By Ghassan Karam
In a democracy very few things, if any, justify sedition. Disagreements and dissatisfaction with policies can be opposed vigorously and dealt with through the ballot box during the next electoral cycle. That is the role of the loyal opposition.
Unfortunately this has never been the case in any Arab country including Lebanon since practically each of the countries is ruled either by an absolute monarchy or a one party dictatorship. Change under such circumstances does not take place without a violent revolution. Lebanon is an exception among the Arab countries. It is an almost democracy but not quite, at least in the sense that numerous political ideologies are represented in the Chamber of Deputies and even in the makeup of its government. Lebanon has managed to escape the strong one man dictatorship that has characterized Egypt, Syria, Yemen, Libya and Tunis just to name a few.
This very special delicate balance between the illiberal Lebanese political parties has led to a relatively liberal state, a state that recognizes more political and social individual rights than any other Arab state. Actually the latest Freedom Index, a sophisticated survey that has been conducted for over sixty years shows that the only two Arab countries that earn the Partially Free label are Lebanon and Kuwait. All the others are grouped under Not Free countries.
This tradition is in danger of suffering a major setback. Hezbollah and its allies have resorted periodically to measures that border on outright rebellion by occupying major public areas of Beirut for months at a time, instigating periodic road blocks and disrupting civilian life through the burning of rubber tires, occupying by force parts of Beirut and the mountains and even instigating a devastating war that has cost the country a heavy price in blood and treasure. As if all of that is not enough, Sayed Hassan Nasrallah has recently given two speeches and promises at least another one in the near future in which he has thrown the gauntlet to challenge the legitimacy of the Special tribunal for Lebanon, STL.
The STL was set up in 2007 under the auspices of the United Nations and due to a request by the Lebanese government for help in investigating the assassination of Rafic Hariri and others. Hezbollah was part of the Lebanese government that approved the establishment of the STL. Rulings by judicial systems rarely please everyone; actually they never do since judicial pronouncements on substantive issues are bound to be subjective to some extent. That has always been the case and always will, all over the globe. What promises to be unique in the current Lebanese case is not the possibility that one party or the other will find fault with the STL ruling once it is pronounced, it is that Sayed Nasrallah is busy laying the ground work for civil strife if the STL indictment goes against his party members. Compare this totally irresponsible behavior that is the product of a non democratic mind set with the calm, mature, statesman like behavior of Sa’ad Hariri. Mr. Hariri has been working hard to ascertain that irrespective of what the STL rules Al Mustaqbal and its allies are willing to accept such rulings. Mr. Hariri is guided by the national interest, the rule of law and democratic institutions when Hezbollah and its allies are driven by personal agendas and motivations that are bent on demonizing the other and that are based in authoritarian thinking.
The sordid affair that took the life of Rafic Hariri five years ago has to end. The only respectable and democratic way to accomplish that is to accept the STL ruling no matter what it turns out to be. The position of Hezbollah through its General Secretary, Hassan Nasrallah, to damage the legitimacy of the institution prior to an indictment and a ruling is preposterous. It is nothing but a cynical effort to reject any outcome that is not favourable to the party; Hezbollah will fight a ruling against its members but will accept a ruling that is favourable to them. What if all parties are to adopt such a position? Then no matter what the ruling turns out to be one group or another would give itself the right to use force and call for destructive behavior. Such attitudes and practices cannot be tolerated in a democratic setting. What we ought to do is follow the sensible democratic path being championed by Saad Hariri. That is democracy and responsible behaviour.