January 28/2007

Bible Reading of the day
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Mark 4,35-41. On that day, as evening drew on, he said to them, "Let us cross to the other side."Leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat just as he was. And other boats were with him. A violent squall came up and waves were breaking over the boat, so that it was already filling up. Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion. They woke him and said to him, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" He woke up, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Quiet! Be still!" The wind ceased and there was great calm. Then he asked them, "Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?" They were filled with great awe and said to one another, "Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?"

Free Opinions
Aoun,s Last Gambit?By: Alan Hafeza, Ya Libnan 28.01.07
Enough abuse of the streets in Lebanon -By Rami G. Khouri 28.01.07
There's no place like home -By Kaelen Wilson-Goldie 28.01.07

Latest News Reports From miscellaneous sources For 28/01/07
Lebanon's Week Of Violence Seen Across The World-All Headline News
Neutrality of Lebanon's army questioned by March 14th group-Ya Libnan

Saniora Urges Moussa to Resume Mediation-Naharnet
Tufaili Lashes Out at Nasrallah, Iran-Naharnet
Fire Erupts in One of Aoun's Tents-Naharnet
Brazilian Police Arrest Lebanese Man Wanted by Interpol-Naharnet
Gen. Suleiman: Army Determined to Carry Out its Duty-Naharnet
Israeli Jets Drop Poisonous Balloons Over South Lebanon-Naharnet
Russia 'Concerned' Over 'Dangerous' Situation-Naharnet
Rice: Only Lebanese Army Should Carry Weapons-Naharnet
Lebanon Army Restores Order After Clash-Washington Post
Lebanon general says army under pressure - paper-Reuters
Flames licking at Lebanon-Boston Globe
World ignores signs of civil war in Lebanon-Independent
Israeli Jets Drop Poisonous Balloons Over South Lebanon-Naharnet
Winter of Lebanon's Discontents-Middle East Report Online
Lebanon factions clash in Beirut-San Francisco Chronicle
Israel, Syria talks a real possibility-Boston Herald
Trying to Bottle Beirut's Sectarian Rage-TIME
A message from a Lebanese citizen living abroad Nadine Kawkabani-Lebanese Lobby
US won't take Arar off watch list, despite Harper's apology-CBC News

Latest News Reports From The Daily Star For 28/01/07
Western embassies issue new travel warnings
Lebanese Army puts Taamir entrances under its control
Critically wounded fight for life on day after street clashes
Private sector warns Paris gains could be lost in street
Paris III success 'hinges on consensus'
Beirut remains on edge as curfew is lifted
Israeli warplanes intrude on Beirut airspace
Army refers files of riot participants to judiciary
Geagea to Nasrallah: 'You will not achieve your objective'

Suleiman: Army Determined to Carry Out its Duty
Army Commander Gen. Michel Suleiman was quoted Saturday as saying his troops are overstretched throughout the whole of Lebanon, but determined to carry out their duties. Suleiman, in an interview with the daily as-Safir, said "however, the army is ready to carry a bigger load, provided that officials and citizens shoulder their responsibilities in preventing" any effort to destabilize the situation. "True, the army is exhausted, but that doesn't prevent it from carrying out its duty," Suleiman added. The army was reported to have arrested two snipers who were shooting at both pro and anti-government mobs in Beirut on Thursday. Suleiman said: "What matters, for us, is not the sniper who can be just anybody. We are interested in knowing who directed the sniper to do what he did."That being the case, the army commander added, "We should not look only for who opened fire, but also for the (side) that asked him to use the weapon. We should look for the political and factional ideologies .. that directed and motivated him."Suleiman said the army is deployed throughout Lebanon around the clock and its units are carrying out assignments "beyond their capabilities."However he stressed that the regular force is "prepared to bear more" load, and urged politicians to "accelerate" efforts aimed at containing the explosive situation. Beirut, 27 Jan 07, 12:24

