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Hezbollah Emerges in Forefront of Power in Lebanon

Posters of slain former prime minister Rafiq Hariri with son Saad hang over a street in Beirut's Tariq Jdeideh district.
Posters of slain former prime minister Rafiq Hariri with son Saad hang over a street in Beirut's Tariq Jdeideh district. (By Nasser Nasser -- Associated Press)

He was martyred, they read, "by hatred and betrayal."

"That was the key to opening the door of civil war," said Ahmed Farran, a 23-year-old resident who carried his rifle to the clashes and said he saw Shamaa's death.

In Sunni neighborhoods, even among residents who long dismissed the seeming pettiness of sectarian differences, the words dignity, honor and insult are often repeated these days. They underline a growing sense of Sunni disempowerment that may prove a decisive legacy of Hezbollah's brisk victory.

"In a million years, I won't put my hand in their hand," Emad al-Laham, a 45-year-old resident, said of his Shiite neighbors as he shopped at a fruit stand. "I'd shake hands with an Israeli first."

Here, in Tariq Jdeideh, residents have aimed their frustrations and humiliation inward as well, at Saad Hariri, who inherited the mantle of Sunni leadership from his slain father and has sought to mobilize Sunni support during the crisis. Speculation swirls through Beirut and elsewhere that the perception of his weakness and capitulation to Hezbollah will give weight to more radical, religious elements of the Sunni community, a warning that Hariri has voiced in past days.

"You're on your own, and we're on our own," Ali Mohieddin, a 43-year-old resident, said, rhetorically addressing Hariri. "He's not the man his father was, not even 1 percent. He's not like him in any way whatsoever. He's like a child."

Farran's friends, gathered at a nearby street corner, said they wouldn't wait for Hariri to supply the guns and ammunition they feel that he failed to deliver last week.

"We have to have weapons," said Ali Qubeisi, a 24-year-old resident. "Not to attack anyone, but to defend ourselves. Nothing has finished yet. Maybe there's a truce, maybe not. But what else are we going to do when they enter our streets again."

'Is Lebanon Really Viable?'

Assem Salam was a young man when a Sunni Muslim and Maronite Catholic politician forged a compromise that inaugurated modern Lebanon in 1943. Shiites were hardly a factor.

An iconoclast for a man who hails from one of the country's best-known Sunni families, he said he would now welcome a Hezbollah victory, as long as it meant stability. "I really don't care anymore," he said.

But he was disgusted with a country blessed with talent and resources that, he said, could only adapt to change through civil war, occupation and force of arms. He wondered whether the Lebanon that Hezbollah may inherit was really a state after all.

"Is Lebanon viable anymore?" he asked. "Is Lebanon really viable?"

"Frankly, 40 years of my life have been wasted. Fifteen years of civil war, 15 years of Syrian domination and now we've come to something worse," he said, growing angry. "I've lost 40 years of my life in this stupid country. It really is a stupid country. I have nothing good to say about it anymore. I'm disgusted by what's taken place."

He dragged on his cigar, as he sat in his stately villa in Zqaq al-Blatt, enveloped by a scourge of concrete cluttering the neighborhood. Light reflected faintly from stained-glass windows of red and blue, resting under graceful Levantine arches.

"I wish I was born in Syria. Or that I was born in Egypt. Can you imagine living in a country that has gone through 30 years of this? What kind of country is this?"

He shook his head, his anger giving way to dejection.

"There's something wrong here," he said, "something wrong."

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