Dr. Hedieh Mirahmadi, JD
The New York Sun, March 24, 2005
The Lebanese need to learn to speak to each other rather than shouting or causing physical harm. After years of civil war, they do not have the communication skills vital to a free society. As the rallies come to a close and the crowds disperse, one can sense a frightening tension in the air. The past two nights in the south of Beirut, there was repeated gunfire. The first time, the sound was explained by some locals as “firecrackers” but no official explanation was given and it was not reported in the local news. The second time, Beirut Arab University was hosting a member of Parliament from the oppositionists.During his speech, protesters started shouting and attacking him. In response, the security detail fired their weapons into the air to deter the crowd from proceeding to the podium. On the other side of town, there was also another car bomb in the Al-Kaslik area of northern Beirut.
Today at about noon, again at Beirut Arab University, a violent confrontation broke out between Lahoud party supporters and opposition students when one of the former took a knife and cut the ear of an oppositionist. The military did not intervene because of a local ordinance that does not allow them to enter university campuses unless requested by the university administration.
The dean is on leave in Mecca so the lower staff told the military to take over. The school and streets surrounding the area are now blocked and the oppositionists were told by the Hariri supporters to leave the campus and avoid further bloodshed. In light of the recent gunfire, another bombing in the Christian district, and rising tensions between the Shiite population and the cross-confessional alliance of Sunni Muslims and Christians, people are increasingly worried about a full-scale outbreak of violence between parties, regardless of who is blamed for instigating it.
The crowds that gathered over the past several weeks in Martyr’s Square have dissipated significantly, and what largely remains is a social gathering for young people. Local activists worry about maintaining the pressure on Syria because both oppositionists and community leaders are at a loss for figuring out “next steps.” There are virtually no grassroots institutions here that could effectively shape the political message, encourage public-speaking engagements about democracy, and conduct interviews for the local and international press on the current political climate.
One activist who runs a “communication skills” workshop explained, “The Lebanese need to learn to speak to each other rather than shouting or causing physical harm. After so many years of civil war, they do not have the communication skills which are vital to a free society.”
As for what the international community can do, the Lebanese desperately need international nongovernmental organizations like the International Republic Institute, the U.S. Institute of Peace, and others to quickly set up operations before the violence escalates and opportunities for intervention decrease. An international peace-keeping force may also be necessary if the violence continues. Either way, it is clear this is a country in transition–one hopes that does not mean a return to sectarian war.