Resisting Appeasement

Posted in Broader Middle East | 13-Jun-08 | Author: Manuela Paraipan

Manuela Paraipan

The Doha agreement that ended the 18-month political crisis looks more like a political truce than anything else. Hizbollah's demands were met in full. The party maintains control over Beirut airport, it still has its autonomous telecommunication lines, its arms and private army, and perhaps most significantly, the veto power over the government.

The Cedar Revolution was not all in vain as it managed to get rid of the Syrian military occupation, but not of Syrian influence. This was to be expected, since major changes don't come overnight. March 14 lost momentum because:

1) it relied more than it should have on outside forces. Maybe the group thought that for regional and international powers, Lebanon is important in itself, while in reality Lebanon is just a piece of the regional puzzle.

2) of the lack of unity within the group

3) it employed a defensive strategy, forgetting or ignoring that in Arab societies this is equal to weakness

What happened to UN Resolutions 1559, 1701, 1680 and 1775? What about the declamatory speeches of March 14, and their international allies? Nothing. And this is precisely the problem. March 14 started off well with the Cedar Revolution asking for a sovereign and independent Lebanon, and ended up years later in a similar, troubled situation with a group that controls parts of the country and sabotages the rule of law every chance it gets.

Knowing southern Lebanon, the suburbs and the Beqaa, Hizbollah is right to say that the state is not present there. Hizbollah and Amal took over the areas largely ignored by the state since the 1980s and built their base to the point that the state is not welcome in these parts.

The Lebanon of 2008 is different from the one of 2000. Regional aspects have changed dramatically; both factionalism and extremism have gained more ground and Hizbollah has reached its peak. There is nothing else Hizbollah can hope for short of starting an intra-Islamic conflict. That would be foolish. Both Hizbollah and Iran, in spite of the flamboyant discourse meant for the masses will get the short end of the stick. That is why the tactic has been to act as a bully, but not to the point of no return. Admittedly the maneuver worked, but now is time for a paradigm shift.

"Hizbollah is under huge pressure and the signals couldn't be more diverse. With the assassination of Imad Mughniya, Hizbollah faced the first serious test with the regional changing context. The assassination came at a point of openness between Israel and Syria and that raised the question whether Hizbollah will be used as a scapegoat in a future deal. However, Hizbollah's problem goes beyond the dynamics of Syria’s and Israel’s relationship. The end of Hizbollah, like of any other resistance in history, coincides with its ultimate achievement: Liberation. Resistances end with liberation and this is a bitter fact that the party started to face since 1998. In that period of time, everyone was excited about the possible Israeli withdrawal from South Lebanon except Hizbollah. They were worried that the withdrawal would put an end to the mission and hence to the legitimacy of keeping the weapons. What complicated this issue more is that Hizbollah has portrayed its weapons as the Shiite source for partnership within the system, and now any discussion over the weapons is in one way or another a discussion over the Shiite partnership. That is why Hizbollah claims that its disarmament weakens the Shiite community. This is yet another fact Hizbollah has to learn. The Shiite political leadership must redefine its role within the system, far from resistance and open struggle with Israel," said Nadim Koteich, a Lebanese political analyst.

It went almost unnoticed in the media that President Michel Suleiman told his French counterpart that the defense strategy, meaning the arms of Hizbollah, would be discussed only after the liberation of the Shebaa Farms and Kfar Shuba Hills area. If the president truly meant what he said, and it is difficult to imagine otherwise, then this is worrisome. If the strategy employed is that of appeasement, then Suleiman will merely be continuing the policy of former President Emile Lahoud. The Lebanese army is weak, but this is not a problem that is impossible to overcome. The soldiers can be trained and better equipped with the support of the international community. If Hizbollah is eager to help, it can incorporate its sophisticated guerrilla into the national army. In a state of law, there is no place for groups to hold on to arms, except from the state institutions such as the army, police, etc. There are no two ways about it. Either Lebanon is a state, and the law is one for all, or it isn't, and then the country can be declared an open space for all militias to roam around. No one is preventing the Shiias from exercising their rightful power and role in Lebanon, so long as they don't use terror to achieve their aims.

In spite of its shortcomings, Doha proved that Lebanon is not alone. Each state is pursuing its interests, but this time the Arabs understand that the game is bigger than Lebanon, and although they all support Hizbollah when it fights the "imperialistic Americans and Zionists," they also know that Hizbollah is Iran's armed wing in Lebanon and the region. In the well-known Arab style, the accomplishment is mellow and transitory.

Newly reappointed Prime Minister Fuad Siniora is trying to form a caretaker government until the 2009 parliamentary elections. Some have failed to realize that Lebanon is in a post-Doha period and have put Siniora’s efforts to the test. Both the opposition and the majority have to understand that political bickering for more power, influence and money does not serve the country. The sectarianism and tribal type of governance that plagues the country has shown its Medusa head in the negotiations over the government-allocated seats. One of the many available examples is the request of Michel Murr that his son, Elias Murr must receive the Defense Ministry and not another portfolio. The reasons to back the claim are that the Murr family is among the most important Christian families and that Elias Murr has held this position before, and he worked well with General Michel Suleiman, then the commander in chief of the army. These are reasons to be taken into consideration, but are they enough? What about meritocracy? Furthermore, if the sole interest is to serve the people, then any portfolio should be good enough for the Murrs and other such clans. Those who cling to sectarianism as a ladder only prove that they wouldn’t be able to make it in a competitive environment, where family name, what you have and who you know do not matter as much as your abilities as an individual.

Lebanon will stop being used as a tool in proxy wars only when the Lebanese understand that strength comes from unity, and that national affiliation takes precedence over religious and clan affiliation.

Manuela Paraipan is WSN Editor "Broader Middle East".