Q&A with a Beirut blogger

Jeha was suspicious. So very suspicious. In Lebanon, speaking with an Israeli can be the kiss of death. Why should he trust me? Most Lebanese I tried to reach refused any contact with an Israeli. Jeha wouldn't risk being overheard talking with me on the phone, but the outspoken blogger from Beirut did agree to an on-line chat. There, the "rabidly secular" engineer - Jeha is his cyberspace nom de plume - opened up. Of all the armed groups in Lebanon, what makes Fatah al-Islam so unpopular? Most Lebanese are appalled that the terrorists attacked the army, and the cowardly way in which they ambushed soldiers. Most are really tired of being the cesspool of the Middle East and of having Syria dump its garbage on us. The clincher, though, [regarding Fatah al-Islam] was the soldiers' assassinations. The fact that they struck first against troops on leave is interpreted by most as betrayal. Few would admit this to Israelis, but such betrayal is considered a deadly sin in Lebanon. How has this issue affected the political crisis? I think it has exacerbated it, by driving a wedge between [Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan] Nasrallah and [his ally Christian leader Michel] Aoun. And I think Nasrallah miscalculated again [by opposing a military incursion into the camp]. But Hizbullah may have an ulterior motive here; once the taboo about Palestinian weapons is broken, what's to keep the government from addressing Hizbullah's weapons? There is a strong element of self-preservation here. In any case, if the army does not capture or kill those bastards [Fatah al-Islam], we're in for far more trouble. Herein lies another problem, though: How do we define victory? How do we know we got them all, if they surrendered or got killed? We have no commissions like you guys have, and many questions will remain unanswered. You're referring to Israel's commission of inquiry into last summer's war? I think skepticism is an advantage Jews have. In Lebanon, the Christians are less "questioning," and the Muslims are too respectful of religious texts. In any case, here you cannot question Nasrallah or "God's victory." He painted it in terms of religion, but that only invited many other communities to question his holiness. And many Shi'ites are concerned about the path he is leading Lebanon down. So not only Christians are wary of Nasrallah? It is far more than mere wariness. There is an element of outright hatred, since he chose allegiance to Syria. Sunnis are really angry at this, and he underestimates the anger. To most Sunnis, Nasrallah has projected a very dark image over time... There was already this rivalry, but now, it has taken on a sinister aspect. What have the anti-Syria (and anti-Hizbullah) demonstrations in Beirut been like? Well, I've been to all of them, and they were the greatest fun I've had, ever. We really felt like a nation back then, all the while knowing that this could not last for ever... most of us had no illusions, but we liked the "high." And heck... it felt good to be alive. There was plenty of good humor, too. Aside from everyone shouting "We all want Syria out!" we also had a lot of signs saying things like "No swimming," in a dig to [Lebanese President Emile] Lahoud's hobby... we also made fun of [pro-Syrian leaders'] speech impediments. Increasingly, people are mocking Nasrallah as well. It started out "nice," but it has gotten uglier. [Satires can be found on youtube.] It seems, though, that much of the momentum from the Cedar Revolution has been lost. Where do you see that movement headed, and how has the fighting in Nahr el-Bared affected it? Let me put it this way: We had a 15-year civil war. We had warlords who took over the reins of power and a political class which is beyond contempt. Syrians (and Israelis, to some extent) have tried to gobble us up, but they could not digest us. It took us another 15 years or so to get out, from the other side of the digestive tract, and it is no wonder that we do not smell like roses! - S.S.