Ever since the July War ended, Lebanon’s bi-polarity returned with escalated manner. For starters, none of the camps stepped down from their goals. The opposition coalition, headed by the Shiite based Hezbollah and the Christian Party Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), remained as strong as ever. The FPM want to secure the Presidential Chair of its leader General Aoun, specially the current President (shoved by the Syrians three years ago) was to end. Pressure from the United States has increased to disarm Hezbollah. What Israel failed to do in a military sense, its ally was attempting to do in a political sense. The pressure of the United States has triggered a reaction from Hezbollah’s sponsors, Imam Ali Khamenei to react with escalations. Hezbollah and AMAL decided to withdraw from the 14th of March (anti-Syrian) government in order to oust the government in an attempt to safeguard its arms and make sure that its allied parties get the chair. Eventually, the National Dialogue collapsed between the reactionary leaders since none refused to step down on their demands.
The demands were several, and they didn’t change, rather simply escalated. For starters, the 14th of March wanted to disarm Hezbollah under the banner that the Lebanese Army should be the only legitimate force to go head to head with Israel. They argued that to fortify Lebanon economically and socially is the only solution for Lebanon to collide with Israel. This is not mistake the government with a reformist dimension. The government has followed a neo-con economical perspective of free market and its economic policies have increased class inequality within the Lebanese. The same figures of 14th of March were allied to the Syrians during the Syrian Mandate over Lebanon. The 14th of March also wanted to oust President Lahoud but they failed. Currently, with Lahoud’s term almost over, they are planning to win the Presidency through the majority of seats within the Parliament. Several seats of the Parliament were won through their alliance during the 05 elections with Hezbollah and AMAL. 14th of March coalition also insist on the International Tribunal to occur in order to investigate the assassination of the late Rafiq Harriri (his son Saad is the spearhead of the Sunni St. within 14th of March) and the rest of the assassinations. The alliance believes that is the way to get rid of Syrian influences in Lebanon, and best case scenario to change the Syrian Baathi regime from Beirut. Some of the 14th of March are even optimistic that they will disarm Hezbollah. Worse, the head of the Christian Party within 14th of March, Samir Jaajaa, was optimistic that the Tribunal can occur via UN’s Section Seven.
The 8th of March represents all the parties who were damaged by the withdrawal of the Syrian Mandate on Lebanon, except for the Free Patriotic Movement, who claim they are allied to 8th of March but not part of it and the small Nasserite Group, Movement of the Commoners. The Opposition hence got the majority of the largest sect in Lebanon, the Shiites, and the strongest Christian figure, according to the 2005 statistics of the Parliamentary results, General Aoun. There has not been any statistics to see whether the status quo between Aoun and Jaajaa changed. The Opposition were demanding that the Tribunal at first be local, then didn’t mind to be International as long as they had a say in it. Hezbollah in specific are worried that the United States would abuse the International Tribunal for political purposes, specially since George Bush himself indorsed the Tribunal. Second, they demanded the effective 1/3 of the government in order to veto any decision within the government. The problem is present because the current Lebanese President, along with the opposition, had the 1/3 in the national 2005 government, but several figures of the President switched sides. The 1/3 would allow the Opposition to dominate all institutional sectors on the political level. They already have the President of the Nation (who has to be a Christian Maronite but lacks any effective mechanisms), they already got Speaker of the Parliament, head of AMAL Nabih Berri (who attained with alliance to 14th of March and Hezbollah), and a crippled government.
When the war broke out, the government took it almost one week to issue any public statement. This was the biggest mistake from the 14th of March since the Opposition keep reminding the government how they reacted late to the Israeli aggression on the Lebanese citizens.
After the war was over, with the United States and its international allies allowing the Israelis to bomb Lebanon for a whole month, the international community expressed support to the government, headed by Harriri’s movement, an Economist and Ex-Finance Minister, Prime Minister Seniora. The excessive support of Bush made Hezbollah and AMAL (the other Shiite based party) to worry more. Moreover, the entire Arabian rich Gulf nations supported the government since Harriri had strong ties with them, as well as France. The Gulf are not really respected by the Opposition since they took one side, and never liked the Parties who are in alliance with Syria. Moreover, Hezbollah, who for religious reasons abide by Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei (Shiite), for religious reasons, cause a threat to their 14th of March leaders. The Israeli government also expressed support to the government and on several occasions expressed the need to pressure the International Community to protect the Lebanese Government. They insisted more when the Shiite Block withdrew from the government. Even though PM Seniora refuted to even talk with Olmert, the government was tacked as US puppies.
Hezbollah, need to safeguard their right to arm as a resistance group to Israel (and since the Civil War they didn’t aim their bullets anyone Lebanese) and hence not in their history they have been involved in Lebanese politics to that detail. Their leader, Hassan Nasrallah, stated that once there is an alternative is clearly given to Hezbollah to disarm, then they will do it.
