“…“Syria has become a convenient battlefield for everyone, a place to divide the Arab world, said Farid Khazan, a Lebanese lawmaker and a professor of political science at American University of Beirut. “You won’t be able to reshape that country without messing up the entire region.”Tensions between Sunnis and Shiites in Syria have already destabilized communities in northern Lebanon and Iraq, according to U.S. and Mideast strategists. In Jordan, officials fear that the rise of fundamentalist Sunni groups in Syria, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood, could threaten King Abdullah’s monarchy……
The conflict has huge ramifications for neighboring countries. As violence rises, Syrians are fleeing in ever-larger numbers. Tens of thousands of Syrians have fled to Lebanon since Thursday, while thousands more are pouring into Iraq by land and by air, and Jordan says that more than 100,000 Syrians are now within its borders.
Lebanon has already had several sectarian clashes between supporters and opponents of Syria’s regime. Lebanon also is a stage for regional rivalries to play out between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which back feuding Lebanese political factions.
“I don’t think Lebanon has ever been through a situation this sensitive and complicated as right now. The divisions are very deep,” a senior Hezbollah official said. …”
Bracketing Realities in Lebanon; photograph by Estella Carpi
Confessionalization fundamentalism: commodifying religious identities in the Middle East
by Estella Carpi, Open Democracy, 16 July 2012
Middle Eastern revolutionaries and spectators alike, deprived in the media of any representation of their own agency and denied the chance of producing their own new life chances, end up commodifying the identities they are exposed to within their social pattern.
As Maya Mikdashi has argued in an interview released to Istituto di Studi Politici Internazionali (ISPI), published on Jadaliyya on June 21, the uprising in Syria itself is becoming more sectarian now, packaged in a way such that ‘sect’ seems to be the political marker that matters the most.
This development could be taken as a starting point to point to a more widespread arbitrary confessionalization of Middle Eastern conflicts, and of the Syrian revolution in particular. “Crisis”, “sunnization of the revolt”, “new balance between Sunnis and Shiites” and “civil war” are key terms used by the media in reporting the current events.
Voices from think-tank and news analysts actually unfamiliar with the Arab world have largely contributed to portraying a patchwork image of the Middle East composed of ethnic and religious groups that do not fight each other only thanks to the power of dictators that discipline and guide these irrational individualities.
"We are the majority in Tripoli so in numbers alone we could go up the hill unarmed and eat them alive,"
“… “We cannot be soft dealing with the Alawites and the Shiites because they have decided to slaughter all the Sunnis in Lebanon and Syria,” says Sheikh Bilal Masri, a militant Sunni cleric from the Bab Tebbaneh neighborhood of Tripoli….
Last week warnings that Syria’s conflict could spread rang out in the halls of the UN and world capitals. US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice said she’s worried about a scenario where “the violence escalates, the conflict spreads and intensifies… in involves countries in the region it takes on increasingly sectarian forms and we have a major crisis not only in Syria, but in the region.”
That concern was echoed Sunday by Akmaluddin Ihsan Oglu, the head of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, who warned that Lebanon could slip into civil war once again if the clases continue. “We want all sides in Lebanon to seek their country’s higher interest, which is peaceful coexistence between its people,” he said.
Tripoli’s hilltop district of Jabal Mohsen is where the first embers of a spreading fire could land…. While clashes between the two communities are not uncommon, their severity has increased. Two weeks ago, 10 people were killed in several days fighting here. On Saturday, 12 people died within 24 hours during clashes which allegedly saw mortar rounds being fired for the first time.
Still, the fighting in Tripoli is usually an isolated affair, accepted by most Lebanese as a result of the unfortunate circumstance in which the communities of Bab Tebbaneh and Jabal Mohsen find themselves. The fighting here, even when severe, is unlikely to trigger clashes in other places where Sunnis and Shiites live in close proximity unless there is an additional catalyst.
