Lebanon’s Sectarian Statelets

Friday, 20 July, 2018 - 05:45 Issue Number [14479]

Let’s forget, for a while, about the weird boasts of “strength”, and excessive claims of “patriotism", and try to see things as they really are.

Few observers believe that the political situation in Lebanon is healthy. Fewer still are those who think that Lebanon is somehow immune enough to the threats of an alarming regional situation. Indeed, even less are those who believe that the current situation may - one way or another - secure stability, although the general impression is that we now have “a victor and a vanquished” formula achieved by international sponsorship, or at least blessings.  

The truth that many Lebanese refuse to admit is that their country’s crisis is too severe to treat with political maneuvers or presidential press conferences. Lately, what has happened at the Christian (namely, the Maronite) level, including releasing what was supposed to be the confidential text of ‘The Maraab Understanding’ between the Aounist ‘Free Patriotic Movement’ (FPM) and ‘the Lebanese Forces’, has confirmed that the two largest Christian blocs no longer trust each other, and that all temporary ‘deals’ have reached a dead end.

As for the Sunni sect, the last few days have uncovered the depth of the financial crisis threatening the very existence of Al-Makassed Philanthropic Islamic Association of Beirut (founded in 1878). This added to further Sunni fragmentation, and attempts by some to demean and downgrade the Prime Minister’s post, i.e., the highest political office reserved to Lebanon’s Sunnis, which compelled three ex-premiers to meet with Prime Minister Designate Saad Hariri and express solidarity with him.

Facing the embattled Christians and Sunnis, who comprise with the Shiites the three largest sectarian blocs, and share with them the three top political offices (The Presidency, the Speakership and the Premiership), the Shiite community looks fine.

In fact, Lebanon’s Shiites have been well-served by their political blocs made up of Hezbollah and AMAL Movement (headed by Speaker Nabih Berri), but more so by Iran’s expansionist regional plan. This is becoming clear today as the Syrian debacle approaches the ‘finale,’ which all those who confronted the uprising of the people and their national unity, have worked for.

US former President Barack Obama’s whole-hearted commitment to align Washington with Iran against the former’s traditional allies was an extremely important and strategic choice; especially, that Obama ruled for two full terms marked by clear cut ideological beliefs. Eight years of tacit American support for Tehran’s regime, intentional disinterest in curbing its transgressions, ambitions and territorial expansion achieved by traditional weapons – before completing its nuclear program – are not an insignificant matter.

On the other hand, no one should ever make light of Russia’s ambitions under a leadership that remembers well the heritage of the USSR, and takes great pride in its military and security might, and hankers to its influence over almost half the globe before the end of the Cold War. As far as the Middle East is concerned, Vladimir Putin’s Russia also viewed and exploited Iran as a bridge that would bring it back to the region, and as a tactical ally which it could use to blackmail, harass and hurt Washington as much as possible.

To this end, Moscow played a major role in building Iran’s nuclear capabilities, and turned a blind eye to its ever growing influence in Iraq and Lebanon; indeed, Moscow regarded Iran’s expansionism quite beneficial to its strategy of blackmailing Washington so that it accepts its return to the Middle East as a ‘partner’, just the way it was during the days of the USSR.

Hence, thanks to a combination of Obama’s apologetic convictions about normalizing relations with Tehran, and Putin’s stubborn ambition to return to the Middle East as Washington’s full partner, the full picture of what we have seen and heard since 2011 has emerged.

It was natural for this external pressure to bear fruit on the region’s entities, specifically, those of ‘The Fertile Crescent’ (Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine), allowing Iran to push forward its expansionist project to include the Gulf and Yemen.

Eventually, the only thing missing was the catalyst, which soon emerged in the shape of ISIS and the powers that backed, sponsored and colluded with it. Atrocities committed by ISIS suddenly became the only show in town, and confronting it became the ready-made excuse not only to ignore Iran’s project and normalizing relations with a ‘nuclear Iran’, but also accepting the ‘legitimacy’ of its sectarian militias that have undermined the sovereignty of UN member states. Today, as many Western governments openly defend a nuclear agreement (The JCPOA) that has left Iran a freehand in the Middle East, several Western powers are virtually dealing with Iranian-backed militias in Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen, and negotiating with them as constituent elements of the legitimate government.

In Lebanon, “Hezbollah,” which is the only party carrying arms outside state control, has been able to impose its candidate as president and push through its favorite electoral law under which the latest parliamentary elections took place. Furthermore, it is now the real authority that is handling the file of displaced Syrians and refugees although it has contributed to their plight through its intervention in Syria in support of the regime.

More so, some Lebanese observers accuse “Hezbollah” of sponsoring a well-orchestrated campaign to weaken the position of Hariri and his backers within the Sunni community. They also believe that the escalation of Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil against the ‘Lebanese Forces’ within the Christian community and Walid Jumblat’s Progressive Socialist party within the Druze community, is orchestrated by “Hezbollah.”

Given this situation, it is interesting that President Michel Aoun, who had promised after assuming office to be a ‘father to all Lebanese’, seems unable to set a limit between the presidency and the political stances of the FPM that is led by Bassil, his son-in-law. The latest in a series of setbacks has been the failure of all attempts to secure an inter-Christian entente, and pushing the ‘Lebanese Force’ leadership to divulge the confidential clauses of ‘The Maraab Understanding’ following another bout of Bassil’s attacks on it.

Moreover, the aura of ‘The Strong President’ which Aoun insists on promoting, followed by the adoption of the word ‘strong’ in the names of the FPM’s electoral lists, have not yet been interpreted on the ground through the Lebanese state’s ability to impose its authority, sovereignty, cohesion and unity of decision-making; They only manifested themselves in bullying refugees, the displaced and UN relief agencies.   

This, unfortunately, confirms Lebanon as nothing but a country made up of ‘sectarian statelets’, most of which are vanquished with only one emerging – so far – as victorious!