Local channel LBC ran this brilliant five minute interview with an unidentified man on the street in Tripoli. His language and delivery is powerful in Arabic, but I thought I would do a rush translation into English, particularly for a lot of the foreign press who continue to focus on “Islamic extremism” instead of gripping poverty as a major cause of violence in the city. In fact the media, both local and international, frequently frame recent clashes in Tripoli as part of “spillover” from the Syrian war and potential ties to armed Islamist groups operating across the border. Yet what many seem to forget is that intense clashes have been ongoing in Tripoli well before the Syrian war, as early as the 1990s.
The man in the video – a resident of Bab Al Tabbaneh (one of Tripoli’s poorest and most violent neighborhoods) – helps us understand why.
He begins by questioning Saad Hariri, former prime minister and one of the richest and most powerful politicians in Tripoli. He then takes aim at the members of parliament, whom he accuses of having a major role in stoking the violence in order to pass the recent “emergency” legislation that cancelled parliamentary elections and extended their terms in office. Their excuse was the ongoing instability related to the war in Syria. Needless to say, our man in Tabbaneh doesn’t buy it. Pay close attention to how he characterizes the vulnerabilities of both the impoverished youth and the ill-equipped military, especially in the closing lines.
Rush translation. Bold added for emphasis.
Man: The whole country is zifit (tar) (i.e. disgusting/worthless) the politicians, the government, the parliament, all tar, even the presidency, because we have no president.
Where is the public works, where is the security? Where is Saad Hariri?
He is sitting in Saudi Arabia. He sends billions to the army. Instead, why doesn’t he employ the young men sitting without work?
Today, if the young boys are working, no one will think about carrying weapons. But if they are unemployed, anyone can come and manipulate them to get armed and start a terrorist organization.
I have six children, I can’t even afford diapers.
Man 2: People are scared to come into our neighborhood
Man 1: There is work to be done in this country, but the members of parliament are sitting in their houses, they don’t care, they are well fed, they’re children are well feed, they are comfortable, they sleep comfortably. And then they get up and give a speech to ignite the whole neighborhood fighting and no one does anything about it.
One (militant group) goes down, another will come in its place.
There is no security in this country, nothing. People need to work, to get back to work.
There is poverty here, there is poverty in the country. It’s a shame. How many MPs do we have? If everyone gave a quarter of his earnings we could fix up the whole city.
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The MPs are making 11 million lira ($7,300) per month, there are people, families more important than them, they can’t even make 1,000 lira (60 cents) and you want to extend your term too? Go home and take care of yourself, curse every MP in this country. The biggest MP in this country is (bleeped expletive)!
Man 2: We don’t vote for any of them and they are the ones that got us fighting with the army
Man 1: Who do you think the army is? Everyone knows that this solider standing behind us is either my brother or my cousin or my neighbor’s son. You think I want to go kill him?
It’s the politicians, look what they pass under the table. First they extend their mandate, then they don’t elect a president and then what? We are paying the prices and they are padding their pockets. Leave us alone already, do they have no mercy?
They tore up all of Tripoli just to pass the laws to extend parliament. Go extend yourself, just leave us alone to work.
Reporter: So what your saying is deprivation is the cause of what’s happening in Tripoli?
Man 1: The people of Tabbaneh are good people, they are poor people. They have the wrong impression about us. The people of Tabbaneh are a poor people.
When we knock on the politicians, they never answer, people come begging them for help like dogs but they can’t provide anything. They are all crooks, each one of them!
$3 billion was sent to the army, for what? To kill people? Use the money to employ people. Make a tissue factory, you’ll employ 1,000 people. Where are they? Just terrorism?
Where is the terrorism? Go to any street in Tripoli, where is the terrorism? No one will bother you. If you wear a Bikini no one will attack you. Where is the terrorism?
Reporter: But what about the issue of backwardness. They say there is extremism in Tripoli?
Man 1: It’s the politicians! They made a world war in Tripoli just to extend their terms. These bastards call themselves representatives of the people, they are only representatives of themselves, just to collect their salaries at the end of every month. They are the ones that created this.
I mean it takes just 10 armed men to destroy the country. They attack the army and they shoot at the army.
This post originally appeared on Habib's blog Beirut Report. Visit here for more of his stories.