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Abramoff  · Beirut Rules

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Beirut Rules

by Joe Trento


Beirut, Lebanon - Those who argue that the violent Middle East can be turned into a haven for freedom-loving democrats often point to Lebanon as an example of how a country in the region can be turned around. That rose-colored view can be quickly cured with a few days of driving around this diverse country.


Along the spectacular Mediterranean seaside, my friend Boutros proudly points out the new condos as he steers his Peugeot from the well-guarded Marriot Hotel. Boutrous is a good natured middle-aged Christian who has seen way too much violence in his country. He lost his job running an expensive Lebanese restaurant and now makes a living driving the few tourists, reporters and business people. His nephew, a talented cabinetmaker, was murdered by Shi’a men in Tripoli, a large city that is becoming increasingly militant. Boutrous says that the economic gap between Christian and Muslim is enormous and growing.


Business has been awful here since a huge bomb killed Rafik Hariri, the construction magnate and Prime Minister. Hariri is buried in a not quite finished but impressive new Mosque that his company built that adjoins the few blocks of a Disneyesque “restored old Beiruit” that his company also put up. All these new old blocks of quaintness adjoin the Parliament building and are with in an easy walk to the seaside Hotel Georges blast site where Hariri and his bodyguards were blown up in February. The attack has had a profound effect on the working class of Beirut. Hotels are largely empty even through this year’s high season.


That explosion, which most people think Syrian intelligence was responsible for, knocked the breath out of the post civil war recovery. Everything is the same as it was just after the blast - the destroyed hotel, ruined cars and closed caf nearby. Angry Beirut citizens took to the streets in huge numbers to protest. Syria ended its ugly occupation by pulling out everyone except those in the Lebanese government it controls and several thousand secret police. In the spring a top local journalist was murdered.


The one thing Shi’a and Christians seem to agree on is that Syria was far worse as conquerors than Israel. The arriving Syrian occupiers had taken the best beachside condos. Now in retreat the Syrians literally stripped the apartment blocks leaving nothing of value - including all windows, plumbing fixtures - everything. It was routine for some Syrian soldier to work with Hezbollah in car-jacking gangs. “Your car would be taken at a Syrian checkpoint,” Boutrous said. “You could not refuse or you would be shot. Then weeks later you would get a call telling you where the car was being left in some Shi’a controlled area of West Beirut. The payment required would be about $20,000 depending on the car. If you didn’t make the payment the car would be exported to Syria.” The Shi’a street gangs worked out of a small town in the beautiful, and for Americans, deadly Bekaa Valley.


I asked Boutrous to take me to Baalback, the ancient town in the Bekaa. He advised against such a trip warning me that this was the heart of Shi’a control.


The ruins from Alexander The Great, the Romans and Phonicians are impressive. But the newest building in town is a Mosque and banners across the picturesque streets that exhort citizens to Jihad against Israel. Posters of the dour-looking bespectacled Sheik Marsarallah look down from huge billboards. Woman here are covered in black with faces hidden. The pink head covers over fashionable Paris fashions seen on women in Beirut are not seen on woman here.

Before you get tingly over the idea of democracy engulfing this horribly divided country and brining Muslims and Christians together, understand the significance of celebratory gunfire in the Bekaa and in Beirut. It was gunfire from Hezbollah and its partner, the Amal Militia, celebrating their election victory. The hopelessness of President’s Bush’s quest for American style democracy in the Middle East is contradicted by the growing power and influence of an extreme Islamic leadership that has a history of killing and attacking Americans.


Hezbollah’s success here in using religion to rally unemployed young men into “making the Jihad” has its roots in the reality of their grim lives. The Christians, who represent the business establishment here, openly complain that Shi’a Arab’s are dirty, have no concern for their families and have too many children. The Christian establishment’s bigotry is open, ugly and is well - un-Christian.


The President should pay special attention to the June 2005 Lebanese elections because what is going on here in Lebanon is a picnic compared to what we face in Iraq. Three large mafia style gangs are now political parties - albeit with armed thugs who like to drive around in vans and look menacing. Both basically hate the United States. The boys in Amal like to make money and have given up, at least in recent years, kidnapping Americans. Hezbollah here is run by a religious extremist who wants to end modern Society and wants to make all Jews disappear.


They both give money to the poor but not their money. The Saudi’s funnel the cash through Sunni controlled parties and Iran takes care of the Shi’a. Nabih Beeri’s Amal claims to take care of Beirut’s working people. Most working folks have two jobs and have to commute from tiny villages in order to earn enough to feed their families. The only way to afford living in Beirut for working class people is take a slum apartment.


