Bilal, a Salafi sheikh, holds court at his well-furnished house in Bab al-Tabbaneh, a notoriously volatile Sunni neighborhood in the Lebanese city of Tripoli. The area, which has historically been a flashpoint for many violent conflicts with neighboring Alawites, is tense following June clashes between the Lebanese army and supporters of Sunni cleric Ahmed Assir in the southern town of Abra that left 46 dead. An uneasy truce has held in Tripoli since the army seized Assir's compound and Ramadan started, but Bilal says he's sure it won't last, and he blames that on Iran, the militant group Hezbollah, and, oddly enough, on the U.S.
"Americans see us as Bin Laden, as terrorists," he says with a sneer. "But when the world talks about Hezbollah, they call them a militia. We have brains. We know the Americans are behind everything that's going on. They're sitting watching the blood of Muslims being spilled, and they turn a blind eye."
Lebanon, a country rife with long-simmering sectarian tension, has recently begun to show signs of instability, escalated by conflict across the border in Syria. A heavily armed, Iranian-backed Hezbollah has attracted much condemnation for its military support of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad's regime, while radical Sunni groups have become more powerful and mobilized, allegedly with funding from Gulf nations like Saudi Arabia and Qatar. In addition to the clashes in Abra, incidents such as assassinations, roadside bombings and rocket attacks have taken place over the past year with increasing frequency.