Neutrality of Lebanon's army questioned by March 14th group
Saturday, 27 January, 2007 -Ya Libnan
Beirut- The March 14th group has provided the courts with a list of 14 army officers to be questioned and disciplined for siding with the opposition during the conflict. Here is the list of 14 officers according to Kuwait Newspaper Alseyassah
General Francoise Hajj – Chief of Operations of Lebanese army
Major Saleh Kaise- Maghaweer Div , Lebanese army, Hezbollah ally
Major Shamil Raoukaz - Maghaweer Div, Lebanese army, Aoun ally
Major George Shreem – Navy Div. - Aoun ally
Major George Boutros- 2nd division- Aoun and Syrian ally
Major Zohair Ramadan- 2nd division- Hezbollah ally
Major Ali Harb - 2nd division- Hezbollah ally
Major Bassam el Dawood , brother of Syrian ally Faisal Dawood
Major Abdel Salam Samhat- 4th division- Amal member
Major Ali el Moula - 4th division - Hezbollah ally
Major Ziad Nasr- 4th division - Aoun ally
Major Danny Khawnad- Aoun ally
Major Cherbel Faghali – air force- Syrian ally
Major Ghassan Salem – intelligence, ally of Syria and Aoun
Former MP Fares Soaid has accused the army of attempting to assassinate him. 2 of his guards were killed in the attempt.
Army under pressure  Meanwhile , Lebanon's army commander called for efforts to end a political crisis which this week triggered violence and said his forces, which are trying to keep the peace, were under pressure, a newspaper reported on Saturday.
General Michel Suleiman told As-Safir newspaper the clashes, which killed seven and wounded close to 400, should be "an opportunity for all to revive the discourse of reason and calm."
"True the army is suffering from pressure. That does not prevent it from performing its duty,," Suleiman said.
"The army has been bearing above its load for months and is ready to bear more on condition that officials and civilians also bear their responsibilities in preventing security disturbances."The clashes this week between Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims loyal to rival factions and Christians whose leaders are also split were Lebanon's worst since its 1975-1990 civil war.
In that conflict, Lebanon's army split along sectarian lines. The war started as a conflict between Christians and Muslims and drew in Palestinians, Israel and Syria. Around 150,000 people were killed. The army imposed a curfew on Thursday night to restore order after a day of clashes in and around a Beirut university. Suleiman in December urged the army to stay neutral in the standoff between the government, which is backed by Lebanon's strongest Sunni leader, and the opposition including Shi'ite groups Hezbollah and Amal. Christian leaders including Michel Aoun back the opposition while others such as Samir Geagea support the government. Suleiman warned against sectarian divisions in the country. "There must be a political desire to search for a political solution to the crisis," he said. "Everyone should build one building on one land."
The opposition is demanding veto power in the government and early parliamentary elections to change what they call an illegitimate cabinet. The government and its allies accuse the opposition of trying to mount a coup. Mourners at the funeral on Saturday of a student killed in clashes pledged support to Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. Automatic weapons were fired into the air as the body of Mohammed Ghazi, killed on Thursday in Beirut, was carried in a procession in the Sunni village of Marj. "We say to Prime Minister Siniora ... the martyr Mohammed is with you and will remain with you," said Nadir al-Naqib, head of the youth wing of the Future movement -- an organization led by Sunni leader Saad al-Hariri.
Sheikh Sobhi Tufaili, Hezbollah's first secretary General, said Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, the group's leader, was implementing Iranian policies in Lebanon, echoing an accusation made by pro-government politicians. "Does the demand for a change in government deserve all this strife?"
Tufaili, an opponent of Nasrallah, said in a statement broadcast on the Hariri-owned Future television station. "The situation in Lebanon is in its worst state. Much worse, very much worse than in '75," he said. "God forbid, if we can't put out the fire ... its blaze will have a greater effect."
Picture: Relatives and colleagues carry the coffin of Mohammed Ghazi in Marj village, Bekaa valley, eastern Lebanon, January 27, 2007. Ghazi, a pro-government supporter, was killed during Thursday's sectarian clashes in Beirut. Sources: Alseyassah, Reuters