Furthermore, although outbursts of sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shiites are likely in the months ahead, the rival political factions in Lebanon have no interest in allowing the country to slide into civil war. Memories are still fresh of the last conflict that lasted between 1975-1990 which killed over 110,000 people and left the country in ruins.
“I haven’t slept since Friday,” says Sheikh Masri, rubbing his eyes and running his fingers through his long straggly hair. Outside, Lebanese army armored personnel carriers clattered along Syria Street, the frontline between Bab Tebbaneh and Jabal Mohsen. “They fired eight RPGs [rocket-propelled grenades] at me while I was manning my position,” says the sheikh who always participates in the clashes wearing a black combat vest, his black turban and armed with a veteran French sniper rifle.
The streets outside his home were strewn with discarded garbage and broken glass. Fresh bullet holes speckled the walls of buildings facing the lofty tower blocks of Jabal Mohsen where Alawite snipers lie hidden. To escape the omnipresent snipers, residents erected large canvas screens across the entrances to several narrow streets to keep pedestrians out of sight.
Squeezing through one of the canvas awnings revealed a street filled with Lebanese soldiers, some of them sitting on top of APCs armed with twin-barrelled 23mm machine guns. Groups of bearded men talking earnestly huddled behind walls for protection. The air was acrid with smoke from several buildings with fire-blackened walls at the edge of Jabal Mohsen which had been set alight during the fighting hours earlier. The Alawite residents had fled to relative safety further up hill.
“We are the majority in Tripoli so in numbers alone we could go up the hill unarmed and eat them alive,” says Sheikh Masri. “But we cannot hold ground. We have no weapons. Every time we fire an RPG we cry because each round costs $1,000. But the Alawites have all they want. They are supported by the Syrian regime, Iran and Hezbollah – the gang of Satan.”
Although a shaky ceasefire settled over the two neighborhoods early Sunday allowing the army to deploy along the confrontation line, no one expects the peace to endure.
“It’s not over,” says a young man with short hair and thick beard standing with a group of friends on Syria Street. “The only solution is if the Alawites leave from Jabal Mohsen.”
Jabal Mohsen is reached by a steep main road that climbs the hill in full view of Bab Tebbaneh. A soldier on an APC casually waves on nervous motorists, signalling that it’s safe to proceed – for now.
The leader of the Alawite community in Jabal Mohsen is the portly and genial Rifaat Eid. In the reception room of his heavily guarded office building, a television is broadcasting a live speech by Mr. Assad in which the Syrian president accuses foreign powers of seeking to incite a sectarian civil war in Syria.Mr. Eid, looks relaxed but tired having had little sleep the previous two days, one thing he has in common with his enemies in Bab Tebbaneh.
“Things are getting much worse than before,” he says. “The terrorists who are running from Bashar al-Assad have come to Lebanon and made an army to turn north Lebanon upside down,” he says, referring to Sunni militants whom the Syrian regime describe as “armed terrorists gangs” which it alleges are responsible for the violence in Syria. “This is what Saudi Arabia and March 14 want,” he adds, referring to Lebanon’s Western-backed parliamentary opposition.
The views of Sunnis in Bab Tebbaneh and the Alawites in Jabal Mohsen are mirror images. Both accuse each other of having foreign sponsors, both accuse the other of instigating each clash and both accuse the other side of having superior weapons. Eid charges that the Future Movement, the leading Sunni party headed by former prime minister Saad Hariri, is smuggling large quantities of arms into Tripoli and distributing them to their supporters.
“They all have expensive assault rifles in Bab Tebbaneh,” he says. “Those people are too poor to buy food, so how could they afford these rifles if they were not given to them.”
So from where do the Alawites obtain their weapons? Eid chuckles and says, “We buy them from arms dealers affiliated with the Future Movement. They may be our enemy, but money talks more than politics.”….
