Abdullah everywhere

That’s Saudia Arabia’s King Abdullah in Hamra traffic tonight. Ever since the monarch pledged $3 billion to arm Lebanon’s military, billboards thanking him have popped up all over Beirut.
Near the port:
In Clemenceau:

And that’s him on the massive electronic billboard up ahead in Karantina, though it didn’t come out very well on my phone camera:

These ads are also popping up in Nahr El Mawt, Martyr’s Square and all across the downtown area. But that’s just what I noticed during a normal commute so there are probably dozens more across the city and country.

Now $3 billion is a lot of money and obviously it would be rude not to sound grateful. But who is being thanked here? Clearly the target of these ads is not the King or the Saudi people. By canvasing every nook and cranny of Beirut, the audience is obviously a local one. So is the king being thanked or are the people being told to thank the king? That sounds very Arab spring-like, doesn’t it?

Finally, the blue strap at the bottom of the ad identifies ex-prime minister Saad Hariri’s Future Movement, which is closely tied to Saudi Arabia, as the one paying for the ads. So this means the people being asked to thank not only the king, but also his local ally, a local ally at war with other well-armed local parties that get billions from other countries. So effectively what we have is a kind of arms race between foreign states inside Lebanon. Now is that something to be thankful about?

  1. I’ve been talking about Lebanon following the Costa Rica model for years. In a region where militaries tended to overthrow their governments and cause more problems than they resolved, one country decided to do away with the organization and rely on a heavy police force and bigger country backing – USA, Mexico, global opinion – to protect itself domestically and from its neighbors. It is now a tourism behemoth.

    To most Lebanese, the problem isn’t the presence of arms. The problem is that the army isn’t strong enough. My assumption is that the Lebanese Army will never be powerful enough to protect against the neighbors. Syria, Israel, and other meddling countries will always be more powerful than the Lebanese Army. Most armies in the Arab world are domestic armies anyway. They are meant to dominate internally and rarely have offensive capabilities.

    Just get rid of this cash cow and expand the police force. Of course, this could only happen after disarming other armed groups in the country. Without a pact to disarm everyone, one can’t really blame other groups from wanting to form their own armed organization. If Hezbollah has weapons, everyone should be able to have weapons. If they give up their arms, so should everyone else. And then, perhaps, we should think of disarming the Lebanese Army.

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