Lebanon's Week Of Violence Seen Across The World
January 27, 2007
Joseph S. Mayton - All Headline News Middle East Correspondent
Beirut, Lebanon (AHN) - When the Hezbollah-led National Opposition planned a general strike for last Tuesday, fears emerged that violence could erupt. Those fears were confirmed as Sunnis and Shia, Christian against Christian, clashes broke out across the country, leaving three dead and over 100 wounded. After calm seemingly returned to the country's streets, students at Beirut's Arab University clashed on Thursday in what many saw as reminiscent of the beginning of the conflict that lasted from 1975-1990 here. At least three people were killed in sectarian violence and scores more wounded. "This is how the 1975-90 conflict began in Lebanon," began Robert Fisk in his Saturday piece on the situation facing Lebanon. "Outbreaks of sectarian hatred, appeals for restraint, promises of aid from Western and Arab nations and a total refusal to understand that this is how civil wars begin," he continued. Following a Thursday night curfew in Beirut - the first in eleven years - Lebanon seems to have found a way out of the violence that continually consumes the nation. But Lebanese on all sides of the impasse are uncertain of the future and an undercurrent of fear and uncertainty pervades the small nation on Saturday. Commentators across the globe have thrown their voices into the heap of discussion. Similar to Lebanese newspapers, each commentator places blame on one side or another, Hezbollah or the government's supporters.
Talal Arslan, a senior opposition leader, called the government groups an "organized crime syndicate" that wants to turn Lebanon into another Iraq. Fisk remembers the beginning of the 1975 Civil War and reminds Lebanese that "is exactly the language of 1975."
If Lebanon is teetering on the edge of Civil War, the international community is to blame, a Boston Globe editorial said, once again hearkening back to the era immediately before the 1975 war erupted. "Now as then, other countries are stoking the fires of Lebanon's internecine conflict, among them Syria, Iran, Israel, France, and the United States. If another calamitous civil war is to be prevented, the peacemaking will have to take place in foreign capitals," the Globe editorial read on Saturday. While international journalists and pundits remind the world that Lebanon is following the same path the led the nation into a catastrophic war that cost approximately 150,000 lives and displaced hundreds of thousands of others, not all Lebanese are convinced.
"Trust me, there is not going to be a civil war in this country," Nizar Ghanem, Project Officer at the Forum for Development, Culture and Dialogue in Beirut, told All Headline News. "People in this country are very passionate about politics and confrontation is inevitable many of the time, but until there is fighting on Mt. Lebanon this country is not going to fall into a Civil War. We know better I think than to let our country head back in that direction," he added. Which way the curtain will fall on Lebanon is still up for debate, but January has done little to persuade international observers and much of Lebanon that civil war is out of the question. Sectarian clashes have showed that the outbreak of widespread violence and war is a very real possibility.

Saniora Urges Moussa to Resume Mediation
Premier Fouad Saniora, upon his return to Beirut, has asked Arab League chief Amr Moussa to resume his mediation between Lebanon's feuding parties, An Nahar reported Saturday. The daily said that Saniora, who arrived in Beirut from Paris on Friday, urged Moussa in a telephone conversation to return to Lebanon.  The prime minister has told LBCI's "Kalam al Nass" talk show that the "Arab mediation was the only one set forth for the moment" to end Lebanon's crippling political crisis. Earlier in the week, Moussa appealed for calm in Lebanon and called on all parties to halt escalation after deadly clashes between pro and anti-government supporters left at least eight people killed and more than 300 wounded. Beirut, 27 Jan 07, 09:45

Tufaili Lashes Out at Nasrallah, Iran
Hizbullah founder and ex leader Sheikh Subhi Tufaili on Saturday accused Iran of stirring trouble between Shiites and Sunnis to destroy both Iraq and Lebanon, urging Shiites to mend fences with the majority Sunni sect. Tufaili at a news conference said Shiites are "small minorities scattered in the vast sea of the Islamic world. It is in their interest to be allies for the majority and to mend fences with Sunnis." "Otherwise, we will destroy even our future… this is crazy…we'll be slaughtered like sheep even in Lebanon. This is a reality." He said Iran's spiritual leader Ali Khamenei has a dual policy. "In Iraq, he destroys Iraq under the slogan of alliance with America and in Lebanon he destroys Lebanon under the slogan that says the Sunnis are the allies of America."He stressed Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah is the person who carries out Khamenei's policy. I am an ex-secretary general for Hizbullah and I know that Sayyed Hassan is in charge of carrying Sayyed Khamenei's policy in Lebanon. Sayyed Abdul Aziz al Hakim is the person who executes Khamenei's policy in Iraq." He accused Hizbullah, of which he was fired more than eight years ago after disagreeing with the Iranian leadership, of forming its own state in Lebanon and "the resistance is its weapon." "There cannot be two states and two weapons, that of Hizbullah and that of the government. We need to unify the weapons under one command. Two states would lead to war," he said. Beirut, 27 Jan 07, 14:13

