Saturday, August 24, 2013

New actors in Lebanon’s north threaten Tripoli’s stability

 I wrote a blogpost about this a few months back. Here is the final story of my investigative report into what was fueling the fighting between Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen. The intro to the story is the usual caveats but the interesting information is further down. I've put a few graphs here.

In the past, prominent Tripoli politicians have provided funds to Bab al-Tabbaneh street leaders in exchange for popular support and votes, multiple sources said.

Mouin Merhabi is a representative in parliament of the Future Movement, an anti-Assad party led by former Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, the son of the Rafik al-Hariri. He said, “More than 90 percent of people in [Bab al-] Tabbaneh are poor. They used to buy the bullets themselves and sometimes they would ask people from the city to [fund their fighting].”

Portraits of former Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri and Mohammad Kabbara, a Tripoli parliamentarian from the Future Movement, are commonly found plastered on Bab al-Tabbaneh’s bullet-ridden walls.
But Tripoli’s politicians are finding it harder to control the conflict. Sitting behind his desk in his Beirut office, an adviser to one of Tripoli’s most prominent politicians said, “The politicians are no longer in control [of the men on the street].” The adviser, who is not affiliated with the Future Movement, asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of the subject.

Future Movement parliamentarian Ahmad Fatfat, said, “Politicians cut all attempts to try and control [Bab al-Tabbaneh].” Now, “[street leaders] found a way to keep [their funding] alive.”

According to the Tripoli-based political adviser, “Gangsters [in Bab al-Tabbaneh] have direct access to primary funding. They don’t go to politicians anymore.” In the latest round of fighting, when Mohammad Kabbara asked for a meeting to organize a ceasefire he was ignored by fighters once loyal to him, said the adviser of the Tripoli politician.

The adviser said that Gulf state intelligence agencies are funding street leaders, or “gangsters” as he labeled them, in Bab al-Tabbaneh. “High-level experts on the other side go to Damascus or Tehran,” he said.

When fighting erupted in Tripoli in June, the Lebanese English online publication Naharnet reported that Saad al-Masri, a prominent street leader in Bab al-Tabbaneh and one-time ally of caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, had traveled to Turkey to obtain financial support. Fighters on the street however said al-Masri was “on vacation.”

“If you are a Salafist or Islamist, you go to Saudi Arabia or Qatar,” said the adviser to the Tripoli politician. “Gangsters go to Turkey, but not to meet with the Turks,” he added. Fadda, the ADP spokesperson, also accused the Bab al-Tabbaneh fighters of receiving funding from Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

The adviser said that leaders like Masri broke from their political allies because of constraints placed upon them regarding buying arms and fighting with Jabal Mohsen. Today, they have no constraints.
Requests for an interview with Saad al-Masri went unanswered.

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