There were times when Assaf Shawkat was one of the most feared men in Lebanon. There were other times when he was one of the most hated: the man was for a very long time the Syrian official in charge of the Lebanese file and was eventually named as a suspect by the UN committee investigating the assassination of PM Rafik Hariri in 2005.
On the day of his death, however, Shawkat seemed to have lost any relevance he had to Lebanese politics. Naturally, the Lebanese media gave good prominence to the story while faithfully reflecting the harsh political division over what’s happening in Syria. Local TV stations led their news bulletin with the National Security Headquarters bombing and ranged from those describing it “an act of terror,” calling its casualties “martyrs” (General Michel Aoun’s OTV and Hizbullah’s Manar) to those labeling the bombing as a turning point and the beginning of the end for the “murdering” regime.
What was lacking from those bulletins was the Lebanese angle to the story: there just seemed to be none!
When the story broke, celebratory gun fires were shot in Tripoli. Injuries were reported and the situation on the Tebbeneh-Jabal Mohsen front soon got tense.
Shortly after that, reinforcement was sent to the army, which managed to halt the sniping and take control of the region. And that was that.
Almost completely missing were the statements by the regular crowd of Lebanese politicians –- both the supporters and foes of the regime in Damascus.”
The strongest –and probably only-- statement came from Hizbullah Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah who spoke of a “big loss” of those who were “real camarades de guerre.” President Michel Suleiman denounced the bombing, as for PM Najib Mikati, he didn’t comment on the subject and sources close to him told me it is very possible the cabinet issues a statement tomorrow saying that “Lebanon doesn’t interfere in the internal matters of another country!”
The bombing, according to Ministers was discussed at the table of the cabinet which soon moved to discuss “Lebanese matters.” It’s starting to look like Lebanon could indeed have its own priorities! That was refreshing.
When I asked a pro-Syrian regime party official why his group has been so shy to comment on such a dramatic development, he said a statement of denouncement was being worked on. He also said I shouldn’t expect much verbal escalation because party officials, including those who often appear on TV, have been warned to respect the Baabda declaration, which pledged Lebanese politicians to avoid inflammatory rhetoric.
When I asked an official on the March 14 side about the conservative reactions of the groups leading figures, he said, without even trying to hide his satisfaction that justice has been made- because we cannot support an act of assassination. Well, not in public anyway.
Besides the Tebbeneh incident, Nasrallah’s speech and maybe the few celebrations that Syrian activists and supporters of the FSA have organized in different places across the country, there hasn’t been really any striking Lebanese reactions on one of the most dramatic days in the life of a regime that was once controlling most of the political life here.
True, this is logical in light of the survival of Mikati’s government despite the internal clashes among its members, but this is still Lebanon and Lebanese politicians we’re talking about. The same politicians who used to take direct orders from Damascus and rush to pay their respect in all kinds of occasions. It maybe too early to draw any conclusions, but what’s for sure is that the Syrian regime allies in Lebanon have had a very confusing day and that it would be certainly interesting to keep an eye on who will attend the funeral of Assad’s brother-in-law, Syria’s third man, who was once upon a time amongst Lebanon’s most important men.
Alia Ibrahim, Senior Correspondent for Al Arabiya TV in Beirut, can be reached at: email@example.com