Fire Erupts in One of Aoun's Tents
Fire broke out Saturday in one of the more than 200 tents erected in downtown Beirut by anti-government protestors. Security sources told Naharnet the tent that caught fire belongs to Michel Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement. One source said the fire was "most probably caused by a stove kept in the tent." No casualties were immediately reported. He said protestors from the Hizbullah-led opposition rushed to combat the blaze and prevent it from spreading to other tents erected in downtown Beirut since Dec. 1 in an effort to topple Premier Fouad Saniora's majority government.

Brazilian Police Arrest Lebanese Man Wanted by Interpol
Brazilian police have arrested a Lebanese man wanted by Interpol and French authorities on international drug trafficking charges, officials in Sao Paulo said Friday. The 40-year-old man, whose identity was not immediately released, was detained on Wednesday at Sao Paulo's international airport while trying to enter Brazil with a fake passport, the Brazilian federal police said in a statement. In 2003, the Brazilian Supreme Court issued an arrest warrant for the Lebanese man on a request from French authorities, who accused him of belonging to a ring that smuggled drugs from South American countries to Lebanon, Syria and the Netherlands Antilles. He was convicted in France but fled and was later seen in Colombia and Chile, authorities said.
The Lebanese man was allegedly carrying nearly $4,400 worth of cash when arrested, authorities said. He was expected to be extradited back to France.(AP) Beirut, 27 Jan 07, 12:53

Israeli Jets Drop Poisonous Balloons Over South Lebanon
Israeli warplanes dropped over the southern town of Nabatiyeh Saturday balloons containing poisonous material, the National News Agency said.
It said at about 9 am Israeli fighter jets dropped around 10 balloons containing poisonous substance carrying Hebrew markings.
The balloons, which are usually fitted with small parachutes, landed in upper Nabatiyeh, according to the report which couldn't be independently verified.
The NNA said five people were hospitalized after inhaling toxic gases. It said the army's engineering unit headed to the area and destroyed the balloons by explosives. The army, in a communiqué issued Friday, warned civilians against messing with the balloons and urged them to report finding them to the closest army unit. Beirut, 27 Jan 07, 11:43

Rice: Only Lebanese Army Should Carry Weapons
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said all arms should be in the hands of the Lebanese army and slammed Hizbullah for "operating outside the government process." "All arms need to be in the hands of the Lebanese government and the Lebanese security forces, which are being reformed, which are being supported," Rice said on LBCI's "Kalam al Nass" talk show Thursday night. "No democracy can exist with militias that operate outside of the governmental process," she told Marcel Ghanem, the show's host. When asked about the issue of Hizbullah's disarmament, Rice said that U.N. Security Council Resolutions call for the party to lay down its arms.
"There is already a U.N. resolution, first 1559 and then 1701," she said. Asked if she thinks that Lebanon is at the brink of civil war, Rice said "Lebanese people do not want to have a violent confrontation. That is very clear. There are those, I think, who would like to see violence in Lebanon." Rice also said that there are outside forces that don't want to see an independent Lebanon, adding that the Lebanese want peace. "Those from the outside that don't want to see a successful Lebanon, or those from the outside who after years of intimidation of the Lebanese people, of occupation of Lebanese country -- of the Lebanese country, do not really want to see Lebanon independent and sovereign," she said. "But the Lebanese people want to live in peace. They want to live in economic prosperity." She slammed Syria for not wanting to recognize Lebanon as a sovereign country. Syria "will not even recognize Lebanon to send an ambassador to Lebanon, as you should do with any neighboring state, because Syria appears not to want to recognize the full sovereignty of Lebanon," she said.
On Thursday's Paris III donors' conference, Rice said: "The show of support today for Lebanon is a show of support for the democratic process in Lebanon, for the reform process and for the people of Lebanon." Rice told Ghanem that the Paris III conference, during which international donors pledged more than 7.6 billion dollars in aid for Lebanon, was for all of Lebanon. "I would hope that the Lebanese people understand that this conference is for all Lebanese. Prime Minister Saniora made very clear that he is here representing all of Lebanon and that the money that is pledged here will be used to help the poorest in Lebanon and also to help Lebanon's economy develop," she said. Beirut, 26 Jan 07, 10:55

