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Lebanon: Thwarting the Uprising or Sectarian Wars

Lebanon: Thwarting the Uprising or Sectarian Wars

Thursday, 18 June, 2020 - 10:15

The violent nights that Beirut and Tripoli have witnessed since June 6 were reminiscent of the specter of the civil war and delineated the limits of what a peaceful uprising could reach when facing a dominant group in Lebanon.

All it took were a few hundred young people to take to the streets of downtown Beirut and cursing religious symbols followed by the attempt of a few dozen motorcyclists to forcefully enter the Christian area of Ain el-Remmaneh for the erection of virtual barrier that has prevented any democratic or civil movement in the country from making progress, reminding the Lebanese of the frontlines that still separate them 30 years after their last war of subjugation.

Since the mid-19th century and through the entire 20th century, whenever social and political tensions would escalate, even if within the same sect, such as the Keserwan peasant revolt against the al-Khazen feudal family in 1858, it would degenerate into a sectarian conflict that would then obscure the social causes that were behind the uprising, bringing to the fore the real fragile composition of the Lebanese entity and its vulnerability to any foreign intervention. Examples of the latter include the French campaign in 1860, the deployment of the US marines on the Lebanese coast after the 1958 incidents, and the intervention of the Syrian forces in 1976 to thwart Leftist-Palestinian advances and reconsolidate the provisions of the system stipulated in 1943.

In addition, there have been numerous interventions and assaults by forces and countries that have taken advantage of the Lebanese disputes and the fragility of the society and its political structure to serve agendas that bring nothing but devastation and the consecration of civil sub-state divisions.

The Iranian expansion is no exception to this list of interventions, turning Lebanon into a battlefield between Iran and proponents of the Syrian regime, on the hand, and the US that has now pulled out the sword of sanctions in the form of the Caesar Act, on the other, as a by-product of Lebanon’s involvement in the Syrian war that has deepened civil strife and escalated local tensions.

Activists of the uprising discovered, then, that their failure to achieve any political gains at the peak of the movement last October and November gave way for the authorities and their parties to revitalize mechanisms of sectarian dominion that are based on a mutual fear that is reinforced by the hunger, which has become one of the elements of the “counter-revolution”, so to speak, in that it allows those who wish to thwart the uprising to empty it of its change-oriented content to mobilize young people who are willing to do anything for an insubstantial sum of money.

The burning of commercial shops in Beirut and Tripoli was a sign that the uprising is rotting and reaching a deadlock and a symptom of its inability to develop its discourse and practices so as to respond to the challenges posed by sectarianism and violence, in other words, what hundreds of thousands of protesters had denounced since the first day of the uprising.

The truth is that nobody can predict the mood of an angry street standing at the brink of starvation being eaten away by unprecedented unemployment rates. Many signs indicate that tensions within sects, especially among Sunnis and Shiites, may even become more violent and sharper than conflicts between the two sects. Saad Hariri’s waning leadership and the insistence of several Sunni figures to compete with him in what could be called al-Mustaqbal Movement’s traditional strongholds, using money, marketing and provocation that is only matched by the frustration of Shiites who have been prevented from protesting as a result of pressures by the Shiite duo, Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, in light of deteriorating living conditions and shrinking services that the duo used to provide its supporters.

These pressures are exacerbated by persistent attempts by the Syrian regime’s Lebanese allies to provide financial support to the latter, depleting already scarce Lebanese resources.

Nothing is easier for Lebanese politicians than to resort to their favorite game: Diverting every social and economic movement from the national course that many Lebanese had thought would unite them against the ruling class, and pushing it toward civil conflict, guaranteeing the repetition of similar previous and new experiences. By doing so, they retrieve the map of conflicts to clarity, and the ruling class, made up of an alliance that is hostile to any form of national unity, restores its capacity to rule and to dominate both politically and culturally.

Decades ago, young Lebanese writers discovered that Lebanon is threatened by two devastating potential scenarios: If it gets too involved in regional conflicts, Israel will invade it, and if the tension of internal social disputes heats up, a civil war will break out. Both happened in the seventies and eighties, and here we are once again, standing before a country that is ready to march towards a new catastrophe, without any prospects for solution or hope in change and salvation.

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