Lebanon: Tripoli shoots itself in the foot

3rd Dec 2013

By Mohamed Nazzal

Since the August bombings of two mosques in the North Lebanon city of Tripoli, 33 residents of the city’s largely Alawi Jabal Mohsen neighborhood have been shot in the legs. Crowds have cheered on such acts of violence against innocents, prompting many Jabal residents to avoid leaving their neighborhood at all.

A few months ago, after a round of fighting in Tripoli, a man known as Ali al-Brazili – Brazilian Ali – sat in al-Akhras, a popular coffeehouse in the Jabal Mohsen district of the North Lebanon city of Tripoli. At the coffeehouse, which is frequented by those whom the regular bouts of violence in the area has rendered unemployed, the 65-year-old man mocked those who were asking him to be cautious when moving about the town. He told them, “They wouldn’t do anything to me. I’m an old man. Also, what I have done to deserve being beaten? Nothing.”

Some time later, an army unit arrived at the scene and took Ali to al-Saydeh Hospital in Zgharta. Why Zgharta? Because, as we were told, Tripoli’s hospitals cannot guarantee that Ali would not be killed inside. It has happened before.

The following day, civil servants at the Municipality of Tripoli received word that individuals were tracking government employees from Jabal Mohsen and planning an assault. Though they are government employees, they knew nothing could protect them, so they took an official municipal vehicle and decided to head out along a safer route.

Suddenly, an improvised checkpoint appeared, known in Tripoli as al-Taqwa checkpoints, after the bombed Taqwa mosque. Militants who hate the people of Jabal Mohsen for the sole reason that they are from Jabal Mohsen forced the civil servants – named Haidar Souto, Mohammed Saleh, Said Eis, and Wissam Fares – out of the car.

Wissam Fares managed to escape despite the bullets that chased him. The remaining three were insulted and severely beaten amid a cheering crowd. The humiliation then culminated when the three men were shot in the legs, specifically under the kneecaps, similar to previous incidents.

Since the two August bombings in Tripoli that targeted the Salam and Taqwa mosques, 33 people from Jabal Mohsen have been shot in the legs. One attacker doused Haidar Souto with gasoline, threatening to set him on fire, though failed to do so after the crowd asked him not to. He just smashed his bones instead. Then the army arrived at the scene, taking the victims to the hospital in Zgharta after the crowd dispersed.

Al-Akhbar obtained these accounts straight from the victims. Two days before that attack, Rifaat Mahfouz, also of Jabal Mohsen, had his legs crushed. Mahfouz worked for the company operating the parking meters on Tripoli’s al-Miatayn Street.

Over the past few weeks, residents of Jabal Mohsen have been subject to daily attacks. The infamous bus incident in November was not the first of its kind, but that day, video footage of the assault went viral, much to the embarrassment of the assailants. Yet what hasn’t been caught on video is beyond description, as the employees of al-Saydeh Hospital know too well.

Expel the Alawis or Else

One factory owner sacked 25 workers from Jabal Mohsen, not on political or sectarian grounds, but because he didn’t want the factory to close down. He said, “The employees from the Jabal can no longer come to work daily because they are afraid to leave the Jabal.”

Officials in the Jabal also say that that threats were made to businesses in Tripoli: If they don’t expel the Alawis they employ, their businesses will be burned down.

Blood, a Price for “Achievements”

Rifaat Eid, political bureau chief of the Arab Democratic Party, does not need to explain to anyone his political affiliations. He is part of an axis that extends from Lebanon to Syria, then Iran.

Speaking to Al-Akhbar, he said, “This axis has recently made many achievements. It seems that everyone accepts these days for Jabal Mohsen to be an arena for letting off steam by the other side. This is a painful and cruel equation: that we have to serve our project, cause, and convictions at the expense of our blood.”

Eid continued, “I know that the matter needs the patience of camels, but we are not always able to make our people in the Jabal understand that patience is the best course of action. Some of my people curse me in the streets of the Jabal. I understand them. I burn like them, and I expect more sacrifices that we may hear of at any moment. We tried the rounds of violence, but we didn’t get anywhere. Everyone is reticent about what might happen to us, even the allies sometimes. I don’t understand the reason for their silence.”

It is clear that the Lebanese government has excluded Jabal Mohsen from all consideration. This may be comprehensible politically, but, as Eid said, “Do they know that a social explosion might erupt at any moment in Jabal Mohsen? If that happens, then let everyone excuse me for not being able to rein in the street. You can ask al-Saydeh Hospital in Zgharta how much my account there is worth.”

Eid is not exaggerating. On the evening of Thursday, November 28, many residents of Jabal Mohsen issued calls on social media sites to take to the street “and do everything that the other side is doing to us.” Officials in the district spared no effort to calm them down, but they did not succeed as clashes erupted again over the weekend.

What is happening in Jabal Mohsen is no longer a blockade, in the usual sense. We are facing something that resembles a ”quiet ethnic cleansing.” The perpetrators call themselves “Awliaa al-Dam” – Arabic for “Proprietors of Blood” – allegedly the relatives of the victims of the Tripoli bombings.

But assuming that Alawis were involved in the bombings, does this make every Alawi a legitimate target for this armed mob? This is the most frequently asked question in Jabal Mohsen. Meanwhile, the blood flowing on the streets of Tripoli do not just stain the militants’ hands but also the consciences of every politician or leader engaged in incitement … or silence.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.



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