With the date of approving the International Tribunal and none of the camps reaching common grounds, the five Shiite ministers of Hezbollah and AMAL (along with the President’s remaining Minister, a Christian Greek Orthodox) resigned. Prime Minister Seniora refuted to assign any substitute ministers under the claim that only AMAL and Hezbollah represented the Shiite community. With Hezbollah and AMAL not in the government, the Opposition launched a full scale propaganda that the government was not constitutional since it lacked any Shiites in it, or not the entire Sects were represented. The successful results of Aoun’s, who lived in exile for over a decade, movement against the Lebanese Forces furthered the demand that even the Christians were not represented (a very highly controversial issue).
Eventually, the Opposition decided to escalate further their demands, which was either a National Unity Government which included the 1/3, resignation of the current government, or do early parliamentary elections. They decided to stage an open demonstration.
Pierre Gemayel Jr. got assassinated
Just when the Opposition was about to launch its demonstrations and the camps’ leaders of both sides exchanging insults and accusations, the Industry Minister, the young Pierre Gemayel Jr., was assassinated through close-by shooting by an unknown side. None knew who it was. The 14th of March accused Syria and Iran behind the assassination with the assassination and included it within the International Tribunal’s investigations (again supported by Bush himself) while the Opposition accused Samir Jaajaa (head of the Lebanese Forces Party) to assassinate him since they wanted to cancel the demonstration. It is worth to mention that Pierre Gemayel came from the legendary Phalange Party leadership and he is the nephew of Bashir Gemayel, who invited the Israelis to enter Lebanon back in 1982 to install him as a President.
Sectarianism and the Great Divide
When Sectarianism is strong, class struggle is weak. Lebanon is divided into different sects, which belong to four major religious Sects. Each leader represents a Sect and attempts to proclaim himself/herself as the Sect defenders.
The largest Sect, the Shiites, are most unified under the leadership of Hezbollah and AMAL with support from Iran and Syria. The Shiites historically have been oppressed and lacked any real political parties till AMAL movement was organized. They were present in the poorest areas, and were excluded mainly from the governmental budgets.
The Sunni sect is dominated mostly by the Harriri Family, which is currently spearheaded by the Late Rafiq Harriri’s son, Sa’ad. The Sunnis are way better off than the Shiites, but this does not mean they do lack any support from the Sunni lower-classed. After all, the name of the game by the Sect Leaders, is the fact each leader is defending their sect from the others. Currently, due to the polarized region between Saudi Arabia (Sunni) and Iran (Shiite) in Iraq has triggered this polarization to new dimensions in Lebanon.
The Christians are divided between the camps. There is currently no official records what is the status quo as the latest dates back to 2005. A lot of changes occurred in the Status Quo between the Pro Government or Pro Opposition Christians. The bulk are the Christian Lebanese Forces, and with the assassination of Pierre Gemayel, the situation is heated up between Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement and Jaajaa. There are smaller Christian parties, such as the Pro-Opposition Marada (concentrated in the North) and Pro-government figures parties such as Neyla Mou’awad, the Phalange, the Liberation Party, and others. The deadliest current clashes has been in the divided Christian community.
The smallest minority, the Druze, has been dominated by Walid Junblatt and his Progressive Socialist Party. I have to warn my readers not to be deceived by the name of the party as its base is purliy Durzi in nature. The Durzi Sect is the smallest Sect, but historically a very strong militant party. They are an off-shoot of Islam but are a Sect of their own with major differences such as the belief in reincarnation. The opposition have their own leader, prince Talal Irslan, but lacks the base to face Junblatt politically.
The secular parties are too weak to lead anything. The Lebanese Communist Party was part of the 8th of March coalition indirectly, and decided to withdraw. It is a Stalinist party currently, but has a huge respectable history of defending the workers and heroic sacrifices. The Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP) is a party that demanded greater Syria, with the unification for different historical, geographical, sociological, and economical reasons the re-unification of Greater Syria (Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Cyprus, Iraq, historic Palestine). They are still a very well organized and pro-Baathi Syrian Government. The Democratic Leftist Movement is a movement made of ex-LCP party and independents but their demands lack any leftist motives rather they support the Sectarian line-up (like the SSNP) and lack any real base since the movement is elite oriented in its nature.
The demonstration began, after memorial for Pierre Gemayel ended, in December the 1st 2006. The number of Participants ranged between 1.5 million to 2 million Lebanese (Lebanon’s population is supposed to be 4 million). The Opposition leaders clearly announced that this demonstration (which is still ongoing till now with tens of thousands per day unless a major event occurs) will continue till National Unity Government occurs (with the 1/3 veto) or early parliamentary elections.
The opposition, other than relying on its Sectarian base, blamed the Seniora government for the corrupt for historical debts and business performances. Hezbollah and the Free Patriotic Movement never participated before in the government (except for Hezbollah in 2005 and withdrew after one year). Most of the Government and Opposition figures by the way have been part of the governments under the Syrian Mandate. Hezbollah would rely on its Shiite base as Aoun would rely on his own. The Governmental Palace was surrounded by the demonstrators, but the governmental remained, partly due to its support base and mainly due to the international support it received from almost all nations involved except Iran and Syria.
