When Twitter was established in 2006, the inventors were searching for creative new ideas of podcasting; later on, “twttr” emerged, known as twitter. Different descriptions can be attributed to twitter, such as a small blog to share information, professional news platform, sharing ideas between experts and professionals in a fast short space. On its official website, Twitter defines itself as “what’s happening in the world and what people are talking about right now”
In the Middle East, twitter started in recent years taking new dimensions, shifting thus from sharing and reading news, to a virtual battlefield of tweets that mirrors the inter and intra wars and clashes that are taking place in the actual world. Lebanon constitutes a crucial example of how twitter became a fanatical virtual political frontline for the disputing politicians and their followers. Few years ago, twitter in Lebanon was still to a large extent about exchanging political and social news; the political engagement of the activists was mainly centered around hashtags that addresses major social and political events and situations happening in the country. However, this platform that began to spread among Lebanese social media activists yet still unpopular, soon became a main ground the activists’ social media engagement. Gradually, with the ongoing political and sectarian clashes, the “what is happening and what people are talking about” concept was transformed into a language that reflects clearly the failure of the Lebanese institutions, and the persistence of the state’s primordial nature.
On June 30, the Lebanese news and activists on Twitter were busy covering the incidents of Kfarmatta region in Mount Lebanon. That day, minister of displaced Saleh Gharib, a Druze figure who belong to the Democratic party of Talal Arslan was subject to an armed attack from armed men in an area that belong to the Socialist Progressive Party of the Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, resulting two dead persons, an official and a bodyguard who were accompanying Gharib. The clashes came at a time president of Free Patriotic Movement Gebran Bassil (Maronit) , and who is also minister of Foreign Affairs, was visiting the region in which he was accused of addressing “a provocative approach and speech for past events in the mountain between Christians and Druze”; opponents of Bassil, claimed that followers and supporters of the party were expressing their anger in a democratic and peaceful way, and denied any responsibility for the shooting incidents on the minister’s convoy, who is an ally to Bassil and a member of his blog.
The mountain clash could be an ordinary example among the usual sectarian and continuous political disputes that reflect a war-torn Lebanon. However, the main difference is that the status quo that controlled these disputes and the fragile stability of the state for years received a severe blow and showed Lebanon’s primordial nature at its best. Justifications for the armed clash revived fanatically old terminologies of primordial feudal times expressed by officials of the Socialist Progressive Party who defended the riots of their followers by accusing the visit of “not respecting the particularity of the region, khousousiyyat al mantaqa”. Such term was soon spread among not only activists who constitute the virtual armament of each za’im (patron), but also among politicians themselves, who reflected in their tweets their personal rivalries using the same terminologies in their political conquest against each other. Intriguingly, the most flagrant comments came from politicians who belong to the same camp of the Free Patriotic Movement, something that questions the national responsibility of the Lebanese political class in times the national security or what is known in the Lebanese dictionary as “al silm al ahle” (civil peace or civil consensus) was threatened. Consequently, supporters of these groups were enthusiastic enough to follow their leaders, as most of their tweets and discussions on twitter reflected clearly a fragmented society ready at any time to undergo virtual conflicts for the sake of their zu’ama.
The discussions thus were not about the danger symbolism of the incident in itself in which two people were dead in an armed attack to a minister convoy irrespective of the circumstances and of “who is responsible”, but because his ally, who is a rival to the traditional za’im of the region, “did not respect the particularity of the region”. Moreover, the armed clashes of May 7 were brought up in which many activists and journalists were subject to severe criticism from others of the same political camp after they were describing “objectively” the circumstances of May 7, that according to them, despite being “unfavorable, but it was a must action to save the resistance and the country”.
Decades ago, the existence of qabadayds was common in the Lebanese political life, a term that was used to describe the followers and supporters of the traditional political class. These were willing to defend their za’im unconditionally and to promote and consolidate their power on the ground in times of political conquests and hostilities. With the age of social media, the platforms were transformed in Lebanon from sharing ideas and news to circles of defending political groups and leaders unconditionally, often accompanied with extremism in times of clashes of interests between the zu’ma. Such reality paves the way for a number of questions regarding he intertwined relation between the political discourse and digital media vis-à-vis social responsibility; this leads to the following assumption: Is this the age of the virtual qabadayds?