Sami Moubayed has a piece in Asia Times this week (“Syria plays hardball with the Saudis”), in which he compares the litany of victories registered by Syria to the string of Saudi defeats.
I usually like Sami Moubayed’s analyses, and I found much of what he said in this article to be true, apart from his account of the events of May 2008. He says:
…the Saudi-trained and funded March 14 forces were defeated on the streets of Beirut in May, when they tried to confront Hezbollah. Within hours, Hezbollah rounded up all militiamen on the payroll of Saudi Arabia and forced the cabinet of Prime Minister Fouad al-Siniora to back down on legislation taken earlier against Hezbollah. It was clear: the US and Saudi Arabia lost the war for Beirut, and Syria and Iran won.
I find it dismaying that someone who is generally good about dispensing with jingoism and delivering nuanced analysis is so incapable of doing so when it comes to the issue of Syria and Saudi Arabia’s struggle over Lebanon.
What happened in May 2008 was nothing so neat and tidy as a “war for Beirut”, fought between two sides, with a winner and a loser. Bandar may have had some wacko salafists on the payroll in Tripoli but this does not mean that March 14th was building up a huge militia with the goal of confronting Hizbullah in the streets of Beirut in a fight to the death. This is what propagandists would like people to believe. Journalists should be far more skeptical of such outlandish notions.
The propagandists want to be able to say: “March 14th wanted a war, but Hizbullah didn’t. However, when we couldn’t hold them off anymore, we gave it to them. We gave it to them, and we were victorious. But we were magnanimous in victory. We didn’t storm the Serail and assassinate Saniora. Others might have done that, you know.”
(Cue feelings of gratitude.)
It is not clear to me how historians will explain the events of May 7, 2008. However, they will certainly describe the backdrop: a country brought to an eighteen-month halt, economic paralysis, no president, a string of political assassinations, and immense social and sectarian tensions. They will talk about the labor strikes co-opted by Hizbullah in order to force the government into revoking its ill-fated decisions to dismantle the Hizb’s telephone network and to fire Wafiq Shouqeir. They will describe how the “peaceful demonstration” quickly got out of hand — as everyone knew it would — thereby providing an ideal pretext to take Beirut in a show of force and all but necessitate an international invention that would bring about the Doha Accord.
Did al-Mustaqbal have gun-wielding shabab on its payroll? Undoubtedly. Did they fight in the streets of Beirut? Yes. But was this a scene of Saudi-funded and Jordanian-trained commandoes leaping out from behind overturned cars to surprise the Hizbullah fighters who had so stupidly walked into their ambush? Hardly. More like a scene of glorified security guards with fancy toys being caught off guard by a disciplined, highly-coordinated, Iranian-trained, elite corps of battle-hardened soldiers who knew exactly what they were doing.
Syria “won” in Lebanon because it was willing to push the envelope as far as necessary. It was willing to play dirtier than the Saudis, the Americans, the French, and March 14th. Now, according to Moubayed, the Saudis are playing dirty with Syria. As usual, he doesn’t explain why this is ok in Syria’s case but not in Saudi Arabia’s. Furthermore, why is it acceptable for one radical fundamentalist regime (Iran) to sponsor a militia on Lebanese soil but it’s not acceptable for another radical fundamentalist regime (KSA) to do so, even though al-Mustaqbal’s shabab hardly constituted a full-blown militia, much less an army? Why is it that Moubayed protests when the Saudis inflame Sunni-Shiite tensions through their support for takfiri salafists, but it’s acceptable for Syria and Iran to build up a Shiite militia whose leader has on several occasions ridiculed various companions of the Prophet, thereby inflaming the Sunni street?
I am of the school who wants to forget about May 2008 as quickly as possible, and leave it to the historians to decide “what really happened.” In the meantime, however, let’s at least try to put the propagandists out of business.
I’d be interested in spreading fitna. Where do I find Nasrallah ridiculing companions of Muhammad?
