BARIA ALAMUDDIN October 16, 2021
Nobody brings AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades to a peaceful protest. Make no mistake, Hezbollah’s actions have steered Lebanon into these desperate straits, in its readiness to ignite the nation in flames to block investigation into its culpability for the Beirut port explosion.
I have never seen Lebanese citizens so furious at Hezbollah: The manner in which heavily armed, black-clad fighters are dictating their right to derail the judiciary, boasting of their ability to “ignite the streets” and prevent the Cabinet from meeting, while seeking to intimidate the nation in its entirety. When armed, angry militiamen burst into a tense Christian neighborhood chanting “Shia! Shia!” at a moment of existential national crisis, what exactly were they expecting?
However, it takes two to tango: That is why the sight of masked gunmen was so blood-chilling. It is now obvious to everyone that there are several parties enthusiastically preparing for sectarian conflict, actively stirring the pot in readiness to fling the gates of hell fully open.
It is all very well for leading politicians to call for calm, but unless the principal protagonists fundamentally alter their murderous trajectory, the drivers of conflict are firmly in motion. The army has frequently stepped in to restore order, but if the army starts to disintegrate along sectarian lines, matters will genuinely begin to spiral out of control.
Too many of Lebanon’s current leaders are the same warlords from the 1970-80s era, just as comfortable fighting actual battles as they are managing political conflicts. Furthermore, when so much of society is impoverished and desperate, there will always be a ready pool of individuals who can be purchased as pawns in somebody else’s battle.
These heinous events in Beirut’s Ain Al-Rummaneh neighbourhood, ground zero for the outbreak of the civil war in 1975, elicit traumatic memories. My generation vividly recalls how rapidly events escalated beyond the ability of any party to control them. Many of us spent months migrating from district to district as the inferno spread, before full-scale invasions by Syria, then Israel, forced us into exile.
Some people downplay civil war prospects, and say Beirut isn’t the same place as in 1975. They are unintentionally correct: Beirut is in an infinitely worse condition today than 1975. Then, it was the glittering cultural and economic heart of the Arab world. Now many parts of the city already resemble a disaster zone, following economic collapse, chronic civil turmoil, and the port explosion.
Many intelligent people are already questioning whether it is better to drop the investigation for the sake of civil peace. But if powerful interests can so easily thwart justice, then Lebanon’s rule of law is already irretrievably lost. Hezbollah in 2008 provoked conflict to protect its interests. It has repeatedly triggered civil strife to derail investigations into the murder of Rafik Hariri and other national figures. Hezbollah mocks the judicial system with a message of “If you want them, come and get them!” whenever culprits are identified.
In an angry speech last week, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah told the families of the dead: “You will never get justice.” He accused the judiciary of playing politics, and astoundingly blamed them for the port explosion: “There is no dispute about the culpability of these judges,” he thundered. Has anyone previously seen the prime suspect stand up in court and accuse the judge of having committed the murder?
Hezbollah is reverting to its previous default mode and denouncing everything as an “American plot.” If only. Where is the international community when Lebanon so desperately needs it? Muscular diplomatic intervention is required by Western and Arab parties to compel all factions to de-escalate, and to send urgent signals to Iran that if it provokes conflict in Lebanon there will be irreversible consequences. Diplomatic statements, with their embarrassingly trite, formulaic language, are no more than pretexts for doing nothing. This is likewise a moment for Lebanon’s vast diaspora to be intimately engaged, via civil society organizations such as Nahwal Watan, which has been working to support progressive and independent faces in upcoming elections.
Nasrallah insists that he wants elections held on time, but efforts by Hezbollah and its Free Patriotic Movementallies to sabotage the political process suggest they know very well that they are destined to perform disastrously if the public are allowed to have a say.
No doubt Nasrallah has been closely following events in Iraq, where pro-Iran Al-Hashd al-Shaabi thugs last week suffered a predictable and richly deserved defeat at the polls – plunging from 48 parliamentary seats to a miserable 14, and learning the hard way that voters don’t like it when you murder them. Since then, Hashd hotheads are issuing hubristic diatribes about overturning the “fabricated results,” a threat that inevitably entails civil conflict if they are stupid enough to follow it through.
With all Iran’s centers of power today under the control of rabid hardliners, Tehran has invested billions in ensuring its domination of Iraq and Lebanon, and has no intention of relaxing its grip now. The ayatollahs would plunge Lebanon and Iraq into conflict in a heartbeat to advance these goals.
The scenario that so many of us have been warning about for the past two years is now upon us: We are on the cusp of annihilation and nothing short of a miracle will prevent all-out slaughter.
If powerful interests can so easily thwart justice, then Lebanon’s rule of law is already irretrievably lost.
It doesn’t matter who instigated these events. All that matters is preventing worst-case scenarios. The problem is that none of the protagonists cares enough about Lebanon to call a halt. This is all about self-interest: Nasrallah seeks to advance Iran’s agenda, while various rival factions chase after the presidency.
Lebanon is in its essence a pluralist state. No party can hope to gain power unless it is willing to share power. A decade of renewed war will not change this reality one iota.
Regrettably, none of these warring factions possesses the wisdom and foresight to comprehend that if they continue their current trajectory, the state they seek to monopolize will be no more than a heap of smoking ash.
- Baria Alamuddin is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and the UK. She is editor of the Media Services Syndicate and has interviewed numerous heads of state.
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