Posted by: sean | December 3, 2006

More on the protests

I’ve been really disappointed with the coverage of these protests by the media. The language used to described them seems to be culled from the government’s talking points, with talk of a coup d’état that implies that these protests are somehow illegitimate, whereas the March 14 protests were legitimate and righteous.

Another gripe of mine is the focus on the sectarian divide, even though the Christians, for example are very divided, with some following Aoun and the opposition and others following the ruling coalition. To my mind there has not been nearly enough focus on the social divide. Today, a friend of mine forwarded me a message that had been sent to her, telling people to go look at the animals at the zoo downtown. The message is clear: these people, especially the Shia and the poor, are not only not Lebanese, but they’re not even human. This attitude, and its social and economic consequences, play a large part in the frustration felt by a large segment of Lebanese society.

At the end of the day, this is a question about Lebanese identity and the sharing of Lebanon’s wealth. These differences are largely political and social, a fact that gets lost in the easy description of sectarian divide. This is not to say that that divide doesn’t exist — it does — but it’s not the only border, or even necessarily the most important one, dividing Lebanese society.

So with the lazy reporting that I’ve been seeing in the Western press, it’s refreshing to see this report by Tony Shadid in the Post:

In a city of frontiers, Beirut built another border Saturday.

On one side of coiled barbed wire and metal barricades were armored personnel carriers manned by soldiers in red berets toting U.S.-made M-16 rifles and guarding the colonnaded, stone government headquarters where Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and other ministers have taken up residence. On the other were the fervent young men of Hezbollah and its allies, who have turned a downtown tailored for the rich into the site of an open-ended protest to force the government’s fall.

“This is the point of confrontation between us and them,” said Khodr Hassan, who walked 12 hours from his southern village to the protest with 30 other youths. He pointed at his friends at the barricade, some surging forward, others lolling about.

“This is the line of separation,” said one of them, Ali Aitawi.

Long divided by the Christian east and largely Muslim west of its 15-year civil war, Beirut is a city snarled today by far more numerous boundaries of sect, perspective and ideology, intersecting and tangling across a capital and country wrestling with a question still unanswered since independence more than 60 years ago: What is Lebanon’s identity?

In today’s crisis, those fault lines tell the story of the struggle underway between the country’s two camps, divided by past and present, with vastly different visions of Lebanon’s future: on one side Hezbollah, supported by Iran and Syria, and on the other the government, backed by the United States and France. The fault lines tell, too, of an impasse that perhaps can’t be broken.

The borders are drawn by color, flag, portrait and symbol, a claustrophobic contest to lay claim to identity never solely Lebanese. They are defined by ideology: the culture of resistance to Israel celebrated by the Shiite Muslim movement of Hezbollah, for instance, or the Christian separatism of civil war-era militias with fascist roots. They follow the contours of leaders who command loyalty through personality over politics. And they offer protection in a country where survival can feel precarious.

Read the rest of the article; it’s well worth your time.

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