IS LEBANON DOOMED TO CIVIL WAR?


30.11.06
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 solution.
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 domestic events.
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 political crises.
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 that country.
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. -0-