By Sam Menassa
On this day, November 22nd, the Lebanese commemorate their independence from France in 1943. It is the last commemoration of Michel Aoun’s term, and this year also marks the end of the first hundred years since the establishment of Greater Lebanon was announced in 1920. It is perhaps the worst independence day Lebanon has witnessed over those 78 years, even with all the political and economic crises and civil wars the country had seen. The awful situation the country finds itself in amid shaky regional and bumpy international circumstances has compelled serious thinking about the future and the changes it will bear witness to. The question has become: will anything remain of the Lebanon we have known over the past century?
Lebanon’s political and security difficulties are not new, and the multifaceted and interconnected reasons for them are simultaneously local and regional. Domestically, to be fair, Lebanese are responsible for a large part of the crisis. Since its independence, Lebanon has not been built on structural and institutional foundations that enforce the emergence of a state and citizenship, but on sectarian foundations that turned it into a geographical space that hosts a group of sects, each of which has its eye on a foreign guardian. It couldn’t rise to the level of a nation, and the Lebanese did not fuse together and leave their sectarian garments behind to become citizens. A decisive juncture came in 1969, the year Lebanon signed the Cairo Agreement with the Palestinian Liberation Organization. That day, the seeds of the civil war, which would see an explosion of violence that began in 1975, were sown. The war wouldn’t end until the Taif Agreement was concluded in 1989. Then came the events of October 13, 1990, and the expulsion of the country’s major Christian figures from it. After that, without any deep reconciliations, the warlords took power, taking their battle from their military barricades to their political ones. The war became dormant; it did not end.
“The straw that broke the camel’s back” over the past two decades was power being handed to an armed Lebanese faction that follows a sectarian ideology foreign to its local sectarian community, as well as the Lebanese and Arab climates. It is part and parcel of the Iranian-Syrian political axis and is totally loyal to it. There is no doubt the other Lebanese factions have their own alliances with other counties in the region. However, those alliances did not rise to the level of bordering on total ideological and organizational alignment that would render those factions integral parts of those alliances whose dictates and commands are always followed, as is the case for Hezbollah with Iran. This unique and highly complicated relationship has left Hezbollah without any form of allegiance to the nation or consideration for the country’s interests, leaving Lebanon without its Arab and Western dimensions and putting it in the center of the region and the world’s confrontations on a regional axis’ side.
As for the regional climate surrounding Lebanon, it is also witnessing many changes. The most prominent of them is that the concept of an Arab world has become a thing of the past and that this Arab world has become fragmented, with its counrties going in different directions and preoccupied with different and distant concerns. On one side, there are the Gulf countries, a second is composed of Egypt, Jordan and Iraq (to a certain extent), who are trying to form an axis, and a third in North Africa, with its wars in Libya and the troubles in Algeria, as well as the disputes between its countries over several issues, and Sudan is drowning in its problems. Facing them is the Iranian axis that includes Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and Iraq, which is uncertain and being disputed over.
This Arab scene, with all of its disputes and crises, had a new element added to it as six Arab countries normalized ties with Israel, as did Palestine itself, and Qatar and Oman are not far from this wave of reconciliation. On the other side, the countries that form the Iranian axis are escalating against the normalizers, who are trying to expand the circle so it encompasses Syria as well, disregarding the fact that it would be akin to suicide for the Assad regime because it would deprive it of its raison d’etre, the claim of resisting Israel. It also assumes that Damascus could become out of Iran’s control, which will not happen because the links that tie the countries together are deep and ideological. Tehran makes the decisions in Damascus and will not let go of its spearhead, which has allowed it to enter the region and in which it has invested for decades. Moreover, Israel perhaps does not want to normalize with a state-controlled by five others, especially since it never strived to bring down the Assad regime. Instead, it prefers for Syria, which has become a playground for Israeli airplanes and rockets and a place where Israel can clip Iran’s wings, to remain weak and occupied.
As for the international level, the United States’ policy remains foggy and characterized by an array of contradictions. On the one hand, the Democratic administration is striving to return to the nuclear deal and avoids angering Iran. Meanwhile, a bipartisan majority in Congress has been stern with Iran and its allies, and there is a chance that the upcoming midterm elections will not be in the Democrats’ favor. Also, it cannot overlook the actions that destabilize regional security taken by Tehran, its vassals and the regimes, headed by the Syrian regime, allied with it. The way Iran sees it, returning to the nuclear agreement is not in its interest, at least not now. That would cost it a card it uses for blackmail in Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, and China is providing it with a dimension that cannot be underestimated.
As a result, Lebanon celebrates its crumbling independence and enters the last year of the president of the republic’s term and the end of its first century in this midst of this climate, which has been reflected in unprecedented immigration that is akin to fleeing. Even without it, the country has been going through the most difficult and dangerous phase of its modern history: the state, with all of its institutions, has been sidelined and brought under the control of a single faction. The Arab world is unable to take a united and unifying stance despite the attempts to establish a new, cohesive regional system to confront Iran and change regional politics, and Western states, first and foremost the United States, are loud and clear: do not depend on us and take your thorns out yourselves.
All of the West’s stances and reactions to the grave developments seen in Lebanon over the past few decades, the most prominent of which are the investigations of Rafik Hariri’s assassination and the Port of Beirut explosion, as well as Hezbollah’s encroachments, do they not remind us of the attempt to pardon the actions seen in Syria? Those who forgive everything that happened in Syria are pardoning what happened in Beirut. The United Nations’ entire monotonous tune on Lebanon’s affairs, from the claims of being committed to its sovereignty and independence, as well as the implementation of Resolutions 1559 and 1701, is empty. The West is working to serve its interests, and today those interests demand that Lebanon does not attract more problems to it, even if it continues to be governed by “devils.”
What matters is that Lebanon does not shake up the region and leave a negative impact on it. How else could we explain Washington’s support for the current government, which itself admits that it is under Hezbollah’s control? What is remarkable about all of this is that Lebanon is being boycotted and punished because of Hezbollah while some are striving to reconcile with Syria, the central sponsor of the party’s presence in Lebanon and the primary vessel for its regional expansion. The West has no problem recognizing a government that is controlled by Hezbollah or normalizing ties with the Syrian regime, despite attempts to contain and reduce Iran’s control over it.
No one cares about what Iran has done in Lebanon after taking down the borders separating the countries under its control, where it is building infrastructural bases that have changed the countries’ culture, habits, and their education, banking, fiscal, economic and political models. Iran does not occupy countries militarily, controlling them by infiltrating, patiently and calmly, local communities, instead. It is the first power to apply the concept of evading accountability by using local communities to wage its wars and allow it to expand. Hezbollah is operating along its lines, as it does not govern directly but through Christian Lebanese, and that is a reality the West does not want to recognize or understand.
The Lebanese scene today, on its independence day, probably induces deep despair and despondency, and that is not only because all the county’s institutions and requisites for statehood are faltering. Indeed, more painful is that the will to resist this state of affairs, which has come to be seen as our unavoidable fate, is floundering, while most of the country’s leaders are competing in a democratic game that is an illusion because it is played under Hezbollah’s terms.
ASHARQ AL AWSAT/ YL
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