Can anyone live in Syria without selling himself to the devil?
From Nizar Kabbani to Sharabi to any free voice living nowadays, no one can live there and express their free well, they have to serve the Master or shut up, this is how the system structured, even on the level of art painting.
But your observation and his diversion start showing clear this year and after couple of year voicing kind of calculated independent voice, they used him to meet with AIPAC and now he is getting more vocal in pushing the views of the regime, and sadly he soon will loose credibility.
Check your email. 🙂
My personal opinion is that Moubayed is a Tool.
Sadly Arabic journalism 101 states ” Choose your benefactor carefully, it can be a very profitable experience”
After the Death of Ghassan Tueni , this was amended to, “Or simply pay with your Life”
Moubayed is a hack among many hacks!
How about a post on the looming Hummus Tabbouli and Fatoush war between Israel and Lebanon?
I think you mean Gebran Tueni!
By the way, I disagree about Sami, as you know. I like what he writes a lot of the time.
How did you guess the topic of my next post? Stay tuned.
I think people under-estimate how much the political system in Lebanon polarizes the communities. The roots of violence in Lebanon is not as the myth goes that it’s the foreign supported militias and parties. I believe that this is an over simplification. One has to just visit tripoli to see teen age girls speaking of the Shiite threat to the Sunnis and vice versa. People fight because they think their identity is in danger and because the political system is sectarian. The people who really fight are not the paid mercenaries of Saudis and others (these people may plant bombs and walk around in a show). The real people who can make a civil war are the real deal average people who feel their community is in danger. The thing about foreign countries supporting militias…it’s part of the picture, but not all of it and it fits in the Lebanese patronage system that lives in a vicious cycle of doubt and sensitive balances of power.
Excellent comment Nizar.
I totally agree.
QN, I agree with what you say about the ‘true’ nature of March 14’s armed supporters, but I’m afraid that the ‘propagadists’ view on the strength of both sides is more widely shared, even by journalists who generally write in favor of March 14 and their ‘Western’ allies. In my view, from what I’ve come to read and hear from the Beirut-based correspondents of the big US and some European newspapers, Hizbullah are the (very) bad guys of course. But they all buy into the ‘March 14 building up a huge militia force’ thing. They will also tell you these stories about Hamra, where apparently Future Movement has been ‘planting’ its shabeeb in apartments that have been bought or rented for this purpose, very much in the sense of traditional neighborhood/quarter thinking. The fact that you now see the SSNPs logo sprayed all over Hamra is partially a revenge, and the systematic opening up of ‘public’ spaces by SSNP people in Hamra that has been going on for a while, such as De Prague for example, is more a longterm reaction. So in brief, many of my journalist friends who are normally with March 14 believe the story of a longstanding preparation for armed confrontation. Why is this so successfully being sold? I remember a dinner conversation with these people in June when the events were even more present where it was only my Lebanese journalist friend (who is with March 14 too), who emphasized the differences between the poorly trained security forces and what might not even only be considered a militia but in fact an army.
And QN, I too want some of that fitnah material you’ve possibly supplied Ms. Tee with… 🙂
We should not forget that Sami lives in Syria and it’s not easy for him to antagonize the regime.No doubts that if he was in a democratic country he would have written otherwise.
To the Blog Owner,
I find your participation in Syriacomment quite pathetic! What would a Lebanese with sound reason do with such a group of morons? Obviously, you don’t seem to consider getting so low a problem, thereby allowing your self to mingle with such a group. Could it be you are also a moron?
Ahlain ya Walid,
Welcome to the blog. I’ll thank you to be polite.
The double standard of Hezbollah’s weapons is an interesting point in and of itself, but it is arguable that being dubbed the “Islamic resistance” instead of a militia might mean that while Israel still occupies parts of Lebanon, Hezbollah’s weapons don’t fall under the disarming clause of the Ta’if accord. (Where the word “resistance” doesn’t appear, by the way.)
