After a week and a half of mouthing off about how alright our balcony is to all and sundry and a ‘bring your friends…no, seriously, bring all your friends’ approach to invitations we wake up on a saturday morning stuck to the tile floor, a laptop down and knee deep in beer bottles. Lebanon does not tax liquor enough. Good old Malak doesn’t seem too bothered about the mess, as long as the party stayed inside the flat. She is, however, severely pissed off about sugar cubes that ‘some French guy’ had thrown all over all five floors worth of stairs. She doesn’t seem to know the word for party in English, so we make do with her shouting ‘whiskey’ and waving her hands in the air. Actually, that is kind of what we were doing, I guess.
Luckily, one of us last night had been coherent enough to secure an invitation for a thank you breakfast across the road. Homemade full (fava beans and chickpeas, topped with cumin, mint, tomoatoes, and, this being Lebanon, excessive amounts of olive oil) instantly eased the hangover. I eat gratefully, surprised at just how much of this I can stuff into my mouth, getting steadily more jealous as boasts regarding ancestral villages’ cooking prowess are traded across the table. Its a heavy dish – they say full ‘makes you stupid’ – and I am certainly feeling fullhardy as I tuck into some delicious kibbeh neyyah (super soft raw mince topped with spice).
Some hours earlier I had been afraid that the party wasn’t going to be taking place at all. I thought for a minute that we were in the midst of a some sort coup that Friday, as blackshirted youths marched down Hamra street, complete with berets and SS-style armbands. However, it turned out to just be the boys from the Syrian Socialist National Party (SSNP – looking like this) taking part in a march. We’d seen the flags adorning our neighbourhood, but this event, and the blanket poster campaign that preceded it had piqued our interest.
The party has the ever-so-slightly ambitious aim of the establishment of greater ‘Syrian’ National State spanning all the way from Cyprus to Kuwait. Good luck with that one boys. Meanwhile, we learned that the razzmatazz was to celebrate the anniversary of Khaled Alwan’s glorious assassination of 2 occupying Israeli soldiers in 1982…in a Wimpy Burger. The story goes that they insisted on paying for their coffee in Shekels, arrogance which acted as a catalyst for Alwan to blow them away with his pistol. History, in my experience tends to be more complicated then this. Out of a whole damn war, it seems an odd moment to pick out for commemoration. I’m sure there is much more of a story to be told.
The party’s local influence is not to be joked at however, their flags adorn shopfronts across the block and woe betide whoever would dare take them down. Hamra’s many bars and clubs, it is alleged, pay them protection money. They won seats in the last Lebanese election.
Such a party is also a sobering reminder for a visitor from Western Europe of how so many countries – Lebanon and Syria included – are the creations of the British and French drawing lines on a map. Many Beirutians share much more in common – family ties, traditions, cuisine – with the residents of Damascus than those of a northern Lebanese city such as Tripoli. The SSNP, seemingly so anachronistic, is I suppose one of the few outlets for those still clinging to the idea of pan-Arab unity and secular, marxists politics. Moreover, if and when Assad falls, which will serve to undermine the ruling ‘March 8th Alliance’ coalition government of which the SSNP is a (small) part of, I will be interested to see how prominent a part the SSNP plays in the ‘struggle’ that will ensue. I decided I shall have to try and arrange an interview with these guys. And perhaps offer to revamp their website in return.
A Highlight: I saw the yellow hummer again, in case no-one believed me…
A Lowlight: Opening my laptop the morning after only for it to immediately resume blaring out the Romanian techno some douche had put on during the night’s dying embers
Sweeping Orientalist Statement: Politics remains inextricably linked with the application, or threat of, violence
Beautiful Lebanese Woman Forecast: Actually talked to a few of them now. Progress, people….