|IS LEBANON DOOMED TO CIVIL WAR?
MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Marianna Belenkaya)
The next few days will be crucial for the situation in Lebanon. Shiite
Hizbollah and the Christian Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) led by Gen.
Michel Aoun are going to call their supporters to the streets and demand a
government of national unity.
At the same time, Aoun does not rule out that the opposition may find a
compromise with the ruling coalition (the March 14 Movement). The Lebanese
army has been put on high alert.
The situation is desperate. It is obvious that any compromise will be a
temporary solution, although up to this day Lebanese politicians have been
doing all they could to prevent political discord from boiling over into a
war, and tried to find a compromise on all disputable issues. But now time
for concessions is past. The opposition demands a new prime minister,
redistribution of seats in the parliament, and possibly, new elections in
the hope of getting a majority vote. In turn, the ruling coalition has not
accepted President Emile Lahoud as a Syrian placeman. The opposition has
responded by accusing the current prime minister of conspiring with Israel
and the United States.
On the one hand, it seems that a compromise is not altogether impossible
– it is only necessary to find the right candidates for the positions of
the prime minister and the president, that is, those who would suit both
the ruling coalition and the opposition. But it appears that there are no
such candidates in Lebanon. At any rate, this would be only a temporary
Different Lebanese communities are fighting for power, and Lebanon has
become a bone of contention between the U.S. and Europe on the one side,
and Syria and Iran, on the other. These two trends are largely independent
of each other, but at the same time external processes are influencing
In fact, Lebanon has two choices – either a civil war, which will lead
to the redistribution of power, or a change in the political system. All
interim or half-hearted solutions only delay the inevitable.
All government and parliamentary coalitions in Lebanon rest on a very
sensitive combination of interests of different communities and this has
paralyzed Lebanon. This is why the 1989 Taif accords, aimed at putting an
end to the civil war, provided for gradual abolition of religious
considerations in the national political structure. But this has not been
done up to this day.
The religious hierarchy in Lebanon was built over several decades.
However, its modern version rests on the population census conducted in
1932. At that time the Maronite Christians accounted for 28.3% of the
entire population, Sunnis for 22.5%, Shiites for 18.4%, Orthodox Greeks
for 9.8%, and Druzes for 6.6%. Since then the situation has obviously
changed in favor of Shiites but a new census was avoided for fear of
However, this did not work, and Lebanon seems to be in a permanent
political crisis. The hopes for stabilization after the end of the civil
war in the early 1990s have gone up in smoke. Credit for a relative
equilibrium in the last few years goes to Rafik Harari, a politician and
businessman. It can also be attributed to the fact that all political
groups in Lebanon and outside it needed some time to regroup their forces.
Moreover, in the 1990s the situation changed not only in Lebanon, but also
in the entire Middle East, which directly affected Lebanon. This was a
period of hopes and expectations for the whole region.
But they did not materialize. The region exploded in 2000 with the start
of the new Intifada on Palestinian territories. The war in Iraq began in
2003; the U.S. increased its pressure on Damascus and Tehran, and launched
its doctrine of bringing democracy to the Middle East. All this had its
impact on Lebanon.
Finally, as a result of protests in Beirut in 2005, after the
assassination of the former Prime Minister Rafik Harari, Syria withdrew
its troops, which were deployed in Lebanon for many years. This was a
prelude to a potential change in the balance of forces in Lebanon, which
was long overdue, but was suppressed from the outside.
The Israeli forces left Lebanon even earlier – in 2000. During this
period, Hizbollah has become much stronger, and is the most viable group
in Lebanon today, as the summer Lebanese-Israeli war has shown. What is a
force de facto, should become it de jure. It requires seats in the
government and parliament rather than in some shadow cabinet. Moreover, it
is important to consider the political ambitions of Gen. Aoun, whose
supporters in the Christian community outnumber by far those who are
backing the ruling coalition.
But are Paris and Washington ready to allow a new alignment of forces in
Lebanon? Will they accept a stronger Hizbollah and a more powerful Shiite
community as a whole? This is very unlikely. As Lebanese history shows,
foreign players have always been behind any redistribution of forces in
In principle, today Hizbollah is strong enough to take the power on its
own, especially with the help of Aoun’s supporters. But neither he not
the Shiite leaders would like to win the dubious fame of warmongers.
Probably, they will try to seek a compromise after scaring the ruling
coalition with large-scale protests. But nobody can predict the outcome of
massive demonstrations – Lebanon has never been short of provocateurs.