Aoun's Last Gambit?
Friday, 26 January, 2007 @ 9:03 PM
By Alan Hafeza, -Ya Libnan Volunteer
Michel Aoun appears to have concluded that the only way to achieve his life-long ambition of reaching the presidency of Lebanon is through intimidation, fear tactics, and flat out terrorism.
His relevance within the opposition movement is in doubt due to the decline of his popularity amongst fellow Maronite Christians. He desperately feels he must deliver a strong show to rescue his credibility as a national Christian leader and as a relevant member of the opposition.
With Hezbollah, he has a symbiotic relationship: Hezbollah needed a credible Christian cover in its struggle to transform the Lebanese political landscape to something that suits its hidden goals. Nasrallah said in a speech last week that the battle he wages is for the future of Lebanon and its future generations. An utterly scary proposition for those who disagree with his vision.
The shenanigans on the streets of Beirut this week are not about ten or eleven government ministers... or the so-called “disruptive-third” to control the current government. It is about much more: the Persian Shi'ite Crescent, extending from Iran, through Iraq, winding through Syria opening a window on the Eastern Mediterranean through Lebanon. Nasrallah knows well that such a battle cannot be waged successfully without a Christian cover, which Aoun appeared more than willing to provide.
On the other side, Aoun needed Hezbollah to shake the status quo, which deprived him of any realistic chances of reaching his supposed manifest destiny. Although he exceeded expectations in the last parliamentary elections, he did not muster enough seats in the parliament, and could not form any alliances to enable him to win the presidency. His past
hostilities with other Christian leaders, his temperamental, antagonistic style which is described as narcissistic and at times megalomaniac, did not help either. Thus, Aoun concluded that by teaming with Hezbollah and Syria, he will force the March 14th forces to forego their own presidential candidates in his favor. He had bet that the Syrian/Hezbollah influence would ultimately win in Lebanon, giving him the keys to Baabda. But when the March 14th group didn’t budge, and his popularity plummeted from this unnatural alliance, he decided his only path is to up the stakes and force the Christians to rally behind him through brute intimidation tactics.
Hezbollah needed Aoun, and Aoun needed Hezbollah. They get a Christian voice, and he gets the force of coercion and intimidation Hezbollah provides. It is interesting to note that Hezbollah has had little or no common doctrine with the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), which Aoun leads.
The FPM was seemingly pro-independence, anti-Syrian, anti-corruption, and pro-reforms, while Hezbollah is a religious party that even grudgingly acknowledges the concept of Lebanon. An extreme party, whose leader has apparently stated in the 80’s that the Shiaa should live in Jbeil, Kiserwan and other Christian areas since they were there first. Hezbollah is the spearhead of the Iranian struggle with the United States, and the front of the Persian crescent in Lebanon.
Yet, Aoun and Hezbollah collaborated in an effort to oust the government, a goal that may not be the ultimate objective of either of them, but is certainly a stepping stone for their diverse aspirations. However, for Aoun, there is a major problem in this alliance: the ultimate goals of the FPM and Hezbollah are mutually exclusive. The historical goals of the FPM are diametrically opposite from Hezbollah’s. Even the most diehard fervent FPM supporters have a difficult time explaining this partnership. All of the sudden, Aoun is a Syrian friend, he’s been proposed for presidency by Emile Lahoud, the extended pro-Syrian president. Disillusioned, FPM members left the party in droves.
Hezbollah isn’t particularly enamored with Aoun. He has always been unpredictable and perhaps unstable. With Aoun’s popularity waning, Hezbollah does not feel obliged to treat him as an equal partner, certainly not on strategic matters.
Aoun is left with the predicament of not having a strong base, not delivering what he promised his benefactor. He has no substantial command over the Christian street, and certainly not to the degree Samir Geagea, Amin Gemayel, and other March 14th leaders do. He knows that if left to their own devices, the Christians in Lebanon do not support his calls for a strike, which was glaringly clear during the day of “divine vandalism” Lebanon experienced this week. Aoun (and Hezbollah) cannot win by democratic means. They just don’t have the numbers.
Aoun (and Hezbollah) cannot win by violence, even if they succeed in closing roads, preventing people from reaching their workplaces. The March 14th forces view this struggle as pivotal in the history of Lebanon and are steadfast.
There are two alternatives left to Aoun: Put Lebanon first, giving up on his dream for presidency and stop supporting Hezbollah; or, escalate even more, creating more violence and more bloodshed risking civil war.Aoun has already justified bloodshed in his own mind as a “necessary surgery” for the benefit of Lebanon. Aoun’s history, I’m afraid, is not reassuring!

