The Laments of a Lebanese Cabbie

I am not usually chatty at airports but Ziad was a peculiar specimen.

A Lebanese Sunni who lived most of his life in the Hizbullah stronghold of Dahiya, he had an interesting non-partisan view of Lebanese politicians.

He hated them all equally.

The First target of his vehement loathing was Samir Geagea. We were around the time of Sharon’s funeral, and Ziad couldn’t resist quipping that Geagea must be the saddest person in Lebanon at the moment, hit by true grief at the loss of such a close friend.

Ziad honoured Rafik Hariri’s memory as a rebuilder of Lebanon after the civil war, but wondered if Saad El-Hariri’s decision to ally himself with a proven “terrorist” was any way to steer the country forward. Geagea’s forces, Ziad believed, had actually carried out the 1994 church bombing for which he was indicted and imprisoned before receiving pardon at the hands of the post-Syria political setup in 2005. The Mach 14 alliance of course maintains that the charge was politically motivated, but who am I to question Ziad on Lebanese politics, especially when his face was turning a precarious red.

“If Hizbullah disappeared today,” Ziad hypothesized, as many Arabs do when they speak about the brutally factual realities of politics, “would there be anything else that prevents the ‘Lebanese Forces’ from turning against the rest of its new allies?”

I tried steering the direction of the conversation towards the apparent popularity of the March 14 alliance, but Ziad retorted by asserting that this was a fleeting popularity based on handouts and financial cooption. No one really stood for the ideals of the Future Current, simply because they don’t have any, other than regaining a free hand in the country’s cabinet.

“I will never forgive Fouad Sinioura,” Ziad went on, accusing the former Lebanese Prime Minister of secretly welcoming the Israeli carnage in the Summer of 2006 and doing nothing to abate it. “He colluded with Lebanon’s enemies to prolong the war and make it absolutely necessary to issue a Security Council resolution to disarm Hizbullah.” Security Council 1701, to which Ziad was alluding, was agreed to unanimously by both the Israeli and Lebanese cabinets, including the latter’s Hizbullah ministers. It was an imperfect resolution for both sides of the conflict, both emerging scathed and bruised from a senseless month-long exchange of heavy fire.

Just when I feel his days in Dahiya have affected his allegiances, Ziad comes full circle to decry Hizbullah’s participation in the Syrian crisis. If the group is as it claims to be, an arm of Lebanese rightful resistance, why is it embroiled in a foreign political conflict, especially when this engagement threatens Lebanon with spillovers and increased violence?

I couldn’t resist the temptation of playing devil’s advocate. I told him that Hizbullah was fighting against the radical jihadis in Syria and that it was in no one’s favour to let the ‘terrorists’ prevail. He replied by saying that you can’t have it both ways; either all groups fighting in Syria were terrorists, or they are all freedom fighters, otherwise we’re just playing pick and choose. He goes on to recount his despondence during the militant demonstrations orchestrated by Hizbullah in 2008. There was no future, he said, in a state where arms were the answer to everything, and where politics was akin to thuggery. It was then that he decided to immigrate, even if it meant exchanging his medical license for a cabbie’s driver’s license.

As the conversation evolves, he touches upon the aberrant aisle crossing of Walid Jumbulat and Michel Aoun. He wags a finger as he mentions Saudi Arabia’s increasing involvement in his country’s politics, and Iran’s continuous meddling. And he shrugs his shoulder at any question related to the future.

An hour later, he apologizes for having “nibbled my ear” for so long, “but the heart is full,” he says with an apologetic sigh, as we part ways to separate gates.

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