Lebanese opposition needs to stand up to Hezbollah
As Lebanon is plunging into the abyss of chaos, the entire focus for a solution is on the formation of a government involving the same political parties that have ruled for decades and are responsible for this situation. And this government formation, which is supposed to solve everything, has hit a dead end over the nomination of two ministers that would give President Michel Aoun veto power over all its decisions.
We need to stop for a minute and note the ridiculousness of the situation. We need to repeat that the same political parties that led us to the current situation are fighting over the formation of a government that is supposed to solve everything. Am I the only one to think that this government, if Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri is able to form one, will not be able to tackle any of the issues for one simple reason? The Lebanese government, no matter its intentions, cannot overrule Hezbollah. The “blocking minority” that Aoun and Gebran Bassil are requesting is not theirs, it is Hezbollah’s.
The focus within what is called the opposition has been on Aoun and particularly Bassil as the target of all accusations. Hariri and others, mainly when seeking international support, are depicting the situation as Bassil being the source of all corruption and that his removal from the political landscape would solve everything. Despite him being hit by sanctions, this belief is an illusion.
More importantly, what difference would it make? Let us go with the unlikely scenario that Aoun gives up the two seats and Hariri forms his government. What are the real reforms that can be implemented? In fact, none of Lebanon’s politicians are serious about reforms, but are instead focused on getting international financial aid. Also, and in essence, Hezbollah does not need the blocking minority as it has the capacity to stop any decision at any time using violence. The blocking minority simply makes it happen in a decent and polite manner, with less damage.
What is today called the opposition knows this very well. They know that Bassil’s power comes from his political agreement with Hezbollah and that he loyally represents their interests in government. He did as minister of telecommunications, as minister of energy and water, and as minister of foreign affairs and emigrants. One common denominator we can notice in all his official positions is flows: Telecommunications is the flow of data, energy is the flow of electricity, and foreign affairs is the flow of people.
This is what is key for Hezbollah’s attempts to build its own state and infrastructure. It is the military and security side of everything that needs to be focused on. So, when Bassil is accused of corruption in all these posts, he is shielding the accusation from Hezbollah and being loyal to their agreement.
Therefore, there is no reason for Hezbollah to give up its agreement with Aoun and accept the removal of Bassil. Hezbollah is loyal to its own people, but also to its partners, and this might be a big difference from the opposition, which shifts and morphs and sells out while trying to read geopolitical trends and changes. Lately, the “Syria back in the game in Lebanon” scenario has impacted the opposition more than it did Hezbollah and company in trying to find the correct potential partners.
Focusing criticism on Bassil and depicting him as the center of all Lebanon’s problems is a weak play.
Khaled Abou Zahr
As international pressure mounts, including the threat of sanctions, most political and economic actors are looking to be part of the coming political formation to protect their own interests. This is what the current political system is all about: Protecting political parties’ interests by giving veto powers to the opposition block. Keeping government decisions intertwined with the opposition is the best way to make sure they all keep each other’s secrets. It is also the best way to share the economic benefits of the country’s riches and to keep everyone quiet. Most of all, for Hezbollah it is a fantastic tool to keep leverage over every leader, which it can use to put the pressure on whenever it is needed.
Therefore, and as a simple example, no matter who leads the current system politically, any investigation into ministries, public institutions or obviously the Banque du Liban will be carefully selective. No one wants to open this box, which is a clear continuation of the Syrian occupation and how public life and business is conducted in Lebanon. This is the way of an occupied country, where whatever limited resources are available go to the occupying force and to their acolytes locally.
All political parties are currently trying to solve the same equation: How can we get international financial support to distribute to our people without implementing any real reforms, and while keeping as much leverage as possible? The answer for all of them is to wait for the May 2022 parliamentary elections to bring in a new agreement and try to better position themselves. The wait might even give them time to reach a new deal as the geopolitical landscape changes. They might even decide to self-extend their elapsed mandate, as they have done repeatedly in the past.
What type of political regime is this? How do we define such a political system? Simply by stating the obvious that this country is still under occupation. The rest is noise. The opposition focusing their criticisms on Bassil and depicting him — especially to the international community — as the center of all Lebanon’s problems is a weak play and serves the occupation’s objectives. Moreover, for some within the opposition, the only objective is actually to replace Bassil within Hezbollah’s structure and reap the benefits that go with this service.
It is, therefore, high time the opposition took a courageous step, stood its ground and stayed loyal to the Lebanese people by stating that the real problem is Hezbollah’s status, starting with its military arsenal and its continuous attacks on the country’s sovereignty. A new country cannot be built under the threat of a competitor to its armed forces.
The opposition also needs to understand that the international community respects strength and avoids liabilities. No matter the sticks and carrots, France and others will not be able to change the equation on the ground and so will go with the pragmatic solution. The opposition needs to finally understand that it urgently needs to state a vision, with unity and loyalty, which is something that Hezbollah has and they lack.
• Khaled Abou Zahr is CEO of Eurabia, a media and tech company. He is also the editor of Al-Watan Al-Arabi.