Thursday 27 September 2007

Sectarianism 2007

While I was involved in a futile persuit at the Lebanese justice ministry in Adlieh (I won't bore you with the details) I overheard a conversation at a roadside cafe.

A customer (Maronite Christian from the south) was telling the woman at the till that when his father died all his old Shia neighbours—that his family lost contact with during the civil war—made the trip to Beirut to attend the funeral.

The customer said he was very moved that his father's old friends "attended the funeral mass with us".

In the atmosphere where Lebanese are suppose to hate each other, it was a reminder that the "other Lebanon" is surviving the sectarian rhetoric of the country's political leaders.

Hope springs eternal....

Presidential elections

Sami Moubayed gives a good general briefing on the Lebanese presidential elections in Asia Times.

"Lebanese politics is sharply polarized into two camps, which refuse to back down...

"One faction is headed by Saad al-Hariri, the parliamentary-majority leader who rose to fame after the assassination of his father, former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri, in 2005.

"It includes heavyweights from the Sunni community, like Prime Minister Fouad al-Siniora, the Christian community, including former warlord Samir Gagegea and ex-president Amin Gemayel, and Druze leader Walid Jumblatt.

"Most of this team (with the exception of Gagegea and Gemayel) were once loudly pro-Syrian. They worked with and legitimized the Syrian military presence in Lebanon throughout the 1990s.

"As long as the Syrians continued to support and reward them with government office, they remained pro-Syrian. All of them, including Jumblatt and Siniora, were ministers under Rafik Hariri, during the Syrian heyday in Lebanon."

Photo: Election posters of Free Partiotic Movement leader (and presidential hopeful) Micheal Aoun are defaced by supporters of the right wing Lebanese Forces. Posters of Bashir Gemayel, who was killed by a missive bomb in 1982, are eveywhere in Christian east Beirut. However the pro-resistance FPM still enjoys popular support from a majority of Lebanese (Christian and Muslim).

Tuesday 25 September 2007

Nahr al-Bared 2009?

According to a confidential technical report to the Lebanese government on the reconstruction of Nahr el-Bared camp seen by Sursock, the Palestinian camp will be rebuilt on a new model.

Out go the tight alleys and close quarter community housing, and in comes European style housing blocs separated by wide roads.

There are two elements to this “new model camp” that should be noted.

The first is that wide roads provide better entry for armoured patrols and thus leaving the Palestinian less able to defend their areas. The Humvees supplied recently by the US would fulfill this task.

Alongside the new style housing, the announcement that the Lebanese army will be running “security” in the new camp.This takes us back to the 1950s and 1960s when Palestinians lived in fear of the internal security services known as Deuxieme Bureau.

These security forces were driven out of the camps in 1969 during a mass uprising. The deal that allowed Palestinians to run their own affairs was concluded that year in Cairo—known as the Cairo Accords (for more on this see Tripoli 1969).

Over the past few years the US and France have sponsored UN resolutions demanding the Lebanese government “disarm all militias” (apart from government approved militias, of course).

Nahr el-Bared was established in 1949 by the Red Cross to rehouse Palestinian refugees who suffered a terrible winter in the Bekaa Valley and the suburbs of Tripoli.

Lying 16 kilometers north of Tripoli and spread over 20 square kilometers, the camp quickly established itself as an important trading hub on the road to Syria. Over the years mini suburbs of wealthier refugees grew around the old camp (the "new camp").

The word is that Bared was an important post in the smuggling route to Syria, with an extensive black market that supplied the surrounding areas (“Black market” can be read as any business not under the control of one of the major Lebanese families).

The camp derived most of its wealth from its gold market and small workshops. The Bared refugees were among the wealthiest (relative wealth that is) of Palestinians in Lebanon.

All of that is now gone:

The latest tally of damage presents a bleak picture. The total bill comes in at $221 million.

The three month siege destroyed 60 percent of the old camp and 40 percent of the new camp. The repair bill is estimated at between $155 million to $180 million.

6,000 residential and commercial units were damaged or destroyed, with the “structural integrity” of the surviving buildings classified as “a risk”. Included in this is a large number of small workshops an single family artisans (many homes doubled as workshops).

The camp lost 3 hospitals, 4 clinics and 15 primary schools (excluding the ones inside the UN compound).

Also lost were mosques, community centers and the offices of associations.

Infrastructure services like water supplies, electricity and telecoms were also destroyed with extensive gorund water polution. Roads have been ruined by heavy military equipment.

Over $14 million in personal property was lost.

The health and psychological damage is difficult to quantify, however the tally of dead stands at around 400, with over 1,000 seriously injured or disabled as a result of the siege.

The main thrust of the report is a mini “Marshall plan” to revive a very depressed area. Included is massive investment in the north, including job creation. These recommendations are the basic building blocs for economic growth and stability… so no doubt they will be completely ignored by the government.

Who will benefit form these giant contracts? Well the NGOs in the north have been swarming around the Future Current of Saad Hariri like flies round shit.

Plus sa change…