A Review by Hassan Abbas

© UMAM D&R, 2010


As 2007 began, Lebanon was certainly not in great shape. Once the July 2006 war ended—through a “cessation of hostilities” brokered by UNSCR 1701 that remains in effect—the Lebanese discovered that they had landed in the midst of a fierce “political” struggle. As that confrontation progressed, every issue the parties involved had disagreed on during the preceding years was reintroduced. But new disagreements were added as well, which ranged from assessing the outcomes of the war—“Divine victory” or national disaster—to who should bear responsibility for the outbreak of the war, to configuring a government capable of managing the country’s postwar phase.

Aside from the war and the problems it caused for the Lebanese, the assassination of Rafik Hariri and those that followed again took center stage after the government, led at the time by Fouad Siniora, approved the UN’s draft agreement on the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) on November 13, 2006. Interestingly, all Shia members of the government (those affiliated with Hezbollah and the Amal movement), along with a Greek Orthodox minister who was allied with them, anticipated Siniora’s decision by resigning two days before. Although the resignations were refused, the actions succeeded in forcing the shift from a national unity government to a partisan body. The government’s approval of the draft agreement between Lebanon and the UN on the STL was followed several days later by an event that could be interpreted as a tit-for-tat response. Specifically, MP and Industry Minister Pierre Amin Gemayel was assassinated in broad daylight on November 21. Four days later, the government approved the final text of the UN agreement.

Soon afterward (December 1), the Hezbollah-led opposition commenced a huge sit-in that transformed a large swath of downtown Beirut—the heart of the so-called “Reconstruction” initiative that exemplified the Hariri era and since 2005, the site of Rafik Hariri’s grave—into a mini-Dahiyeh!

In a country that has never hesitated to use violence, these deep “political” disagreements were widely considered bad omens. Those premonitions soon became warnings given by observers, analysts and even politicians about the “tension,” “escalation,” “increased sectarian speech” and “the use of the street.” But beyond the words, intermittent clashes indeed spilled blood, and since the Lebanese were still busy scouring away the stains of the July War and trying to contain its innumerable repercussions, the prevailing opinion was that they were simply too exhausted to permit “war” to seduce them again. That, however, remains mere speculation…

Ultimately, the series of incidents that began on January 23, 2007 did not drive Lebanon to all-out war—a situation in which generalized fighting takes place between opposing parties and their allies. Even so, those events certainly propelled the country toward a “state” of war—a condition that warms and cools, creates its own languages and draws arbitrary, contemporary borders, all while everyone pretends that nothing untoward is happening. Specifically, the series of bloody incidents that took place on that date stemmed from the general strike called by Hezbollah and its allies (the “opposition” at the time). The rampage resumed on January 25 (known as “Black Thursday”) at the Arab University of Beirut, which is located in a Sunni neighborhood, and progressed to the abduction and murder of the two Ziads—Ziad Kabalan and Ziad Ghandour. Collectively, these events have been filed under the general heading “the events of January 23.”

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