Beirut in flames
An opposition member cradles the head of an exhausted comrade as they take a break from blocking roads in Beirut on Tuesday (c) 2007 Christopher Allbritton
BEIRUT — If there was any question whether Hezbollah was in control of the situation here following the violence of Tuesday, the fighting today should convince those that it is not, and the situation is about to be seriously out of control.
To back up a little, Tuesday’s violence seemed to shock even the leaders of Hezbollah, both because its Aounists and Amal allies behaved like hooligans, but also because the followers of Saad Hariri and Samir Geagea refused to back down and matched slogan with slogan, stick with stick, stone with stone.
At one neighborhood in Beirut, where the fighting was fiercest, the largely Sunni supporters of al-Mustaqbal chanted their support for America (in response to the chants of “Iran! Iran!” and “Bashar! Syria!” by Amal supporters across the street.) They also, bizarrely, hoisted a poster of Saddam Hussein, indicating that the Sunni-Shi’a conflict from Iraq has poisoned the atmosphere in Lebanon now, too.
This is about to be a full-on sectarian clash between Sunnis and Shi’a and within the Christian community.
That’s why Hezbollah and its allies called off their strike after a day, despite many promises by the men on the street I saw who said they would continue the strike “for days,” if necessary.
“Do you not think Hezbollah loves Lebanon?” asked Bilal, a Hezbollah supporter I spoke with as his compatriots burned a car to block the road leading the airport. “Of course we do, which is why we are prepared to stay out here for days, weeks.”
More ominously, today’s violence shows that Hezbollah no longer controls the opposition movement it created. Months of animosity over the war, the parliamentary paralysis and calls for changing the government has hardened positions among the Sunni, who increasingly see the Shi’a as responsible for last summer’s war and more loyal to Iran than to Lebanon. In short, the Shi’ite militant group has pushed its political opponents too far.
Already this has spread beyond the capital. The Lebanese Army has been deployed to Chtoura and Baalbak in the Bekaa and there are as yet unconfirmed reports that the road to old road to Sidon has been closed. By whom, we don’t know.
Four people are dead and at least 25 injured and while this flare-up might be contained, the next one appears inevitable. And next time it won’t be fought with sticks and stones.