Lebanon awaits winner in regional war: Shias or Sunnis? Iran, Saudi Arabia or Isis?

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Source: The Guardian

A doctor specialised in geriatrics tells me he has more and more patients presenting with conditions stemming from anxiety. “It’s somehow worse than the civil war [1975-90],” he says. “In the war, there were clear sides.”

“In a war you can see the gunman in front of you, and you can hope for a ceasefire,” says Yasser Akkaoui, who has edited the Beirut-based business magazine Executive for the past 15 years. “But today in Lebanon there is a distant hand controlling things, you don’t see the threat. So there’s a fear of the unknown.”

This week Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the Lebanese Shia party Hezbollah, decried Saudi Arabia’s “tyrannical, criminal, terrorist and takfiri face” after the Saudis beheaded the leading Shia cleric, Ayatollah Nimr al-Nimr. In response, Ahmad Fatfat, an official in Lebanon’s mainly Sunni Future movement, called Hezbollah“an Iranian militia” that wanted to “take control of Lebanon”.

In neighbour Syria, where the death toll has passed 250,000 in four years, theIslamic State (Isis) this week released its latest video, showing the execution of five “spies”. Meanwhile, Israel shelled south Lebanon after Hezbollah bombed Israeli soldiers in a disputed area along the Israel-Lebanon-Syria border. Barely noticed, the UN put the death toll in Yemen at nearly 2,800 after nine months of fighting.

And that’s all just since last Saturday. In Lebanon in 2015, there were suicide car bombs claimed by Isis, popular ‘You Stink’ protests against the government that were crushed by security police, fighting between Islamist and other factions in Palestinian refugee camps, and the sentencing of a former minister for importing explosives to kill politicians and religious figures.

Ordinary Lebanese are bewildered, their population of around 4.5 million swelled by over 1.5 million Syrian refugees. Mountains of rubbish and electricity cuts are tangible consequences of government corruption and incompetence. There has been a political crisis with the presidency vacant since Michel Sleiman’s term expired in 2014, and paralysis in government for far longer.

Akkaoui believes Lebanon has lacked political direction since Syria withdrew its forces in 2005. “Everything in Lebanon is self-inflicted, we are unable to discern our own interests,” he says. “The Lebanese are left waiting to see who is going to rule the region. Since the development of the ‘Axis of Evil’, there has been a regional civil war, sometimes cold but increasingly hot. Will the axis of Russia-Syria-Iran gain power? We’re waiting to find out.”

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