In Lebanese politics the devil is in the details
At the CEDRE Paris Conference last week, which aimed to rally international support for an investment program to boost the Lebanese economy, French President Emmanuel Macron underlined the importance of “following up” on the outcome. Stressing that it would be meaningless “unless radical changes” take place in Lebanon, Macron added: “If we help Lebanon we will help the region, and subsequently, help ourselves.”
These are important words, more so when looking at the commemorative photograph taken at CEDRE of Macron with the Lebanese delegation, which included Prime Minister Saad Hariri, and ministers Ali Hassan Khalil (Amal Movement), Gebran Bassil and Cesar Abi Khalil (both from President Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement) and Youssef Fenianos (Al-Marada Movement). The four ministers represent political groups supportive of the Syrian regime.
Incidentally, this comes as the international community seems to disregard what that regime has perpetrated for more than seven years, embarking on a process of “rehabilitating” after the completion of what remains of the required “demographic engineering” in Douma (greater Damascus), Al-Rastan and Talbisah (Homs Province), and areas in the Golan Heights and Hawran in southern Syria.
Even Hariri, who since aligning himself with Aoun has regarded almost every decision taken as an “achievement,” has virtually become part of the Lebanese scenario integrated with the Syrian settlement. Indeed, through agreeing the electoral deal favored by the Hezbollah-Aoun alliance, Hariri opened the door officially for Iran — the main sponsor of the Damascus regime — and its henchmen to reclaim the political initiative in Lebanon.
Thus, the reservations expressed by more than one participant at CEDRE reflect the intention to ignore the results of the Lebanese parliamentary elections scheduled for May 6 and conceal the expected gains by the Tehran-Damascus axis.
Most observers believe that Hezbollah’s silence hides its satisfaction with the outcome, especially when it is accompanied by liquidating the Syrian popular uprising after besieging it with extremist organizations. These groups were allowed to take over the rebellion and then divert it to give credibility to the accusations by Damascus, Moscow and Tehran that the uprising was “Daeshist.”
CEDRE did not give Lebanon carte blanche. The international donors did not give the Lebanese unconditional financial support, but rather insisted on a follow-up mechanism to monitor the promised reforms. However, even this mechanism remains part of the semi-concocted reservations about the reality of the Lebanese situation; and since both the French president and the Americans are aware of the details, there seems to be a race between the solution and the impasse.
Such a race cannot be separated from the overall regional picture. We are now at a crossroads, with regional conflicts extending from Iraq to Syria, Lebanon to Yemen, and to the occupied Palestinian territories.
In fact, there are signs of increased complications in Russian-American approaches toward most Middle East issues. And if Iran feels that it is now well placed to freely maneuver or impose its conditions, Turkey seems to have gone the opposite way from its NATO position, allowing itself to exchange tactical services with Russia, its historical enemy. This means that Israel, always a beneficiary from its relations with both Washington and Moscow, is the only regional player able to continue its own project with little adverse effect from the current tension between the two major capitals.
Contrary to what some may think, Israel’s project is not limited to finalizing the status of the occupied Palestinian territories and preparing for their demographics. It also includes making official the deals and tacit considerations between Tel Aviv and Damascus, and subsequently — in the light of portraying Lebanon as the “new Syria” — between Tel Aviv and Beirut.
How Washington deals with Iran’s regional project, namely the future of Syria and Lebanon, is a matter of utmost importance.
Eyad Abu Shakra
Furthermore, it has become obvious to serious observers that bringing down the Damascus regime is not a priority for Israel. Had it been so, Israel would have pushed for it in major Western capitals, including Washington, which, as we recall, has been placing it on the list of countries supporting and sponsoring terrorism for decades.
However, how Washington deals with Iran’s regional project, namely the future of Syria and Lebanon, is a matter of utmost importance. Also important is monitoring the cooperative and yet competitive relationship between Russia and Iran in Syria, and whether Washington and Paris are willing to relinquish their shares in Lebanon to Russia, after peacefully coexisting with Iranian hegemony — through Hezbollah — over Lebanon during the Barack Obama presidency.
Returning to the CEDRE conference in Paris, among the issues discussed there was that of Syrian displacement. This is raised from a sectarian and antagonistic standpoint by Hezbollah and Aoun, albeit each for their own interests, but from an economic and livelihood standpoint by some in the Sunni-inhabited areas who welcomed the Syrian refugees and displaced, and for this reason were punished and persecuted after being accused of collusion with terrorism.
Hence, to speed up the imposition of the status quo on Syria, what is happening in Lebanon is that the Syrian refugees and displaced are being deprived of a nationalist and Sunni society. There are joint efforts being made to that end, supported by most major capitals, each for its own motives. On the other hand, there has been a trend among the Lebanese Sunnis to go along with this policy hoping it would rid them of the economic cost of the displaced and improve the chances of attracting and benefiting from foreign money.
Based on the above, the May elections are an extremely important landmark for all parties, although those who hope Lebanon will emerge with credible programs and policies are not very optimistic.
The electoral coalitions have been temporary, interest-based pacts, and the nature of the proportional-representation voting system will cause further fragmentation under the excuse of broadening representation. As a result, the size of parliamentary blocs will not allow for any realistic discussion of Hezbollah’s weapons, its relationship with the Lebanese state, and how independent it is from Tehran.
So, the promises look beautiful, unlike the devil in the details.
• Eyad Abu Shakra is managing editor of Asharq Al-Awsat.