The rich of Beiruit, Christian or Shia, can produce terrorists. One of the 9.11 hijacker pilots was getting a $2,000 monthly allowance while training for his mission against America from his family in Beirut.


When you walk the streets of cities in South Lebanon you see the unpleasant indicators of an overwhelming love for Islamic fundamentalism that is being paid for on the back of Iranian taxpayers through Hezbollah. You can pretty much surmise this is not just about religious differences. In the Southern towns the martyrs faces are on portraits on light pole after light pole. Our President is not unfamiliar with the technique of firing up your religious base by pitting the sainted against the secular.


In the Southern towns the martyrs faces are on portraits on light pole after light pole. That’s what the local Shi’a religious leaders are up to. The difference here is that someone will be glad to kill you for a tank of gas or for an imagined slight of Allah. The Christian’s are just as bigoted as the Muslims. They charge the Muslims with being unclean and leaving garbage everywhere. The truth is no one picks up the street trash in poor Muslim areas. The gangsters who run Lebanon - all of them - including the late and now semi-sainted Rafik Hariri, consider using their militias and connections in order to build fortunes as a perk of office.


The Pandora’s Box that President Bush opened with the Iraqi war was not done blindly by the President or his advisers. Among the best case scenarios for Iraq sited in secret documents arguing for the removal of Saddam was the example of a “working democracy” that has “evolved” among the Christians, Shi’a, Sunni and Droze in Lebanon.

Unfortunately the rosy scenario painted of Lebanon as a nation that has gone from violence to one of “freedom lovers” is patent nonsense. Relations between Christian’s and Muslims here are deteriorating rapidly. The bombs are going off here again. The tension between the Shi’a majority and wealthier European/Christian minority is increasing day by day. Hezbollah, sponsored by Iran and buoyed by its incredible success in grabbing power in Iraq, is making its move in Lebanon. In the June 05′ elections. Hezbollah’s alliance with Nabih Beeri - the very clever Amal Militia leader and Parliament Leader has resulted in a place in Lebanon’s cabinet for Hezbollah. Considering how many Americans Hezbollah targeted and killed and the fact that they are now part of the government in Lebanon requires us to do much more than raise the voice of protest. President Bush allowing this to stand is just one more contradiction of his hollow declaration that we will fight those who harbor terrorists and support them. The truth is our policy has put most of Iraq and its resources in the hands of the same Shi’a Hezbollah goons who killed hundreds of our best citizens.


Ironically, the Pandora’s Box of Bush’s policy has resulted in a new boldness in Lebanon among the Shi’a majority. The Shi’a here, as in Iran, Iraq, Syria are aligned with Hezbollah - or the Party of God. It was Hezbollah that kidnapped Americans, bombed our Marines, killed our entire CIA station of 17, tortured CIA officer William Buckley and hijacked aircraft. The money that was funneled in the 1980’s through Shi’a clerics in Lebanon still flows in from revolutionary Iran.


The Sunni’s funnel it in from Saudi Arabia. Ironically, we worked with Saddam Hussein to counter Hezbollah and Iran by encouraging him to undertake the Iran-Iraq War. By President George W. Bush’s actions in Iraq in removing Saddam we have had traded brutal dictators for violent theocracies from Iran to the Mediterranean.


The war lords who terrorized United States citizens in the 1980’s and who came to this once beautiful and energetic city are beginning to exercise “freedom and democracy” and the result can be very ugly.

For my friend Boutros the beauty of Lebanon helps make up for what he and his family and friends have gone through. Over lunch at a beautiful outdoor restaurant in the Bekaa Boutros picked a cherry from a bowl of locally grown fruit. “You know,” he said, “Lebanon is a beautiful country. Too beautiful to let politics and religion destroy it.”


Copyright © 2003-2005 Public Education Center, Inc. All rights reserved.


Joe Trento has spent more than 35 years as an investigative journalist, working with both print and broadcast outlets and writing extensively on national security issues. Before joining the National Security News Service in 1991, Trento worked for CNN's  Special Assignment Unit, the Wilmington News Journal, and prominent journalist Jack Anderson. Trento has received six Pulitzer nominations and is the author of five books, the most recent of which is The Secret History of the CIA. He regularly publishes a blog at This essay is herein reprinted with the author's permission.

Posted  October 05, 2005

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