“We are always accused of starting the fighting here, but we have nothing to gain from igniting a war. We are small and they [the Sunnis surrounding Jabal Mohen] are big,” he says. As he speaks a crackle of machine gun fire is heard outside his office. Moments later the walkie talkie on his desk squawks and a voice announces that a woman has been wounded by fire coming from the Baddawi neighborhood on Jabal Mohsen’s northern front. “You see? This happens all the time. They are attacking us first,” Eid says before making inquiries over the radio to find out the status of the woman.
Out on the street, the automatic weapons fire continues along with ocassional single shot from a sniper.
Mohammed Fadel, a short, tough-looking Alawite who is in charge of some 250 fighters, shelters on a street with some of his men. He had been in the thick of the fighting the previous night.
“They kept firing at us for four hours non stop. We were fighting them at distances of just 15 meters sometimes,” he says, as a loud burst of machine gun fire echoes down the street. His comrades were discussing the woman who was shot minutes before, already planning their revenge. “You will see. We are going to mess them up tonight, all their positions,” says Mr Fadel. “As long as all those Sunnis with big beards continue to exist, there will be no solution.”
In Bahrain, Friday began with funerals for three protesters killed by security police during earlier demonstrations. The funerals turned into protest rallies. Some 50,000 Bahrainis took part, about 10% of the population.
Shiite Friday prayers sermons were full of calls for ‘ a real constitutional monarchy’ or even for the overthrow of the Sunni Al Khalifa monarchy.
Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Qasim said in his Friday Prayers sermon at the Diraz Mosque that Thursday’s massacre at the Pearl Roundabout was “a premeditated massacre intended to kill and shed blood, not simply to disperse the crowd.” He wondered, “Why this despotic killing?” The congregation began chanting “Bahrain, Free, Free!” and “Sunnis and Shiites are Brethren– We will not sell out our Country!” Sheikh Isa replied, “We will not accept this humiliation!” again and again. He said that the Bahrain government was now the chief threat to the security of Bahrain citizens. He added that the world needed to shoulder the responsibility of rescuing the Bahraini people. He called on Bahrainis to cling steadfastly to national unity, saying, “Do not kill yourselves with sectarianism.”
In contrast, at the Grand Mosque, Sunni Bahrainis and Sunni Pakistanis and Indian Muslims showed support for the embattled king. Although Shiites are 70 percent of the citizen population, over half of Bahrain’s 1.2 million residents are expatriate guest workers, and most of them are Sunni Muslim.
Then in late afternoon, a small crowd walked toward the Pearl Roundabout downtown, from which protesters had been driven by force on Thursday morning. As they approached, security forces opened fire on them, killing one and wounding another 50 or so. The local hospital was overwhelmed with arrivals.
On Friday evening, Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa called for calm and a dialogue between the government and the demonstrators. The erratic behavior of the Bahrain government, with its oscillations between calls for talks by the king and his son and brutal repression by the security forces caused long time Gulf watcher Gary Sick to wonder if there is a split between the palace and the officer corps, with the latter far more militant and more than a little insubordinate. Me, I think the palace is probably both calling for dialogue and ordering that troops fire into the crowds of protesters.
Taliban in Pakistan launched horrific suicide bombings at two mosques in Lahore on Friday, killing at least 80 persons and wounding dozens. The mosques belonged to the minority Ahmadiyah community, widely considered non-Muslims by Pakistani Sunnis and Shiites. (Ahmadis consider themselves Muslims). Previous militant bombings linked to the Taliban and kindred groups had targeted mosques and religious edifices of the Shiite minority.
The Qnion brings you the transcripts of the behind-closed-doors meeting,
(A door opens)
Abdullah: Get over here, you rascal!
Bashar: It’s been too long, really it has!
(Air kissing and pleasantries are heard)
Bashar: How was your trip?
Abdullah: Oh, fine, fine.
Bashar: I hope the hotels are comfortable.
Abdullah: Splendid, splendid.
Bashar: (impressed) I see that you brought quite the entourage.
Abdullah: That’s how I roll.
Bashar: Aww yeah!
