Nov 24 Ring

Soldiers formed a barrier between supporters of Amal / Hizballah and anti-government demonstrators on the Ring Bridge [Mohamed Azakir/Reuters]

Some very concerning scenes over the past 36 hours in Lebanon. On Day 39 (Nov 24) of the uprising, we saw significant escalation by Amal / Hizballah supporters against protesters on the Ring Road (near downtown Beirut), and on Day 40 (Nov 25), we also saw significant violence by Amal supporters against protesters in Tyre (South Lebanon).

However, most concerning were the sectarian slogans that were being shouted out during and after the Ring Road battles by Hizballah / Amal supporters at the Ring, the anti-Dahieh chants heard in response to the violence on the Ring by protesters opposed to Hizballah in Ain el Remmeneh, and some dark references by Hizballah / Amal supporters the following day during Hussein Chalhoub’s vigil to another May 7 2008 (see videos below). The latter is the date of the infamous street battles between a Hizballah-led coalition of fighters and pro-Hariri/government fighters after the Lebanese government threatened to dismantle Hizballah’s telecommunications network, which Hizballah claimed was essential to its fight against Israel and which the government claimed was being used by Hizballah to spy on/target opponents; the one week battle that ensued saw the take-over of Beirut by Hizballah and its allies, the death and injuries of dozens of people and brought back fears of civil war.

Before I provide additional details, I should note that, similar to the events of October 29, some people are denying that Hizballah supporters were involved in the events on the Ring Road, and that despite Hizballah flags, chants in support of Nasrallah and so on, that these were all Amal supporters mimicking Hizballah to sow confusion. Although that may have been true on October 29, and some of the thugs who were identified then were indeed Amal supporters from Khandaq al Ghamiq, the explanation this time is starting to wear thin. If this tactic is again being used, then unless Hizballah explicitly denies their involvement in events over the past 36 hours, and explicitly distance themselves from what happened and categorically puts the blame solely on Amal, then they are complicit in these events (either tacitly if they were not involved but remain silent or explicitly if they did indeed participate).

Another note regards the supposed presence of some Lebanese Forces (LF) supporters among the protesters (a claim made by the Hizballah / Amal side). We all know the LF is trying to “ride the wave”, but it’s impossible to know the ID of every single protester. What I can say is that I didn’t hear chants in support of Geagea in the videos I saw or any evidence that there was a significant LF presence among protesters, although of course, there could have been some.

Finally, there’s this notion that protesters are “asking for it” when they swear against political leaders and block roads. Protesters have the right to peacefully block roads as a pressure tactic against the government, and the UN rapporteur clearly stated that the free flow of traffic doesn’t necessarily take precedence over freedom of assembly, including blocking roads. And frankly, if the problem really was about blocking roads preventing people from going to work as is claimed, then why did the Amal / Hizballah supporters go to Riad el Solh square to destroy the tents there? Why did Amal attack protesters in ‘Alam square in Tyre? Clearly, there were no roads being blocked in the squares. And of course, it should go without saying that swearing is no justification for physical assault.

With that as a preface, this all began on the night of Nov 24 on the Ring road/bridge, where protesters blocked the road by around 9 PM. The details of what happened after and what precipitated the pandemonium that ensued were documented in detail by Timour Azhari, a reporter for the (Hariri-owned) Daily Star, who was there the entire night and who wrote the attached dispatch for the Daily Star (which he helpfully downloaded and shared given that the article was behind a paywall):

Timour Azhari Nov 24_1

Timour Azhari Nov 24_2

Azhari also captured on video several intense scenes that transpired throughout the night between Hizballah /Amal supporters and protesters:

Nov 24 2019 (Ring Road, Beirut) – “Incredible scenes as protesters who fought back Hezbollah and Amal supporters return to a jubilant crowd. They drag a moped seized as a trophy and set in on fire in the middle of the road”

Nov 24 2019 (Ring Road, Beirut) –“Massive amounts of tear gas used on peaceful protesters”.

Below is some additional footage (not from Azhari) from the night of Nov 24 2019:

Nov 24 2019 – Amal / Hizballah supporters throw rocks at government security forces (not my video) 

Nov 24 2019 (Martyr’s Square, Beirut)- Amal / Hizballah supporters destroy tents (not my video)

Nov 24 2019 – LBC reporter with Amal / Hizballah supporters who threaten anyone who dares curse at Nasrallah (not my video)

Nov 24 2019 (Ain el Remmeneh) – Protesters march in the streets cursing Nasrallah and Dahieh.

Nov 25 2019 (Riad Al Solh Square, Beirut) – Aftermath of destruction in Riad Al Solh square (not my video)

Another development worth mentioning happened early in the morning of Nov 25, when 2 people were killed in a car accident, supposedly because of a protester road block. That turned out to be false, per video footage that clearly shows that the army, not the protesters, had set up the barrier that caused the unfortunate and tragic deaths (see videos in this post). The reason why this is relevant is because these 2 individuals (Hussein Chalhoub and his sister in law Sanaa el Jundi) were Shiite and were claimed as martyrs by Hizballah / Amal supporters, who were present at a vigil later that day in Dahieh (Beirut suburbs), and the narrative being pushed by the Hizballah / Amal side is that protesters were responsible for their deaths because of the roadblock, thus further increasing tensions (on a side note, my understanding from sources is that Hussein Chalhoub actually belonged to the Arab Socialist Action Party of George Habash at some point, and not Hizballah or Amal, but if that’s wrong, please let me know).

Nov 25 2019 (Barja) – Video of the tragic scene that took the lives of Hussein Chalhoub and Sanaa el Jundi (not my video)

Nov 25 2019 (Barja) – Clear evidence that the army erected the road blocks, not protesters (not my video)

Nov 25 2019 – Pro Amal / Hizballah vigil held for Hussein Chalhoub and Sanaa el Jundi in Dahieh. Sectarian chants and reference to infamous May 7 2008 event (not my video)

The third incident worth mentioning is the situation in Tyre South Lebanon, where protesters braved continued thuggery by the Amal movement (and Hizballah?) who encircled them and burned down tents and beat people up. The Lebanese army had to step in to protect the protesters from further abuse:

Nov 25 2019 (‘Alam Square Tyre) – “There’s no media coverage whatsoever on what’s going on in Tyre. Haraket Amal thugs attacked protestors, broke their tents, and plastered the photo of Nabih Berri in Sahat Al Alam so the Army started shooting to scare them away. PLEASE SHARE THIS. They’re even assaulting women”.

Nov 25 2019 (‘Alam square, Tyre) – Voice of woman protester saying that they are being attacked by Hizballah and Amal supporters and that the Army is protecting them (not my video)

Nov 25 2019 (‘Alam Square, Tyre) – Amal thugs burn down tents in ‘Alam square (Tyre), with the Army firing bullets in the air to disperse them (not my video)

Nov 25 2019 (‘Alam square, Tyre) – Amal thugs declare the square to be Nabih Berri’s property

This is all quite unfortunate. To make matters worse, the economic situation is deteriorating with no end in sight (for e.g., I’m now hearing of informal rates of conversion of 1 USD to 2000 LL at various money exchanges) while our oblivious and corrupt politicians are still bickering about the formation of a new government. A case of fiddling while Rome burns. I was in the process of writing a few posts to further discuss the economic situation in the country, but had to put those on hold because of events over the past couple of days. More to come on that soon, and I sincerely hope we see a calming of the situation as soon as possible.