Enough abuse of the streets in Lebanon
By Rami G. Khouri -Daily Star staff
Saturday, January 27, 2007
Just as it was half a century ago, Lebanon is once again a pioneer and pace-setter in the Arab world, though this time the direction of movement may be toward destruction and incomprehensible violence. For years Beirut and Lebanon were known as the Paris and Switzerland of the Middle East, reflecting their freewheeling leisure activities, liberal culture, human talent in banking, education and engineering, and their open, welcoming capital that accommodated exiled politicians from all parts of a very ideo logical Middle East.
This week, those who rule Lebanon and Beirut seem to be saying that they are also capable of being the Afghanistan and Mogadishu of the Middle East, characterized by inter-communal warfare and collapse of law and order, brought on by the irresponsibility that all sides have practiced in bringing the country to the brink of inter-communal clashes.
The street clashes in Beirut and other parts of Lebanon last Tuesday, and again on Thursday, have left over half a dozen people dead and several hundred wounded. Events Thursday led to a night curfew in Beirut, and heightened fears that the situation could turn into full-fledged sectarian warfare. This occurred, paradoxically or deliberately, during the week that many countries in the world met at the Paris III gathering and pledged over $7 billion to assist Lebanon in its economic recovery program.
The tragedy of the current clashes among angry politicized youths and spontaneous neighborhood and sectarian gangs is that neither side is totally right or wrong. The opposition led by Hizbullah and the Free Patriotic Movement has already been widely blamed for escalating tensions to their current dangerous level, and is more likely than the pro-government side to lose politically if things persist in the current direction of tension and clashes.
Hizbullah has already elicited criticism by many Lebanese that it recklessly triggered the war against Israel in July 2006 that destroyed much in Lebanon and set back the country's economy for many years. The party is now widely accused of pushing its legitimate demands beyond reasonable limits, and acting more like a tyrant on a rampage than a respected and powerful opposition that operates through the existing political and constitutional system.
Hizbullah and its smaller partners in the opposition are correct to point out that the ruling political elite that has dominated Lebanon for the past two decades has irresponsibly raised the national debt to some $41 billion, and is taking on more debt through the Paris III mechanism. They are correct to demand more integrity, efficiency and rationality in state policies, less corruption and nepotism, and a more effective defense system. They also raise some reasonable concerns about aspects of the tribunal being established to try those who will be accused of killing the late prime minister, Rafik Hariri.
These are relevant issues that require serious debate and resolution, which Hizbullah and its junior partners should have forced through the political structures that exist, such as Parliament, the Cabinet, the judicial system or the several national dialogue sessions. Instead, they detracted from the validity of many of their grievances and concerns by pushing their street protests to the point of widespread disruption of life and a weakening of the economy. Their tactics, and the response they triggered from pro-government groups, stoked the flames of sectarianism, unleashing haphhazard groups of young men with guns and sticks roaming the streets of Beirut looking to fight or to destroy cars and property.
There is nothing special about Lebanon's current predicament in terms of the wider Arab world. It is just another Arab state that has suffered the tensions inherent in a situation where the central government and institutions of statehood are weak and inefficient, and most citizens turn instead to their religious, tribal or ethnic identities. The problem is compounded by support from external forces - Iran and Syria behind Hizbullah, and the United States and France behind the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and the parliamentary majority - which creates deep suspicions among the Lebanese themselves. Lebanon's strong external support, as demonstrated in the Paris III pledges, should be a blessing for the country.
The structural reforms in state finances that will be enacted as part of this process should also benefit all Lebanese. There is a chance this will not happen now, which could plunge the country into years of low-intensity conflict and simmering tensions - well below the level of the 1975-1990 civil war, but enough to keep Lebanon mired in perpetual mediocrity and stagnation.
The stakes are very high, and very clear. Lebanon is at an ominous moment of reckoning, and sadly its fate might be determined by the vagaries of gangs of angry and fearful young men with sticks and guns. The modern Arab state is tested once again, and is not doing very well.
***Rami G. Khouri writes a regular commentary for THE DAILY STAR.

