The Lebanese political talk show Kalam Ennas with Marcel Ghanem will be broadcasting a special episode this evening about the confrontation between the Lebanese Army and Ahmad al-Assir’s followers in Saida. I’ll be live-blogging and translating some of the salient bits, providing the webcast holds up.
8:48: Program begins. Questions: Are we facing a new Shaker al-Absi and Fatah al-Islam? What is the future of Ahmad al-Assir? Guests: Bahiya al-Hariri, Imad al-Hout, Ghassan Jawad, Michel Elefteriades, Osama Saad, Shaykh al-Shahhal and others. Online poll at the Facebook page: “Do you support the Army in Saida?”
8:51: Playing a clip from Ahmad al-Assir’s visit to Kalam Ennas on March 15 2012. At that time, he said: “I am the imam of a mosque against violence and sectarianism.”
8:53: Bahiya al-Hariri calls in, supporting the Lebanese Army. Our citizens are afraid of returning to Saida. Marcel Ghanem asks her if she supports the continuing military pressure on Assir. She responds by asking how Assir managed to get away in the first place? Who is responsible, asks Ghanem? She says she doesn’t want to point fingers. Emphasizes the importance of Saida and all it has given to the Lebanese nation.
8:59: Hariri: “Any side that uses weapons on the domestic front promote sectarian strife.” She wants to see all sides disarmed, including the pro-Hizbullah brigades in Saida. Ghanem: “Who shot at your house yesterday? Was it Assir’s people?” Hariri: “No it wasn’t. It was the group who occupied the area surrounding my house, and they are allied with Hizbullah.”
9:08: Hariri: The Lebanese Army is our life raft. We support the Army completely. We thank everyone who has worked to restore peace to Saida.
9:19: Clip from March 15 2012 when Assir was a guest on Kalam Ennas: at that time, he said that he wasn’t a salafist, and that anyway this was not a derogatory term in the first place. He is against violence, and the Lebanese Army and authorities are a red line and should not be attacked. If the rights of Islamists are infringed upon, the appropriate state organs should act to address these infringements.
9:24: The Jama`a Islamiyya MP Imad al-Hout tells Marcel Ghanem that there have been many pressures on people in Saida over the past several months. Some people can handle the pressures; others resort to defending themselves.
9:26: Ossama Saad (former Saida MP) says that the issue today is not the (pro-Hizbullah) Resistance Brigades. What we need to talk about is how March 14 created an environment that engendered the rise of people like Assir through its sectarian incitement against the weapons of Hizbullah.
9:29: Another guest: March 14 is responsible for all the pressures that the Army has come under, calling them shabbiha and Safavids (i.e. Persians).
9:32: Michel Elefteriades (owner of Music Hall… and by the way, an FPM officer? Who knew?) is asking why people are attacking the Army today.
9:34: Imad al-Hout says that Assir was provoked into acting. Who provoked him? If not the Army, then who was it? Ghanem responds with a special report by one of his reporters: Army reports suggest that Assir’s militia men included some foreign fighters, and their tactics resembled those of Al-Qaeda and Fatah al-Islam. Today, the Army says, Saida has been returned to the Lebanese state, and wrested away from the extremists.
9:39: Ossama Saad: Saida is a city of diverse communities: Christians, Sunnis, Shiites, Communists, Islamists, Nasserists, progressives, conservatives. To talk about Saida, we have to recognize this reality. For anyone to impose their views on everyone else in the name of religion, this is rejected. Ghanem replies: Isn’t Hizbullah doing the same thing? Saad: Hizbullah is part of the fabric of the city. There are people from Saida who are members of Hizbullah and Amal. What are they forcing on Saida? Ghanem: What about the people who surrounded Bahiyya Hariri’s house? Saad: The geography we’re talking about is a very interpenetrated one. There is a larger context to think about. Ghanem: Some people are saying that Saida has been held hostage by both Assir’s people and the Resistance Brigades. And others are saying that “this is part of the fabric of the city.” What do you say? Saad: How can I live with someone who wants to impose his views on me?
