Al-Ahram Weekly Online   14 - 20 February 2008
Issue No. 884
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Close up:

Salama A Salama

Falling apart

By Salama A Salama

A heated debate has begun in Beirut on whether Fairuz should go to Damascus for a concert or not. Some people are all for the diva taking part in festivities marking the selection of Damascus as Arab culture capital of the year. Others want Fairuz to stay away and not "help the Syrian intelligence services that sponsor a culture of killing and repression and lack any appreciation for art," as Walid Jumblatt put it.

This is not just a mark of the divisions now tearing into the heart of Lebanon. It is a mark of how low our entire region has descended. With politics breathing down the neck of art and art skidding into the bottom circles of political degradation, whatever ray of hope Arab intellect may have had is dimming.

Fairuz is an icon for an entire people. Throughout the Arab world, not just in Lebanon, the diva has given us a glimpse of heaven, taking us above political bickering and dissent to a place of harmony and peace. Fairuz has consistently refused to take sides in the endless rivalries that dog our lives. Now some people want to drag her into the mud of Arab politics, like everyone else.

I remember the time when Lebanon's strength was in its openness and pluralism. Now these same things are its undoing. Lebanon has become a target for meddling foreign powers, a victim of personal agendas, and an arena for vendetta. The bloody clashes that took place recently in south Beirut are only one more entry in its long list of horrors.

Fouad Al-Siniora, the man who became prime minister at a turning point in Lebanon's history, perhaps has one of the most difficult tasks of any politician around. He has to run whatever government is left, while keeping the country afloat on a river of intrigue. On the surface, Lebanon is barely functioning. Under the surface, it is a snake pit of sectarian strife, foreign intervention, and endless plotting. Assassinations and bombings have become a daily fact of life. Not even the Arab League secretary-general was left in peace when he went there recently on a peace mission.

Lebanon is sick. No one is sure exactly what medicine to prescribe, and the country is not listening anymore. French initiative, American initiatives, Arab initiatives: nothing is working, neither threats nor advice. Meanwhile, the Lebanese are inventing new language of their own. Their politicians have crafted a new lexicon, a jargon of twisted words that no one else seems able to decipher. Their tone is uncompromising, their intent homicidal.

At a dinner hosted by the Lebanese ambassador in Cairo, Prime Minister Al-Siniora gave us a briefing on current developments in Lebanon. He was in Cairo to update President Hosni Mubarak on reactions to the mediation efforts of the Arab League, a major part of which focuses on electing General Michel Suleiman as president, a reasonable option by any normal standards. But there are people in Lebanon who won't listen to reason. They would sooner drag the country into the abyss than let it live. In today's Lebanon, reason seems to be in short supply, while psychosis is apparently abundant.

Is Lebanon heading down the same road of perdition that is now so common in the region? Has it forgotten that freedom is a blessing not a curse? Today's Lebanon is a shadow of its former self.

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