There's no place like home
Samir el-Youssef's 'The Illusion of Return' portrays the combustible violence of young men, cheap slogans and careless threats
By Kaelen Wilson-Goldie
Daily Star staff
Saturday, January 27, 2007
BEIRUT: Listless young men with too much time on their hands, too few meaningful employment opportunities and virtually no adequate outlets for their aggression find themselves blindsided by street violence fueled on empty rhetoric. It may sound like day-old news, when a sticks-and-stones scuffle at the Arab University spilled out into Beirut, upped its weaponry and threatened to press the play button on a rerun of Lebanon's Civil War. But it actually stems from an episode in Samir el-Youssef's novel, "The Illusion of Return," published this month by Halban. The seamlessness with which the main action of Youssef's narrative, set in the early 1980s, can be stitched into today is fitting for a book that ponders the tricky relationship between past and present.
A Palestinian of mixed Sunni and Shiite background, Youssef was born in Lebanon in 1965 and grew up in the Rashidiyyeh refugee camp outside of Tyre. He and his family left Rashidiyyeh when he was 10, first moving to a village in South Lebanon and then to the city of Sidon. In 1989, Youssef left Lebanon altogether, first for Cyprus and then for England, where he has lived ever since. If his fiction carries even a hint of autobiography, then he is unlikely to return to Lebanon anytime soon. That would be one part of the "illusion" in the title. The other, of course, would be Palestine.
Youssef has to his credit two short-story collections - "Domestic Affairs" and "Afternoon of Silence" - and one novel - "Pentonville Road." All were written in Arabic and published by the Arab Institue for Studies and Research in Beirut. "The Illusion of Return" is his first novel in English. In 2004, Youssef and bestselling Israeli writer and filmmaker Etgar Keret collaborated on a joint collection of short fiction entitled "Gaza Blues." A year later, Youssef landed the Swedish PEN Tucholsky Award for promoting peace and free speech in the Middle East.
A daring book by the standards of Arab intellectual life that adhere - often blindly and dumbly - to a policy of no cultural traffic with Israel, "Gaza Blues" doesn't bank on scandal but rather charges page after page with outrageously dark humor and damning cyni-
cism. It consists of 15 speedy short stories by Keret and one more meandering novella by Youssef, called "The Day the Beast Got Thirsty."
With the publication of "The Illusion of Return," Youssef's piece in "Gaza Blues" now reads like a practice run for the novel. While usually the reverse is true, Youssef may, in the end, be better suited to the short story form.
Bracketed by a "Prologue from the Present" and an "Epilogue from the Present" with the novel itself spanning a section called "The Past" in between, "The Illusion of Return" opens with a never-named, first-person narrator preparing to pass the 15-year mark since his departure from Lebanon. Two weeks before the date, however, he gets sideswiped by a telephone call from his old friend Ali, who left two years before he did and whom he hasn't seen or heard from since. Not only is Ali calling, he is imminently arriving - landing in London en route to Lebanon. He wants to catch up with his old friend during his layover at Heathrow Airport.
Such a blast from the past unsettles the narrator, throws off his anniversary plans and opens up a dimension - memory - he'd rather not enter. But he does, and so "The Illusion of Return" unfolds largely by way of flashback.
Rewind just a few years at first - the narrator is pursuing his doctoral degree in London and writing his dissertation of how the Palestinians' right of return is, in practical terms, impossible and should be swapped for symbolic value. Anyway, after so many years, the Palestinians' refugee status has in many cases shifted from that of an underclass to that of a middle class. When a group of campus Palestinian activists learn of his intent to write on such topics, they try to suss out his views in person. Unsatisfied with his explanations, they jump him one night and give him a more persuasive beat-down. The narrator, who admits he never finishes anything, eventually gives up on his doctorate degree. Perhaps, one suspects, he will one day complete that dissertation as a novel instead.
