By Khaled Abou Zahr *
By all accounts, both internationally and domestically, Hezbollah’s weapons are today classified as illegal.
First and foremost, full implementation of UN Security Council Resolutions 1559 (2004) and 1680 (2006) require the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon. Moreover, pursuant to the Lebanese Cabinet decision of July 27, 2006, there should be no weapons or authority in Lebanon other than that of the state. This illegal status of Hezbollah as a “state within the state” or “above the state” is the main grievance of all independent Lebanese. With its absolute obedience and loyalty to the Iranian regime, Hezbollah’s illegal status has been a poison for the country.
But what if this changed? What if Hezbollah’s military arsenal became legal? What if Iran gave the green light to Hezbollah to follow in the footsteps of Iraq’s Shiite militias? In 2016, Iraq’s parliament voted to fully legalize the state-sanctioned militias, adopting legislation that promoted them to a government force. Would Hezbollah and its allies do the same if they achieved an absolute majority in this month’s parliamentary elections?
The action in Iraq found an excuse with the need to “deter” the security and terror threats facing the country, especially Daesh. Hezbollah can find many more in Lebanon. Since the decree passed in Iraq, members of the Popular Mobilization Units, an assortment of Shiite militia groups, have been granted many of the same rights as members of the military. The law in Iraq brought the PMU into the state apparatus, with the militias reporting directly to the prime minister, who is guaranteed to be a Shiite under Iraq’s governing system. Yet, in reality, the real boss is Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Such a step, which would be the first in changing Lebanon, has never been considered until now. Today, however, regional and domestic signals are aligned for this dangerous step. Hezbollah has weakened the state in a methodical way and rules over it. It has targeted the judiciary, the executive and all aspects of state sovereignty and authority in order to reach this point. Iran, even as the nuclear deal negotiations drag on, could choose this option as a way of solving the issue while empowering its own proxy. The situation in Ukraine also favors Iran thanks to Europe and its gas needs.
This action would institutionalize Hezbollah within the state and, as a recognized force, it would forever change the fate of Lebanon. Any independent Lebanese voice would be silenced and the country would transform. This is what is at stake in the May 15 elections. And this is exactly why voting is of the utmost importance for all Lebanese. It is absolutely vital to stop this action. However, it should not be the only objective of voting and of future actions. Lebanon needs to change. A new Lebanon needs to be built — a Lebanon that brings back the greatness and ingenuity of this country and its people.
Lebanon moved from the Syrian military occupation to the Iranian military occupation in a blink of an eye. Worse, and to prove how broken this political system is, some voices are now pushing the idea that the return of Syria into the political decision-making fold could be a solution. They hope that the new regional alignment will permit this and that this will bring order and stability. This is insanity.
There is no doubt that the current political system is a complete failure. It has kept Lebanon in vicious cycles with deeper problems. This confessional, transactional system is in constant need of a patron to rule over its clans and keep everyone in check. It is a system that does not stand against occupation but invites it and welcomes it. If still needed, this is the proof that this system needs to be destroyed and a new one built in its place.
This is why not only should the Lebanese people keep opposing Hezbollah’s status in the coming elections, but they should also seek deeper change. Lebanon needs a new constitution and new institutions. This change needs to take place before it is imposed. The elections are important in order to stop Hezbollah from benefiting from the capitulation and despair of the Lebanese people. Not a single vote should be wasted in the effort to stop Hezbollah from taking over the country by legalizing its actions. But we should also be aware that this will not solve anything. This is why there needs to be a push toward a dialogue for a new political system, followed by a referendum. The agenda remains the same as 40 years ago — and it is about implementing neutrality and federalism.
Every single state institution keeps being ruled and taken advantage of by the nepotism of the ruling clans. In order to keep their people’s loyalty and obedience, they live and thrive at the expense of the state, masking it all under a grandiose global ideology. Neutrality and federalism will flip the situation around and make them all accountable to their own community. It is the best way to stop Lebanon’s descent into obscurity.
There is no doubt Hezbollah opposes federalism, yet it has built a parallel system that is equivalent to an autonomous region. Indeed, alongside its own military, Hezbollah does its own policing and it runs its own schools, hospitals, communication networks and financial system. Everything that relates to its community is decided by Hezbollah. And so why shouldn’t the rest of the Lebanese be allowed the same privilege?