Abdullah: What can I say? It’s good to be the king. Listen, I know we’re going to sit down later with all the advisors and what-have-you, but I just wanted to have a little one-on-one first, you know what I’m saying?
Abdullah: You know, just make sure we’re on the same page.
Bashar: You read my mind.
Abdullah: Ok, good. So… Iran?
Abdullah: They’re encroaching.
Bashar: Oh come on, now…
Abdullah: They’re encroaching…
Abdullah: I’m telling ya Bashar, they’re encroaching.
Bashar: (sighs wearily) How are they encroaching?
Abdullah: They just are, the way that they do.
Abdullah: All over the goddamn place. Iraq. Lebanon. Palestine. Washington! It’s incorrigible.
Bashar: (slyly) Don’t you mean “encroachable”?
Abdullah: Bashar, this is no laughing matter. If Iran keeps encroaching into the Sunni Arab heartland, then before you know it the whole region’s gonna be awash in heretical, Hussein-loving, Karbala-commemorating , martyrdom-obssessed Shiite splinter groups.
Bashar: (tightly) Umm.
Abdullah: Don’t you understand? This isn’t just about politics! This is about God’s will! Good and evil! Right and wrong! The forces of light and darkness! Sunnis and Shiites!
Bashar: Yeah, umm… I’m an Alawite?
Abdullah: An Ala-who?
Bashar: We’re, umm. We’re like Shiites?
Abdullah: No kidding. I didn’t know that! Wow!
Abdullah: So are you, like, Twelvers? Or Fivers? Or, umm… Seveners? So many goddamn Ers I can’t keep ‘em straight, ha ha!
Bashar: Never mind. Look, don’t worry about Iran, ok? Can we talk about Lebanon?
Abdullah: I don’t see what there is to talk about. How about getting Hezbollah to play ball?
Bashar: (angry) How about you get March 14 to play ball?
Abdullah: (angry) They won the fricking election fair and square, ok? I paid good hard cash to make sure of that! And I’ll be damned if I’m gonna let a bunch of rag-tag Shiite clerics cock this up…
Bashar: Watch it…
Abdullah: Huh? Oh, yeah. Sorry.
Bashar: (airily) Look, I’ll talk to Hezbollah about it, but I can’t make any guarantees.
Abdullah: Well then, neither can I.
(There is a pause)
Bashar: I’ll do what I can, but I can’t promise anything.
Abdullah: Me neither.
Bashar: I’m not saying that I can’t force them to do what I want. Obviously, I can. One phone call, that’s all it takes.
Abdullah: Of course.
Bashar: I mean, don’t get me wrong. I’ve got Hezbollah in the palm of my hand, know what I mean? I own their asses. When I say jump…
Abdullah: They say “how high”… I get you, man. It’s, ahem, the same with me and March 14, naturally.
Bashar: Oh, who the hell are we kidding?!
Abdullah: (hanging his head in shame) I don’t know!!
Bashar: I can’t get those crazies to do anything!
Abdullah: Me neither! They don’t listen to a word I say!
Abdullah: I mean, who do they think they are? I told Saad to let Aoun have what he wanted. Did he listen? No! I mean, who the hell cares about the fricking telecommunications ministry? I’m going to end up bailing them out in five years anyway!
Bashar: Exactly! And I told Hezbollah to stop worrying about veto powers in the cabinet. If anyone tries any monkey business with their weapons, Syria will just invade Lebanon under the pretext of defeating the Zionist plot to establish Greater Israel!
Abdullah: Exactly! I mean…
Bashar & Abdullah together: … WHO THE HELL CARES?!
(There is a knock at the door)
Assistant: Sir, the press conference is about to begin.
Abdullah: Ok, we’re coming.
Abdullah: (tired) Yeah.
Bashar: Should we just…
Abdullah: …continue to pretend like we’re all-powerful when in fact we’re completely irrelevant and the deadlock is entirely about the Lebanese and their ridiculous egos? Sure.
Bashar: Alrighty then.