Now for the main event - the proper past and the last time the narrator, Ali and their friends Maher and George were all together. It is evening and the four young men are sitting around the Ramadan Cafe. George is spouting Heidegger and Maher is spouting Marx. Ali and the narrator have popped enough pills to find their blather infinitely amusing. For added comedy, the cafe owner periodically shouts "No politics!" in their direction.
Before the night is done, however, Maher is dead and Ali's brother Sameh is missing, snatched for no other reason than being a shy kid who happens to prefer men over women. Sameh's abduction ends with a bullet in his back and kicks Ali onto a course of enforced Israeli collaboration, furtive passage to Tel Aviv and a final flight to the United States from Ben Gurion Airport.
As the narrator watches the train wrecks that beset his friends, he can't quite focus. In general, he never has anything to say or do, but on this particular night, he is distracted even more by the sudden, busting memory of his sister Amina, who died 10 years earlier. As such, the reader tunnels back ever further into the past. Amina killed herself with a single shot to the head, but as far as the narrator's family, friends and neighbors are concerned, she died for the resistance and for the cause, her face plastered all over the camp where they were living on posters praising her martyrdom. When the narrator meets Ali at the airport so many years later, he decides to rip the lid off this long buried lie.
At 154 pages, "The Illusion of Return" is like late Milan Kundera - thin on plot but heavy on talk. The narrator relates the aforementioned action through the filter of his own recollection. In the real time of the novel, however, he simply goes to the airport and returns home by tube. No details of character, place or time thicken the prose, and the novel, as a result, doesn't read smoothly. Youssef gives Heathrow a "hustle and bustle," for example, but offers no further elaboration. More cloyingly, Ali's character only punctuates the talkie bits of the book with throwaway exclama-tions: "He was weird, man!"
Youssef contributes regularly to such publications as Al-Hayat, The Guardian, The Jewish Quarterly and New Statesman. He has written extensively on Palestinian novelist Ghassan Kanafani and Israeli writer Amos Oz. He is controversial not only for his support of normalization but also for his dismissal of the red lines demarcating the discourse about Palestinian nationalism.
In a recent interview with The Independent, which hailed him as "a trouncer of taboos," he asks, on point: "Why are we still refugees in Lebanon? What kind of country leaves people as refugees for 60 years, even people who were born there?" Those who are still agitating for the Palestinians' right of return, he adds: "Don't give a toss about the refugees, whether Palestinians live or die, they just want to continue the war with Israel."
What Youssef does best in his fiction and nonfiction is to illustrate the extent to which barren ideology and dated political rhetoric has corrupted the Palestinian cause and hardened it into a dogma that is ultimately used against the very people who pledge loyalty to it. "The Illusion of Return" - not in its quasi-philosophical observations or its distracted, nearly lame narration but in its anecdotes about Amina and Sameh and its digression about Maher's attempts to put Marxist theory to work in a small factory - goes further to expose how the bankruptcy of those old ideas actually engenders new surges of violence.
When Maher tries to convince the men at the factory that they are being exploited, one of the workers utterly fails to understand what he's talking about but grasps that he has a right to be angry. He blows up the factory, and the owner's son returns from who knows where to kill Maher for bringing ruin on his father. As a short story, it works brilliantly. As an episode in a not entirely coherent novel, it gets lost. But either way, it proves how cheap slogans and careless threats lead to bad news on the streets, both past and present.
**Samir el-Youssef's "The Illusion of Return," published this month by Halban Publishers, is out in Beirut