The SSNP (Syrian Social National Party) has taken its flags out of the cupboards, dusted off the naphtalene, and hung them at 50 meters interval from street lights and balconies in Ras Beirut. With this simple step, it has created a time machine: we are back in 1978.
The Future movement supporters in Hamra have removed the Hariri pictures from streets and windows. They are timidly starting to come out of hiding and to hang out on street corners. Some are bolder and louder than others: one can see they are ready to shift their allegiance to the new street rulers. In the corner shop, there was a long queue and little fresh foods. We bought a few cans and as we were leaving, a bread delivery van stopped, and we also purchased fresh bread. There were young students wearing keffiehs walking around the AUB area. Then a black SUV with dark windows stopped and armed men with talkie-walkies came out in that very-important-fashion men develop when they are given a machine gun. They looked around and everybody instinctively made way. They bought bread and cigarettes and left. They were dressed in Internal Security Forces uniforms, but their car's number plate was civilian.
I don't like armed men (or women) in general, not in city streets, and certainly not when normal people are coming out of two days of armed battles. These ones looked like para-security forces, which makes me like them even less. I hope we won't be seeing more of this type in the "new era". But somehow, I don't think so. This is the price Hizbullah (and Hasan Nasrallah in particular) might have to pay for the take over of West Beirut. Even if they give the control of the city back to the army, the latter has been weakened because it has watched all the events take place without intervening. I do not particularly like armies, and a lot of criticism can be poured on the Lebanese army, not least because of its actions against Palestinian civilians in Nahr el Bared, but it is an institution that can maintain some form of order and rule of law. And when you weaken it you leave void that has to be filled. Unless Hizbullah wants to step in (and I don't think it does), it will have to deal with the repercussions of having strengthened goons and parasites.
There are signs that things might slip: One of the old Future TV's building , the one adjoining the Saudi embassy in Rawcheh, was set on fire today, allegedly by SSNP militants. It may be true that the building served as a barrack for Future Movement thugs. It is also true that over the past 3 years there has been tremendous tensions between the thugs in there and those at the SSNP central office, which is around the corner. But setting a building on fire, and especially a media-related one, was a pointless act of vandalism which reflects very badly on the opposition and its leadership. The same can be said for silencing Future TV by sabotaging its installations. There were also motorcades going around the streets today shooting in the air for no other purpose than showing off and celebrating the take over. This is not what Hizbullah did in the South when it kicked the Israelis out. In Beirut, the stakes are even higher.
The evening is quiet. Uneasy quiet.