However what mystifies me is that no one seems to complain about SSNP and Amal being armed. These two groups were “disarming militiamen” in West Beirut after Hezbollah pulled out, giving Future’s weapons to the Army, which didn’t ask Amal or SSNP to give up theirs.
I might be wrong, but I don’t think that the exception made for Hezbollah’s weapons was extended to Amal or SSNP following the war. It would be interesting to see then when, exactly, these groups re-armed, if they ever fully disarmed in the first place. Granted these groups aren’t as organized, well-trained or capable as Hezbollah, but neither are they at the same pitiful level as the weekend warriors Mustaqbal laughably tried to pit against them.
On a side note: is fighting against Israel the only criteria for being part of the “resistance,” as opposed to a militia? If the Kataeb or PSP were to send some fighters down to the Shebaa farms to fight Israel, would that then give them the right to re-arm as resistance fighters instead of militiamen?
Dear qifa Nabki:
While all of them are rooted in Islamic ideology, there is a great difference between Hezbollah (Shiaa), Hamass (Sunni)on one hand and the Saudi funded salafite on the other. Hams and HizbAllah are disciplined with well organized hierarchical structure that is responsive to international and local geopolitical influences.
They are potentially a part of the solution for the Middle East conflict, since they have the forces on the ground and the popular support to enforce the peace. They also have shown willingness to work with other religious groups to form political alliances.
On the Other hand the Saudi inspired and funded salafite groups are not hierarchical, work in small independent cells and arguably Saudi Arabia can not even control them. Their mode of operation seems to involve blowing up civilians and themselves and do not have the political structure to affect policy change or participate in a broader solution. They also have not been able to work with other groups secular or religious.
Syria’s support for Hams and Hezbollah is routed in the hope that Syria can work with them toward the resolution of the Arab Israeli conflict.
Qaradawi Nabki or Nakbeh?!
I read your reply to Moubayed’s article and both are pieces of propaganda. One must not forget that Mr. Moubayed was recently in Washington in a small Syrian delegation and wanted badly to meet arch-Zionists in AIPAC to prove Syrian good-will! What a pitiful way of thinking and acting. As for your piece, it reminds the reader of one Qaradawi who woke up one day to find himself as sectarian and as bigot as those Zionist-Wahhabis in Saudi-controlled media. And the comparisons you make are hilarious. According to your logic, if left-wing parties were sometimes funded by the USSR, then it is ok for right-wing Nazis in the Lebanese Forces to be funded by the Zionists and the Wahhabis. It is better to shed your so-called objectivity and join forces with Qaradawi Nabki or Nakbeh (i.e. disaster).
I am not sure that there is a difference between what “historians” are going to institutionalize as a ‘correct’ or ‘accurate’ version of the May 2008, or what “propagandists” try to emphasize today.
I think both are engaged in the same economy of producing versions, writings of events by the mere fact that they are going to use ‘perspectives’ to address the problem.
Sorry to sound a bit too abstract but it is just to say that there are no difference between historians, ‘social scientists’, ‘good research’, and TV/media petty punditry.
Why bother, then? 🙂
I always asked myself this question.
And I think that at the end even if no one can tell an objective story, one can always shed light on the silenced versions.
‘Good thoughts’ (or the strive to arrive at this criteria) is trying to unearth what was not spoken and need to be. Challenging hegemony, challenging the fixity of historical accounts, that is what we should be involved in.
If there is any chance that there is something called ‘an intellectual’, let him be the ‘organic’ one. The Gramscian one.
What hezbollah and his allies did was an attempt to start a civil war, and dont fool yourself into thinking otherwise. No militias faught back, there was no war, it was simply people trying to defend their houses, and they stopped doing so after March 14 leaders told them not to fear, as their lives are way more important; March 14 leaders did so in order to contain the mutiny and betrayal of Hezbollah and his allies.