Saturday, September 29, 2007
Robert Fisk: Dinner in Beirut, and a lesson in courage
Secrecy, an intellectual said, is a powerful aphrodisiac. Secrecy is exciting. Danger is darker, more sinister. It blows like a fog through the streets of Beirut these days, creeping down the laneways where policemen – who may or may not work for the forces of law and order – shout their instructions through loud-hailers.
No parking. Is anyone fooled? When the Lebanese MP Antoine Ghanem was assassinated last week, the cops couldn't – or wouldn't – secure the crime scene. Why not? And so last Wednesday, the fog came creeping through the iron gateway of Druze leader Walid Jumblatt's town house in Beirut where he and a few brave MPs had gathered for dinner before parliament's useless vote on the presidential elections – now delayed until 23 October. There was much talk of majorities and quorums; 50 plus one appears to be the constitutional rule here, although the supporters of Syria would dispute that. I have to admit I still meet Lebanese MPs who don't understand their own parliamentary system; I suspect it needs several PhDs to get it right.
The food, as always, was impeccable. And why should those who face death by explosives or gunfire every day not eat well? Not for nothing has Nora Jumblatt been called the world's best hostess. I sat close to the Jumblatts while their guests – Ghazi Aridi, the minister of information, Marwan Hamade, minister of communications, and Tripoli MP Mosbah Al-Ahdab and a Beirut judge – joked and talked and showed insouciance for the fog of danger that shrouds their lives.
In 2004, "they" almost got Hamade at his home near my apartment. Altogether, 46 of Lebanon's MPs are now hiding in the Phoenicia Hotel, three to a suite. Jumblatt had heard rumours of another murder the day before Ghanem was blown apart. Who is next? That is the question we all ask. "They" – the Syrians or their agents or gunmen working for mysterious governments – are out there, planning the next murder to cut Fouad Siniora's tiny majority down. "There will be another two dead in the next three weeks," Jumblatt said. And the dinner guests all looked at each other.
"We have all made our wills," Nora said quietly. Even you, Nora? She didn't think she was a target. "But I may be with Walid." And I looked at these educated, brave men – their policies not always wise, perhaps, but their courage unmistakable – and pondered how little we Westerners now care for the life of Lebanon.
There is no longer a sense of shock when MPs die in Beirut. I don't even feel the shock. A young Lebanese couple asked me at week's end how Lebanon has affected me after 31 years, and I said that when I saw Ghanem's corpse last week, I felt nothing. That is what Lebanon has done to me. That is what it has done to all the Lebanese.
Scarcely 1,000 Druze could be rounded up for Ghanem's funeral. And even now there is no security. My driver Abed was blithely permitted to park only 100 metres from Jumblatt's house without a single policeman checking the boot of his car. What if he worked for someone more dangerous than The Independent's correspondent? And who were all those cops outside working for?
Yet at this little dinner party in Beirut, I could not help thinking of all our smug statesmen, the Browns and the Straws and the Sarkozys and the imperious Kouchners and Merkels and their equally smug belief that they are fighting a "war on terror" – do we still believe that, by the way? – and reflect that here in Beirut there are intellectual men and women who could run away to London or Paris if they chose, but prefer to stick it out, waiting to die for their democracy in a country smaller than Yorkshire. I don't think our Western statesmen are of this calibre.
Well, we talked about death and not long before midnight a man in a pony tail and an elegant woman in black (a suitable colour for our conversation) arrived with an advertisement hoarding that could be used in the next day's parliament sitting. Rafiq Hariri was at the top. And there was journalist Jibran Tueni and MP Pierre Gemayel and Hariri's colleague Basil Fleihan, and Ghanem of course. All stone dead because they believed in Lebanon.
What do you have to be to be famous in Lebanon, I asked Jumblatt, and he burst into laughter. Ghoulish humour is in fashion. And at one point Jumblatt fetched Curzio Malaparte's hideous, brilliant account of the Second World War on the eastern front – Kaputt – and presented it to me with his personal inscription. "To Robert Fisk," he wrote. "I hope I will not surrender, but this book is horribly cruel and somehow beautiful. W Joumblatt [sic]." And I wondered how cruelty and beauty can come together.
Maybe we should make a movie about these men and women. Alastair Sim would have to play the professorial Aridi, Clark Gable the MP Al-Ahdab. (We all agreed that Gable would get the part.) I thought that perhaps Herbert Lom might play Hamade. (I imagine he is already Googling for Lom's name.) Nora? She'd have to be played by Vivien Leigh or – nowadays – Demi Moore. And who would play Walid Jumblatt? Well, Walid Jumblatt, of course.
But remember these Lebanese names. And think of them when the next explosion tears across this dangerous city.
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
However, several observations can be made of today’s parliament session to elect a new president of the republic. First, the two third quorum was obviously not reached (only 76 MPs entered the parliament hall, while the quorum is 86) but the 14 march coalition was fully present and showed strong cohesion, but the real test will come in the last few days, if the 14 March coalition decided to elect a president by only an absolute majority (65 MPs).
Second, the crisis was postponed but not averted. And if the current internal and regional situation remain the same, an agreement will not be reached, and in the last days of the constitutional time frame, the 14 march coalition will elect a president with only a simple majority. However, the opposition will not accept him and probably form a parallel government and maybe another president. In short a division of the country…
Finally, until the next session (a month from now) let us fervently hope that no MPs will be assassinated, though I have a gut feeling that our wishes and hope will not come true…
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Of course he is one of 14 March, part of Amine Gemayel’s bloc, who are at the opposit side of Aoun.
Antoine Ghanem was recently called a “kitty” by the glorious General Aoun. I wonder now who is the “kitty”? The brave men and women of the independence movement, threatened by death and assassination on every corner or those who are in league with the assassins, peacefully hiding...
Monday, September 10, 2007
And i will leave you with a new edict (see here for my last one, that is still valid):
Aoun will not become our new president!
And to keep you busy until i come back, here is a couple of old articles you might find interesting: my first impressions after Hezbollah kidnapped the two Israeli soldiers on 12 July 2006, and the rest of my coverage of the war.
You can also read my comments on the 2005 election. And finally my series of articles after the assassination of PM Rafik Hariri.
Enjoy and see you in a week...
Thursday, September 06, 2007
I usually do not believe in conspiracy theories, but this is way too much to be just a coincidence. I think that Lebanon’s short and medium term future is being decided at the moment in Rome. To be more precise, I think the meeting will be about choosing a new president and giving Aoun a last chance to make a public turnabout…
And if you want to know if this round of “secret talks” have succeeded, just watch Joumblatt tonight on LBC…Call me a pessimist but I think it will fail…
Sunday, September 02, 2007
For the first time since the infamous 1970 Cairo accord (in which the Lebanese state gave the PLO sovereignty of all refugee camps) the Lebanese state controls, once more, one of the Palestinian camps. Hopefully the rest of camps will follow soon, with less blood shed.
So again Mabrouk and may the state spread its lawful control over all its territory!