Lebanon at a Tripwire

Posted in Broader Middle East | 22-Dec-06 | Source: International Crisis Group

Beirut/Brussels, 21 December 2006: Lebanon is at risk of renewed collapse unless domestic and especially international actors abandon their zero-sum struggle and seek compromise.

Lebanon at a Tripwire,* the latest briefing from the International Crisis Group, warns that a political divide and sectarian split in a context of heavy outside interference will have tragic human consequences and dangerous regional ramifications. The conflict is now concentrated on the issue of the international tribunal to prosecute those responsible for the assassination of ex-Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri and the composition of the government. The political impasse has led both sides to call out their followers.

“Street politics have replaced institutional politics”, says Crisis Group analyst Patrick Haenni. “Huge demonstrations on one side trigger colossal protests from the other. Civil war remains unlikely. But with heightened polarisation, intensified confessionalisation and heavy outside interference, it is again becoming thinkable”.

The conflict reflects deeper local and international struggles: a vision of Lebanon anchored in the West against a militant, pan-Arab outlook; Syria against Israel; the U.S. administration against the Syrian regime; pro-Western Sunni Arab regimes led by Saudi Arabia against ascendant Iran and Shiite militancy; and, hovering above it all, Washington against Tehran.

Any viable solution must reflect a broad consensual package deal: a joint majority/opposition commission to review and amend the international tribunal statutes to guarantee independence and non-politicisation; simultaneous parliamentary approval of those statutes, a unity government and a new electoral law; early parliamentary and presidential elections. Lebanon must also address domestic problems that enable and encourage outside interference. This means strengthening state institutions, ending a corrupt patronage system and de-confessionalising politics.

A sustainable resolution of the conflict also requires immediate U.S. re-engagement with Syria, for Damascus has made clear that it will destabilise Lebanon if its vital interests are ignored.

“This conflict is not about coup plotters against democrats or a popular uprising against an illegitimate state”, says Crisis Group Middle East Director Robert Malley. “It is one street against the other, one Lebanon against another. Neither side can afford to lose, and neither can govern alone”.

Contacts: Andrew Stroehlein (Brussels) 32 (0) 2 541 1635
Kimberly Abbott (Washington) 1 202 785 1601

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*Read the full Crisis Group briefing on our website: http://www.crisisgroup.org

The International Crisis Group (Crisis Group) is an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organisation covering over 50 crisis-affected countries and territories across four continents, working through field-based analysis and high-level advocacy to prevent and resolve deadly conflict.