Friday, 25 May 2012

Lebanon’s Mini-States at War

A woman walks past a burnt car in Tariq al-Jdideh, 21 May 2012. (Photo: Haitham Moussawi)
Published Thursday, May 24, 2012

No sooner had Hassan Nasrallah ended his televized address, urging residents of Beirut’s southern suburbs to get off the streets and not to harm Syrian citizens in their areas, than groups of hoodlums responded by going on vile racist anti-Syrian rampages in various places. Most of these were members or followers of the Amal movement.

In the Lebanon of the 1970s and 1980s, racist behavior against Syrians was a Christian monopoly. After 2005, the Sunnis and Druze joined in. Following the outbreak of the Syrian crisis, so did a considerable portion of the Shia, thus making the picture of Lebanese racism complete.

Many of the young Syrians who were abducted and abused over the past 48 hours could not identify the party or political affiliation of their assailants. One of them said the angry youths used abusive and violent language and brandished swords resembling the Zulfikar, a Shia symbol. As far as these Syrians are concerned, they were attacked by the Shia.

Some of those abducted told of the bizarre position they were in: they had fled from the repression of the regime, were hounded by the armed gangs for rejecting the Syrian National Council, and then attacked by Lebanese victims of the Syrian crisis... To where can they escape?

Chaos and mayhem reigned in some areas in the hours that followed the news that a group of Lebanese had been kidnapped by Syrian gunmen after crossing into Syria from Turkey. Youths set out from the southern suburbs vowing to exact retribution against the Syrian opposition – as though anyone could tell Syrian oppositionists apart from Syrian loyalists. Yet no measures were in place to prevent the angry youths from translating their threats into reality.

It was hard for anyone to imagine the Lebanese army and Internal Security Forces deployed on the roads. The army is still reeling from the successive blows it was dealt in Akkar, Tripoli and Tariq al-Jdideh, and by the military court. Throughout this crisis, the security forces have behaved as if they are only there to collect body-parts. Much ridicule was provoked by the image of police officers chasing a car because its driver was not wearing a seat belt.

A quarter of a century ago, during an illusory lull in the civil war, Ziad al-Rahbani said: “It’ll be back, God permitting.” He went on to warn us that the violence of the Dark Ages was returning to Lebanon and the region. Today, Lebanon is reminding its people that the age of state-building was misnamed, and that we are now in the age of mini-states competing to draw their borders with blood and fire.

After what has happened, the Lebanese will have to acclimatize to realities as they are. It is no longer important what x thinks of y, nor to analyse the background and ramifications of the scene. This time, all of Lebanon has become hostage to the Syrian crisis, whether anyone likes it or not. The external parties intervening in Syria have a powerful presence in Lebanon too, and they have ample experience of similar intervention, though in different forms.

After what has happened, let the Lebanese cope. A certain distinctiveness applies to regions of the South and the Bekaa and part of Beirut. A distinctiveness with a different sensibility applies to part of the Chouf. A distinctiveness with a third sensibility applies to large areas of the North and the Bekaa and part of Beirut too. And there are silent conflicts, which will persist, on the fringes of the South and the Bekaa, and in parts of Mount Lebanon.

But the crisis will be in the Christian majority areas, whose distinctiveness lies in the fear which prevails over the collective mind. This fear is all-encompassing: fear not only for the Christians’ role, but for their fate. And this common denominator is unaffected by the rivalry between the political forces vying for Christian support, especially since the Future Movement stripped the March 14 Christians of any distinction they used to have.

From now on, the mini-states will assume their distinctive forms. The irony, however, is that the “Shia mini-state” now has an interest in belonging to a complete state. During the latest events, Hezbollah was afraid of the army breaking up, of the Internal Security Forces finally disintegrating, and of barriers and checkpoints being erected between different districts. Hezbollah‘s non-intervention in the battles in Tariq al-Jdideh means only one thing: nothing can come from a confessional war.

But there is a different mindset in the newfound “Sunni mini-state,” where separatist sentiment is growing by the day. The sense of being let down is turning into a desire to spurn the rule of the state so long as decision-making is not in their hands.

Saad Hariri, along with his aides and his Gulfi and Western backers, has embarked on the most dangerous game in a quarter of a century. Lebanon’s Sunnis - having been turned into a sect, and then into a confessional group suffering from the hard feelings of a minority - are now going toward introversion, and political and social affiliation with a scheme connected to the Syrian crisis.

This group is no longer capable of banking on anything else: either Syria falls into the hands of the axis to which they belong, or the isolation game will be played out further.

But estrangement from others is not the worst affliction that results from isolation. It also incapacitates the ability to construct a coherent program. That is the point at which anarchy takes over, insanity prevails, and the strong devour the weak.

It is a spectacle we have seen before. But there are those who want to replay it once again, on the grounds that they are angry.
Ibrahim al-Amin is editor-in-chief of Al-Akhbar.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.
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