Saturday, September 23, 2006

The speech by Nasrallah and the rally in the southern suburbs of Beirut are the big news in all Arab news. I can only see Walid Jumblat’s face—not smiling. The event is most significant for the unprecedented size of crowd. This WAS the biggest crowd in Lebanese history, ever. Did you hear that o American correspondents in Lebanon? Will the Nation magazine publish a piece paying tribute to the demonstrators as they did when demonstrations took place against Syrian domination? Will MERIP now assign a piece by Nicholas Blamford to note the “photogenic” quality of the demonstrators as they did for the 2005 demonstrations? Why do some demonstrations register in the US press and others don’t? And why didn’t the Lebanese “liberal” intellectuals who took to the streets to cheer victory against Syria not show up to cheer a victory against Israeli aggression, wondered my friend Joseph? But I agree with the wise words of Joseph Samahah today in Al-Akhbar (the newspaper has quickly emerged as “the most” important newspaper in Lebanon): he said that let us at least, stay away from the war of numbers, and let us at least note that public opinion is split in half, and let us at least stop reducing all of Lebanon to the likes of Jumblat and mini-Hariri. The best measure of the impact of the speech is my mother (a Beirut Sunni). A week ago she was quite displeased with Hasan Nasrallah because he invoked the phrase “divine victory”. She worried that the expression may connote a hidden agenda of Islamization of the republic. Today, when I spoke to her, she was most ecstatic and most pleased and most emotional. She kept saying: “May God protect him. May God protect him.” She felt that Nasrallah struck just the right tone, and she reported to me that her Sunni relatives (many of whom had supported Hariri) were in full support of the speech, and were most impressed that he appeared non-sectarian (sectarian people may define “non-sectarian” differently from the way I would). A Christian-born Arab leftist called me in tears after the speech. I did not think that the speech went far enough but my standards are different from the standards of Hizbullah, and my mother said that Hizbullah has political calculations that I don’t have. The speech was clearly most effective on the Arab/Islamic level which already considers Nasrallah as their hero, but most significantly the speech may have been quite successful on the Lebanese scene (measured by the standards of Lebanese politics). He knew which buttons to push, and which to ignore, and the language to use. My mother has a theory which has validity: that Walid Jumblat’s attitude to Nasrallah is motivated by deep-seated jealousy. Jumblat is quite jealous at the wide popularity and charisma of Nasrallah and wishes that he has it, just as Nayif Hawatimah was deeply jealous of the charisma and popularity of George Habash. I think that the size of the crowd sent the strongest message: not only about the attachment of millions in Lebanon to Nasrallah and to Hizbullah, but also to the opposition by at least half of Lebanon to the lousy March 14th movement. The crowd clearly had more than the Hizbullah mass audience—there are many Lebanese of different sects who are rallying against the lousy March 14th Movement, and for different reasons—sectarian and secular reasons. Furthermore, the Hariri Inc-Jumblat alliance has further alienated Christians because they have further marginalized and disregarded Christians in Lebanon, just as that Rafiq Hariri had done. I think that Nasrallah’s very presence at the rally was courageous: there was a clear danger to his life. He wanted to make a point by his very presence. Some lines of the speech were quite good rhetorically, and his tribute to the Palestinian question struck a chord with many in the Arab world at a time when Arab leaders including the Palestinian Hamid Karzai want to ignore the Palestinian cause. (But I have seen Nasrallah give much better speeches, in structure and in delivery, but again people are judging the speech differently—in less than academic or coldly political evaluation). And he criticized Arab governments (in very general and very vague terms—which always irritates me) without really criticizing them by name, and a Hizbullah member of parliament (the effective and media savvy Hasan Fadlallah) was today in Kuwait praising the Kuwaiti government. Nasrallah mildly criticized the Hariri Inc coalition but still operated on the very naïve assumption that “business can be done with them”, or that their danger can be simply neutralized. His criticisms of Jumblat I felt were very (or too) mild, but others felt that they were strong. It was a political speech, and it was successful at that: if you judge it by the standards of evaluation of speeches at Republican and Democratic conventions, you can easily say that it was a most successful speech in that he was able to delight his audience, while also pleasing the audience of March 14th Movement. That was masterful for sure. His reference to that quotation by the “old and great man” (a reference to Khomeini) was not quite accurate. That statement, or a variation of it, was first attributed to Chairman Mao and later to Algerian leader Howari Bumedyan long before the appearance of Khomeini. Hariri Inc is facing a crisis, and they will have more difficulties especially as they fall under more increased US, i.e. Israeli, pressures to press on against Hizbullah. But the meetings that US ambassador has been holding with pro-Syrian Christians (like Sulayman Franjiyyah and Elie Frizli) have been interesting if not odd. I don’t understand the game here although the pro-Syrian sources are saying that US ambassador is fed up with the Lebanese Forces and is discovering that they have no popular standing, and the autocratic style of Samir Ja`ja` has split the small movement into multiple tribes. The demonstration yesterday should disabuse US officials of any notions of Hariri Inc’s ability to run all of Lebanon on behalf of US. That notion should be discarded once and for all. Just as Maronite leaders (in 1958 and in 1982) were incapable given the sectarian structure of Lebanon to shape Lebanon on behalf of US interests, Hariri Inc will fail. Its signs of failures were marked by the foot of demonstrators yesterday. Take note. I should note that the New York Times's article by Michael Slackman was atypically fair althogh the pictures on the website did not show what the pictures of Lebanese newspapapers have shown: that there were non-veiled and non-bearded members in the large crowd.