Throughout my life, I have heard Lebanon referred to as a "Mafia State," "Banana Republic" and many other unflattering terms inferring that no central government power has the ability to control the fate of this country. These conjectures have recently been confirmed by the wild rampage of rhetoric, "protests," and specifically, the futile daily burning of tires.
Ahmad Al-Assir added fuel to the fire this past Friday and has not since quit. The radical Salafi leader decided to distract the Lebanese away from the real issues they face on a daily basis over a toy that was not even produced in Lebanon, and which allegedly has been on shelves all around the Middle East. The toy gun that has become the focus of his rampage gave Al-Assir an opportunity to gain his 15 minutes of fame on the Lebanese stage.
The gun apparently makes a noise when the trigger is pulled. While many confirm that it says a phrase in English, some are convinced it shouts anti-Sunni slurs in the background. According to many reports, there have been similar controversies over the same toy in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Yemen.
Nonetheless, Al-Assir decided to use this toy to create another political and sectarian issue in Lebanon. Forget the fact that the Lebanese are living in the year 2012 without regular electricity, water and stability. No, for Mr. Al-Assir, the issue in Lebanon is a toy, that, he presumes, voices anti-Sunni slander in the background.
Not only is he so sure about the contents of this toy, but he immediately concludes that the Shi'a leadership in Lebanon are directly responsible. So how does Al-Assir address this alleged slander? With more slander. Al-Assir threatened Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah and Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri, both universally known as the primary Shi'a leaders in Lebanon. The amusing aspect of Al-Assir’s threats is that he implies his threats are peaceful. It is hard to imagine how telling somebody you will not allow them to sleep at night, in any way, communicates peace.
Al-Assir not only threatened the Shi'a leadership in Lebanon, but he threatened the second highest-ranking Lebanese government official in Speaker Berri. In a civilized country, such a direct threat on a country’s leader would, without a doubt, result in his arrest and questioning by the nation’s security forces. However, after the arrest and subsequent release of a Sunni cleric in Tripoli, the Lebanese government now lacks the legitimacy and capability of making any such arrest. This is because if they were to arrest Al-Assir, Sidon would be the new Tripoli. Unfortunately, the Lebanese government’s weakness was exposed in Tripoli when, in response to demonstrations, they unilaterally released a small group leader suspected of supporting a terror network. Thus, they can no longer provide a sufficient and secure solution if there were a new outbreak in Sidon.
Al-Assir created new strife in Lebanon while at the very same time claiming to preach against it. This hypocrisy would continue as he called for "peaceful" sit-in demonstrations in Sidon. His aim is to address the issue of non-state (a.k.a. the Resistance’s) weapons. Claiming that these weapons (which have existed for several years and are legitimized by the Taef Accords and previous governments' declared policies) are the source of instability in Lebanon opened a new can of worms, causing the same threat of instability we witnessed in the northern region a month ago. In an attempt to prevent the same thing from happening in Sidon as happened in Tripoli, other Sunni clerics have visited strongly urging Al-Assir to halt his demonstrations for the sake of stability in Lebanon.
Nonetheless, Al- Assir continues his provocative protests. Specifically, he announced that if his protests were met with violence, he would respond in the same way. Wait, isn’t he protesting non-state arms? If he were "met with violence," how would he respond in the same way without having non-state arms himself?
Such threats have been the logic used by many seeking to oppose the Resistance. They claim the Resistance’s weapons are destabilizing Lebanon, yet those who oppose the Resistance appear to hold "non-state" weapons themselves when they threaten to meet violence with violence. Such hypocrisy is amusing in that critics of the Resistance propose to defend themselves against a fabricated threat. Moreover, they appear to willfully hold weapons to agitate for civil conflict. On the other hand, the weapons they protest against are being used for national security. Specifically, to defend Lebanon from the threat that still exists on the Southern border. This is the exact purpose for the Resistance’s weapons as stipulated in the Taef Agreement.
The point is Al-Assir and others like him look for any opening to enter the Lebanese political arena. They crave the attention of having followers who chant their name and raise their pictures. Al-Assir found his opening with a silly toy. He fabricated a polarizing controversy in Lebanon that is unfounded and irrelevant to the daily challenges faced by the Lebanese. For his own selfish, power-hungry purposes he pushed Lebanon further toward the brink of civil strife. Once again, the government is forced to spend hours, days, and weeks addressing a non-situation. While they sit in their palaces arguing about these silly antics, their constituents continue to live without electricity, water, stability or even dignity. Pity the nation.
-The writer is a local graduate student and resident.