Lebanon Crisis: A Confrontation with Hezbollah, Risks the Country's Future
Political despair in Lebanon, is not a new topic! Since 2005 when Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was in power, protests against corruption took place, leading to Rafik Hariri's assassination and the so called "Cedar Revolution", with the demand of the withdrawal of Syrian troops from the country.
His son Saad Hariri came to power, highllighted as a most wealthy person, included in the list of Forbes Magazine, for rich people around the globe.
Since October 17th, when demonstrations first started, protesters are all against the political elit of Lebanon, accusing them of corruption and the worst economic crisis that the country goes through after the Lebanese Civil War which took place in the years between 1975-1990.
It all started when the government proposed to tax calls, made via Whatsapp. Ofcourse this incident was just the flashpoint for the despair against political actions, that was accumulated for years. In Lebanon, the state-owned telecommunications, are supposed to be a highly expensive service compared to other Middle Eastern countries. According to a report, local calls in Lebanon are 5 times more expensive than in Jordan, and 20 times higher than in Egypt. Also internet services are really expensive in Lebanon, and considered between the world's slowest. In 2015, there has been a huge garbage crisis, with garbage piling up in the streets, ending with companies deciding to throw them into the sea, thus polluting many Mediterranean coasts.
When public debt in Lebanon reaches 150% of the GDP, there is no place for investments, and the country proves it had reached a stalemate a long time ago. In this context of political despair Saad Hariri, signed his resignation. It has been years since Lebanon was found amidst such a huge crisis, and the demonstration wave can only be understood if we pay attention to some numbers. Lebanon is a country of less than 5 million people and more than 1 million came out to protest...!
The problem is that with the turnout of the demonstrations these last days, it has been reached a culminating point of not an easy turnback, considering the relations between the country's citizen's and Hezbollah groups. The military and security forces in Lebanon which fight strongly to maintain demonstrations on a peaceful basis, are considered to be institutions that bring stability in Lebanon. And exactly here lies a hidden tension not easy to deal with...
Military forces include Hezbollah groups. Hezbollah is part of the Lebanese people. Hezbollah and the Shiite Amal group, maintained strong ties with Saad Hariri, and got disappointed with his withdrawal. Protesters cut street circulation, and this led to violent incidents these last few days, such that Lebanon hasn't seen for years.
The military is seen with respect by the Lebanese people, and as a unifying force in a deeply divided country. The straight confrontation of the Lebanese demonstrators against a powerful group such as Hezbollah, can paralyze the country, and the delicate situation the military forces are in, lies exactly at that point. If the military forces decide to start a fight against Hezbollah, then this automatically means, they will have to clear security and military forces from Hezbollah elements, which constitute these forces, and thus eliminate their power.
This situation brings Lebanon in deadlock.!
And that is a huge dilemma...The army constitutes a stabilizing force inside the country and if it collapses then Lebanon will collapse. At the same time, the army is responsible for protecting all the protesters, who are currently being fought back by Hezbollah powers.
Confronting Iran's Hezbollah, is not even an issue...! Relations between the countries in the Middle East, are supposed to get even worst, as Hezbollah constitutes a bond between Iran, Syria and Lebanon.
And the question is will the military and security forces continue to protect state institutions and thus, not confronting powerful Hezbollah? or will they provide space to the justified demands of citizens in despair of the economic crisis of the country?
And finally, there is also one more question! Hezbollah is supposed to keep strong bonds with all the governments of the countries it influences. But will it be strong enough to alter its agenda and start paying attention to creating the conditions that will lead governments in the Middle East, in prioritizing fair demands and people's welfare?...That would really be the beggining of a new era in the region...
written by Themis Panagiotopoulou, PhD in Political Science