Let's not forget Lebanon

Two essential pieces on Lebanon appeared in the last few weeks. The first, a review piece by Max Rodenbeck in the NYRB, looks at the last two-three years and draws a convincing portrait of what happened. Considering how confusing Lebanon's politics are, that's quite a feat. Plus Max gets the way I react to Lebanese food (esp. when consumed with copious amounts of arak, as it must be) exactly right:

Yet it is true that while Lebanon whets appetites with its gorgeous landscapes, clement weather, energetic people, and wonderful food, trying to consume too much of it tends to bring on heartburn. Just ask the Ottoman Turks, the imperialist French, the US Marine Corps, the Palestinians, the Israelis, the Syrians, or any number of Lebanese would-be overlords. The country's infernally complex ingredients seem chemically incapable of melding into a digestible dish.
The second piece, by Jim Quilty for MERIP, focuses on the recent confrontation between the Lebanese army and an Islamist group operating out of the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp near Tripoli:

If Lebanese politicians on both sides of the government-opposition divide have emphasized support for the army over empathy for human suffering in the camps, their rhetoric betrays the marginality of the refugee community. It also reflects the centrality of the Lebanese army in the ongoing contest over the future direction of state policy. At the end of the day, it is entirely likely that the Palestinians in Lebanon will be three-time losers in this bloody episode: enduring the humanitarian crisis that grows out of it, shouldering the burden of containing it and suffering a backlash in Lebanese political opinion for being seen as somehow responsible for it. The anti-Palestinian feeling in Lebanon is all the more bitterly ironic since so few of the radical Sunni Islamists battling the Lebanese army in Nahr al-Barid are themselves Palestinian.
Another key paragraph, on whether March 14 is financing Salafist-Jihadists groups (as famously but unconvincingly alleged by Seymour Hersh), is this one:

Whether or not the Hariris and their Saudi supporters have a soft spot for salafis is not the point. Rather, it is the culture of cooptation that has marked the Lebanese government’s approach to the challenges confronting the country since the Syrian withdrawal. Rafiq al-Hariri deployed his financial resources to great effect during his political career, but his purchase of loyalties was embedded in the Syrian occupation’s security regime. With the Syrians gone, and with Sunnis set against their Shi‘i countrymen -- and with them the specter of Hizballah, the militants who stopped the Israeli army, Lebanese find the line between purchased loyalties and militant outsourcing a fuzzy one.
Although Quilty, like Rodenbeck, highlights the fact that some Syrian support for Fatah al-Islam operatives was probably necessary, he does not satisfactorily answer the various conspiracy theories about its origin -- except to say that whatever help they may have secured, the members of the group appear to be genuinely nasty Jihadists, not just hired guns.

Read it all for the nitty-gritty detail of Palestinian camp politics.
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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.