal is probably to preserve its ability to physically communicate with "its" regions: the South and the Bekaa. There are 3 main roads that are important for that purpose: 1) the Damascus road through Aley, 2) the Coastal road to the South through Shweifat, the lower Shuf and the carob district, and 3) the Mashghara-Jezzine road, which passes near the High Shuf, Niha and not very far from Barouk and Mukhtara, where Jumblat's palace is located. Yesterday's fighting took place around Shweifat, Aley and the Mashghara Jezzine road. While the Shweifat and Aley roads appears to have been secured by the Lebanese army, the situation in the high Shuf is still unclear.


Yazan said...

Actually, Almost 900 students are buried after an earthquake measuring 7.8 caused a building to collapse in south-western China, state media reports.

Yes people should get a little perspective on this.

Emily said...

Just wanted to thank-you for your writing here. It's a fascinating perspective on events that we in the US often don't hear much/enough about.

Good luck.

Anonymous said...

Sorry for the off the wall question, but do you know where I can find out what percentage of the wheat processed in Lebanon comes from the US. Thanks.

Be safe.

Anonymous said...

I like your blog, Rami. Keep up the good work.

Rami Zurayk said...

Anon 10:34: Try the website of the Lebanese customs office