The Media itself played a major role in charging up the situation. Each political faction almost has its own media. Most of the media has its listeners based on Sect and coalitions and almost each Media reports a world of its own rather than what is happening. For example, Hezbollah’s Manar and Harriri’s Future TV report the news only of what they or their leaders say. This has increased the division among the Proletariat and even charged the supporters of the government or opposition. While the supporters of the Opposition gathered in Martyr’s Square (previously Pro-Government demonstrators gathered) and neighborly Solh square, with at night festivals and speeches, the Pro-Government demonstrated elsewhere through out Lebanon in locations whereby the Pro Government supporters are a majority. The Newspaper and the Television created public opinion rather report it. The Arab League’s Chairman attempted to consolidate both factions but failed since each camp has gone beyond the “return route” and will attempt to subdue the other: 14th of March government voted on the International Tribunal (with the Shiite block still resigned) while the Opposition made its promise that they will not leave the streets till there are Parliamentary Elections or Real National Unity government.
I have to mention that every time Bush or Olmert expressed support to the Seniora government, political instability increased in Lebanon. The Opposition would accuse the Government they are US-Zionist puppies, while the Government respond that they are charging the region in a sectarian manner and that Hezbollah decided solo to drag Lebanon to a war against Israel. Despite all that, Lebanon proved it is a democratic nation while all factions are demonstrating against each other peacefully till the riots broke when the Opposition decided to escalate its movement.
Riots, Clashes, and the semi-return of the Cantons
With the deadlock progressing between both reactionary camps, the government decided to go solo in developing a reform plan and bring financing from the international community. The Syrian Social Nationalist Party, part of the opposition, was raided by the security forces and weaponry was confiscated. The government attempted to use the SSNP as scapegoat for the assassinations.
With the Government going to Paris to get financing in a solo manner, the Opposition decided to escalate, as warned from the beginning of the demonstrations, and decided to do civil disobedience. This involved demonstrating through out Lebanon and blocking the streets. Last Tuesday witnessed the Opposition hitting the street and clashes between the Opposition and the Pro-Government. The army remained neutral through out the process, like they did in 1958, and attempted to separate the demonstrators. The army was successful to open some main roads, but ended up simply dividing the opposing parties. Fist to fist clashes occurred in some shared regions between the Sunnis and the Shiits, but the severe clashes erupted in the North between the Christian leaders. That doomed day reflected that not only Hezbollah has weaponry, but proved that all parties have at least light weaponry. Part of the riots exploded with unknown snipers shooting at both sides. Accusations sprung between both camps who is more “civilized” and the media reported the other as “dictators” (in case the media is pro-opposition) or “rebellious” (in case the media is pro-government). The demonstration was supposed to last for a week, but Riyadh and Tehran intervened to avoid a blood bath.
The Media charge-up played its role. As about 7 people got killed last Tuesday, Sectarianism was again to prove fatal. Two days later, a new political instability occurred. A fight broke up in a certain university, while again unknown snipers shot at everyone (which Opposition and Government leaders accused each other with) and riots broke up and spread to neighborly streets. Just as Tuesday was to be remembered mainly for the clashes between the Christian Leaders’ supporters, Thursday was the clash of the Sunnis and Shiites in Beirut. Stones flew everywhere, and eventually some shooting occurred. The army successfully smuggled the students outside the area, and one student died with a bullet in the head while a lot got injured mainly from stones. By nightfall, the Sunnis at their stronghold at Tareeq Jdeedi region, burnt down an SSNP HQ. The army declared curfew in Beirut which was effective from 9:00 in the evening till Friday 6:00 in the morning. This occurred as the Government succeeded in attaining 7.6 billion dollars in form of grants, loans, or for free (under the Patronage of the French President Chirac).
In any case, some of the political parties' supporters did check-points requesting identification cards during those demonstrations. The sad part of the story that the ones mainly involved in the riots are university students, which does not really give an optimistic picture of Lebanon in the future.
Currently, politicians still are escalating their accusations, and foreign intervention is taking place. Accusations with treason are flying, and the reactionary leaders are not stepping down to consolidate each other. On Thursday, Harriri accused the others of irrational acts but asked his supporters to calm down. Nasrallah had to issue a Fatwa to make sure that his Shiite supporters remain calm. This proved that both leaders are beginning to lose control of their supporters as their media are charging their supporters with hatred. Just yesterday political leaders accused each other as uncivilized, or pawns for a regional war, while the other claims to be the “real Lebanese”.
Some of the donors in Lebanon at Paris said that the crisis in Lebanon can’t be resolved till the Palestinian Israeli issue is resolved. Others argue that the brutal invasion of the US on Iraq to oust out its dictator Saddam also polarized the region since the Sunnis and Shiites are clashing there. The US are intervening in Lebanon, Palestine, and Iraq directly. Lebanon’s proletariat are divided, and all secular parties are too weak to do a unified front. Bottom line, politicians are struggling for a greater piece of the pie, and the Proletariat are paying the price for their greed. The situation cannot be solved directly, since the core problem is Sectarianism and how it paves way for foreign meddling. One major solution is to encourage secular thought and integrate civil marriage. The crisis continues, I recommend reading my blog for some updates.
RENEGADE EYE & MarxistFromLebanon