9:46: Imad al-Hout says that all of Lebanon should be for all people. The Army has to extend its power over all of Lebanon. Today, there were bearded men wearing black uniforms with yellow insignias on their shoulders who were inspecting houses. Why should they be allowed free rein?
9:50: Michel Elefteriades: we need military rule in Lebanon. We need a coup d’etat gardien. We need a military that is immune to political influence.
9:59: Ghanem to Saad: Do you think the Army should continue its operation until it catches Assir? Saad: I believe there should be security, and the Army should do what it has to do.
10:01: Ghanem to Imad al-Hout: Do you think the Army should continue its operation until it catches Assir? Al-Hout: I believe that Saida has suffered enough, and that life should return to normal.
10:04: Imad al-Hout: I am not against the Shiites. The Shiites are our brothers in this country. I am against the party that speaks in the name of the Shiites and is fighting in Syria. Ghassan Jawad: You are putting the weapons of the noble resistance that fought Israel on the same level as the weapons of this apostate shaykh Assir?
10:22: Shaykh Shahhal criticizes the media that has distorted the image of the Sunnis. Syria is ruled by an apostate, and Hizbullah is trying to replicate Assadist rule in Lebanon. I am prepared to have a theological debate with Hassan Nasrallah. The army is taking sides.
10:26: Imad al-Hout: What I think the shaykh is saying is that we need to protect the Army from being pulled from one side to another. Let’s let Saida be an example. Can we learn from this example and have the Army turn Saida into a city without weapons?
10:40: Marcel plays a clip from YouTube showing Fadl Shaker bragging that he killed two soldiers. He asks the Tripoli shaykh al-Shahhal what he thinks of this, and al-Shahhal dodges the question.
10:42: Elefteriades: I, a Christian, served in the Army in 1989-90 and I was required to fight against Christians who were causing troubles in the country. No one criticized the Army for targeting a community then. Why today?
10:44: Shaykh Shahhal: Hizbullah is pushing Lebanon to this situation. Hizbullah is pushing the army to target the Sunnis. Hizbullah wants to exert its hegemony on the country. The government is completely powerless before Hizbullah. Ghassan Jawad asks the shaykh: Did your son fight in al-Qusayr? Shahhal: It is a source of pride that he fought in al-Qusayr.
10:47: Argument between Ghassan Jawad and Shaykh Shahhal about Syria, Qusayr, etc. Jawad: The Future Movement has been involved in Syria since the first moment, and we all know that.
10:55: Elefteriades: Why should the Army have to take permission from religious authorities to go after assailants who attacked soldiers? If the Pope goes through a checkpoint and his bodyguards shoot at Lebanese soldiers, they have the right to respond immediately. Shaykh Shahhal: That’s fine, as long as you apply those rules to everyone equally. My own personal bodyguard has been refused an official permit from the Army to carry arms. What does this mean?
11:02: Nada Andraos (reporter) gives the different narratives concerning the whereabouts of Assir himself. Some say he is still in Abra; others say he is out of Abra but still in Lebanon.
11:10: Ghanem to Shahhal: What is Assir’s fate? Shahhal: We are looking for real security, and that a proper investigation be carried out on the situation. We are against Lebanon being taken hostage by an Iranian, Safavid, Batini, Zoroastrian project. (He said this with a self-deprecating smile…)
11:19: Closing words. Ghassan Jawad: There is no conflict today between the Army and the Sunnis, or Hizbullah and the Sunnis. Michel Elefteriades: I want to go beyond mourning the fallen soldiers. I want the Army to take control of the country. I want a military council to take control and to shut everyone up or else we’re going to have a major war in this country. I don’t want parliamentary elections. I don’t want democracy. I want the boot of the army to come down on the country and to get rid of all the za`raan (trouble-makers). We can only build a country if we have the Army bearing down on us, which is better than having Islamists or Rustom al-Ghazali bearing down on us.