Lebanon risks being the loser amid political divisions

Lebanon risks being the loser amid political divisions

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Demonstrators protest government performance and worsening economic conditions, in Beirut, Lebanon, June 6, 2020. (Reuters)

The continued deterioration of living conditions in Lebanon has been catastrophic. The Lebanese first lost their savings, then in Beirut they lost their homes in the explosion, and they are now losing security, food and medicine. They are also losing their future, with the youth looking for permanent exile. It has hence become a recurrent question among them: Will Lebanon survive as a country or will it plunge into total chaos and obliteration?
There is also the risk we sometimes forget to consider, which is the complete transformation of the current political system into a new one built and organized by Hezbollah. This is, in my view, unfortunately becoming more and more probable. The current political debate around the formation of a new government headed by Saad Hariri has brought even more division to the once-unified March 14 Alliance, which previously forced the exit of Syrian troops from Lebanon in what now seems like Jurassic times.
Many question how Hariri’s renewed premiership could do anything to change the balance in the current situation and how it seems highly unlikely he will be able to impose the people’s views on a daily basis against Hezbollah’s control of the state. This is despite any French or other international support.
People are now clearly stating that the old formula of “no winner and no loser” will no longer work. They are stating that, this time, there will be a winner and a loser. These voices are mainly emanating from the Hezbollah-Amal alliance in the face of the rest of the political landscape. It certainly does not help to see clear divisions between Hariri and the Lebanese Force’s Samir Geagea and even, to a certain extent, Druze leader Walid Jumblatt. This makes it easier for Hezbollah to win than anything else.
It is terrible, as we can understand all those opposing parties’ fears and positions. Hariri, as he has expressed it, wants to avoid escalation and armed confrontation, while his former allies see his appeasement as validation of Hezbollah’s continued steps toward full control of Lebanon.
All this is going on while it seems that the popular movements that first claimed “All means all” a year ago have been, as expected, eroded by the difficult and degrading situation. A disorganized group cannot face militancy, commitment and a powerful sectarian system. Most of all, they are exhausted and need to worry about how to feed their children, treat their health and, above all, stay safe before asking for the rights of a Lebanese state. They are left venting on social media.
Exactly one year on from the start of the protests, we are back to square one — as many commentators have described it — with the nomination of Hariri as prime minister. It also seems that Hezbollah is not in a hurry to move forward either, as it would prefer to wait until after the result of next month’s US presidential election is known so that the Iranian regime can determine its strategy.
We are, hence, back once again to an empty prime minister’s office. The prime ministership, for those who still do not know, is a Sunni post in this sectarian state. There is, in my view, a consistent and focused Hezbollah policy to erode and ridicule this post. It is a sectarian move by a sectarian organization that is empowered by the sectarian Iranian regime.
At the time of the Taif Agreement, which ended the civil war, Rafik Hariri was able to give the post a strong, unifying and prestigious role, while being able to keep in check the Syrian regime that still occupied Lebanon. However, he and his post were quickly targeted and weakened by the Syrians, as Iran grew more and more rapacious in the Middle East, until his assassination in 2005. It was at that time that Iran was starting to assert its control over Iraq, building militias similar to Hezbollah there too.
This reminds us that Lebanon is just one piece in the Iranian puzzle. This means Lebanon is linked to what happens in Iraq and other countries where the Iranians spread their influence. Beirut is also a key part of Iran’s Mediterranean access and is part of any regional negotiations the regime has with the Europeans and the US, as well as Russia and China.
At this stage, it seems the Iranians are waiting for a signal to enact their final play; not only in Lebanon but also in Iraq and their other vassal states. Many analysts consider the US election result to be this signal, especially with the rising competition with Russia and China. So Hezbollah, backed by its masters in Tehran, believes it can force a regime change whenever it wants and build something new in Lebanon regardless of whether the prime minister’s post is occupied or vacant. It considers that, through the Europeans, they will be able to achieve this and change Lebanon.
I was recently reminded on Twitter that the Taif Agreement has not even been fully implemented. Indeed, many of the steps and constitutional changes that would have given protection to all minorities have not been seen through, even though Lebanon is essentially a country built for and by minorities. A simple example is the forgotten senate and bicameral system that was supposed to be implemented to help end sectarianism. In fact, it was not forgotten but executed by the Syrian regime and buried by Hezbollah.
There is a simple reason for that: Hezbollah’s plan is to choose the same titles as in the Taif Agreement but pervert them. It will claim to pursue the end of sectarianism but will do so without building the processes and institutions that protect all minorities. It will leave the state in its decrepitude to bring about a solution that allows it to shift into a new regime and its own system. Its current arrogance in the face of the situation tells us that the time for this shift is coming closer. Instead of a bicameral legislative power, there might soon be an assembly of experts in Lebanon’s future.

There is a consistent and focused Hezbollah policy of eroding and ridiculing the post of prime minister.

Khaled Abou Zahr

Yet, in a strange way, Lebanon might be saved not by the voice of its people but by geopolitical shifts and domestic changes. Lebanon is strangely linked to what is happening in (to name only a few) Europe, Syria and Libya, plus the situation with Turkey’s growing influence and now the Armenia-Azerbaijan confrontation. Iran is involved too, particularly as it is an active meddling power.
The latest crisis in the Caucasus has placed Tehran in an ambiguous situation, as it does not want to antagonize its sizable Azeri population, while it also aims to maintain good relations with Armenia. Like Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria and other contradictions, this discredits the regime and shows that there is no real ideology or true belief, rather only the interests of a small circle. It is also a sign that, in the face of all these difficulties, Lebanon is not lost if there are voices ready to defend it, as they will also find friends to help them.

  • Khaled Abou Zahr is CEO of Eurabia, a media and tech company. He is also the editor of Al-Watan Al-Arabi.
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view