Lebanon, Protests & Sitting
January 19th, 2007

Hezbollah partisans continue to occupy the city center, they come over from many parts of the country and manly from the miserable southern suburban area of the capital.

Ever since the July-August 2006 war, Lebanon's multi-confessional society has been sliding back into political, sectarian and religious conflict. The political discussions about the formation of a new government of national unity (an opposition demand) and establishing an international tribunal to look into the assassination of prime minister Rafic Hariri and other political figures (a government demand) has split the country in two camps. Both the government (formed by Sunni, Christian and Druze parties) and the opposition (the Shia resistance group Hezbollah and their Shia and Christian allies) have demonstrated that they can each get close to a million people on the streets of Beirut. This leaves another two million Lebanese who are rarely heard of, despite some well-meant initiatives such as "March 11", "LoubanwBass" (Lebanon and nothing else) that try to give a voice to Lebanon's silent minority/majority.
 
Lebanon's youth represents both the problem and the solution. As in many countries with political strife, Lebanese children and students are aggressively targeted by the political parties. This was illustrated by the tumultuous student elections at the American University of Beirut (AUB) and other universities in the fall of 2006. Even though political parties are not supposed to be allowed on campus, each and every student organization is in fact a mirror image of an outside political party. At AUB, a dispute over the counting of the votes resulted in street fighting and the massive deployment of riot police. How dangerous the current situation is, became all too clear on January 25, 2007 when a fight between a handful of Sunni and Shia students at Beirut Arab University (BAU) degenerated into a day of outright civil war with four people shot dead and more than 160 wounded, many by gunshots.
 
A few other factors increase the risk of renewed civil war in Lebanon. We are now seeing the first generation of kids who have no living memory of the civil war. Some of them seem to think that street fighting - such as we have seen on January 23, the day of the general strike by the opposition - is all in good fun. On a regional scale, there are fears that the bloody Sunni/Shia conflict in Iraq might be exported to Lebanon. When Shia and Sunni kids clashed on Beirut's Corniche Maazra on Jan. 23, one side was chanting "Iran" while the other held up posters of Saddam Hussain.


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