Within a matter of days, the Hariri’s Future Movement has shifted its rhetoric from the injustice the Lebanese people live in due to the control of Hezbollah, to the injustice and “persecution” – as Mohammad Salam put it – the Sunni sect is facing.
Most Future MPs, in a way or another, justified the battles of Bab Al-Tabbaneh/ Jabal Mohsen last week and Tarik Al-Jadideh this week with a “self-defence” excuse. They said the fighting was undertaken by the “areas locals” rather than the official Future Movement to defend their areas. This is despite the battles being pure pointless bloody show off and the arms were being shipped from their storage place in the Municipal Stadium in Tarik al-Jadidah to the Future Headquarter in the area.
Quite a shift in the argument for a political movement that prides itself to be leading national alliance fighting for the rule of law. This injustice-against-Sunnis argument has been simmering for years within the Sunni community (since the killing of Rafiq Hariri), but the shift of Future Movement’s argument now shows how the recent violence – that erupted on the streets of Tripoli and Beirut – have made most of Sunni leaders irrelevant, especially Saad Hariri and his Future Movement. They are trying to catch up with the street.
Saad Hariri is living the dilemma of how he can take control of the angry Sunni street without losing appeal to the wider Lebanese and March 14 audience, but it appears to be as difficult task as holding water in a hole-bucket. The Salafists have managed to score main tactical and strategic points that they are the real protector of Sunnis, and they don’t necessarily fall under the patronage of Hariri.
As for the wider March 14 audience, which is traditionally motivated by the being against the “May 7” event, they have just seen another “May 7” initiated by their troops in their backyard. It’s shocking for them, hence the relative, if not the permanent silence of most of its leaders. This could be truly the official death of March 14. It’s worth noting here that some March 14 leaders were not far from adopting violence in 2008 against Hezbollah incursions.
The street spiral out of control is not surprising, when the same Sunni community trained by taking to the street on January 2011 to protest – in form of rioting – ousting Saad Hariri from the premiership. This was subtly encouraged by the Future Movement, which is now proving to be a deadly mistake.
There is no doubt Sunnis have grievances, but they look similar to any other Lebanese community. Salafists have been previously targeted by the state, but there is no a strong case to suggest that the Sunni sect is targeted. Islamists fought against the Lebanese army in 1999 and 2007, so their harassment by the state is expected but surely the prolonged jail periods without charges and the indiscriminate arrests are really shameful putting the original police arrest-motives into question.
Keeping in mind that Saad Hariri/Future Movement were in power during the crackdown on Islamists and his father before him for 10 years, Hariri neither improved the situation nor considered his sect to be under “persecution”. If there is any injustice, it’s the economic underdevelopment Tripoli and the north suffer from including high unemployment. Consecutive governments have done little to implement long-term development plans to impoverished areas.
What’s happening in Syria is surely helping to inflame the situation. Sunnis are finding themselves strongly aligned, if not enthusiastically involved, with the revolution. Many are finding it a great opportunity to copy Hezbollah’s indifference with the state; you always hear “ why us, not them”. Future Movement should be careful when they want to take anything happening in Syria as an excuse to do any action in Lebanon, as this seriously undermine their “Lebanon First” motto.
The new Future Movement rhetoric is proving to fall along the lines of “aim justifies the method” theory, which Hezbollah proudly implemented in 2008 when it “defended” the arms with the arms. This is not a good sign for both the future and Future. For now, March 14 argument against Hezbollah is almost dead, and we are marching confidently towards a Sunni/Shiite dispute.
I hope we can learn from our bloody history without dragging regional conflicts onto Lebanese soil, because it’s not convincing enough anymore to say it’s others’ war on our soil; because others can now do exactly that, in next door Syria.
Photo credit: some fighters shooting at a passingby car in “self-defense” in Tarik Al-Jadideh. One man seem to be armed to his teeth, while the other seem to be wearing jeans-civilian type of clothes. Watch the full impressive video below filmed by the Lebanese channel Aljadeed, which had a good live coverage of the clashes.