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A 'Respectable' Party or an Army and a Militia

A 'Respectable' Party or an Army and a Militia

Wednesday, 30 September, 2020 - 08:45

Those who are saying that Emmanuel Macron’s mission in Lebanon has failed might be right: Hezbollah and Iran, and maybe the United States, on a different front, did not allow it to take off. Bets on the mission’s future are vague at best, so long as the forces that thwarted it remain capable of doing so.

With that, in his press conference, Macron equipped us with a phrase that goes beyond its particular political context and the physical space it refers to, that is, Lebanon. Macron said that Hezbollah could not be, at the same time, a political party respected in his country, an army in Israel, and a militia in Syria.

The phrase, with its simplicity, rather, its obviousness, covers a large portion of Arab political experience over the past few decades: the ability of certain political phenomena to simultaneously obtain two or more contradictory definitions. Why are they contradictory? Because armies and militias cannot but devour political life, or at the very least twist its arm, with the aim of having it accommodate their belligerent requirements. On the other hand, the political parties of a given country don’t merely adhere to the country’s political process, which is anti-violent by definition. They also are also restrained by the county’s borders and only operate within its sovereign and legal spheres.

This matter became familiar to several countries whose ideological formations were split on national grounds with these states’ establishment and the crystallization of their political societies. This is true for social democracy in Europe as it is for Christian Democracy. The communist parties, despite their problematic ties to the Soviet Union, were, in principle, national political parties with no foreign extensions.

Someone might say that the assessment above does not apply to nationalist or religious parties that cut across borders, and on top of that, do not accept the principle of borders.

However, this contradicts the notion of a political party in the first place, which is of the same historical horizon to which the modern state belongs. The Arab Nationalist Baath parties in Syria and Iraq, for example, were “respectable” parties in their countries only for brief periods, and only before they came to power. Beyond that, in practice: where can one find a party that formed a militia or an army operating outside its country and remained a “respectable” political party within its country?

However, in Lebanon, specifically, this obvious statement has an additional meaning: Because it is impossible to approach corruption, which most Lebanese complain about, in isolation of this dubiety that Hezbollah represents. Of course, it is not right to link all corruption to the party, especially since political clientelism precedes its inception by decades. However, what is true is that perpetuating a state of war and its requirements rot the state and politics grant further opportunities for corruption. These opportunities are multiplied when armed accomplices are bribed as other parties share in their corruption.

Thus, putting the country in a state of perpetual war, rather, two perpetual wars, is not compatible with a “respectable” political process. Even the countries with long-standing parliaments, democratic political life, and the transparency it requires contract as soon as they engage in foreign wars, keeping in mind that the decision to go war is issued by the state itself, which is not the case in Lebanon.

Take, for example, the crime of the port explosion, or the explosion in the southern village of Ein Qana: ambiguity and a scarcity of information still prevail, and the situation may remain this way for a long time. A serious investigation is still nothing more than empty rhetoric because every demand for a serious investigation is a provocation to Hezbollah’s resistance to the same extent that it is an act of resistance to the system of corruption. As a reminder: Countless obstacles were placed before the approval of the international tribunal to look into the crime of the assassination of Prime Minister Rafic Hariri and his companions. In Hezbollah’s milieu, the demand for the tribunal was portrayed as a treacherous betrayal of the resistance.

This phenomenon's egregiousness is aggravated when the county in question has few resources, an area that barely exceeds ten thousand square kilometers, and a population of fewer than five million people distributed across 18 sects that agree on almost nothing. These realities and others did not hinder Hezbollah from presenting itself as a party that liberates Palestine and Syria and contributes to other countries' liberation!

Tragedy and comedy being paired together here do not exempt one from noticing the potential for political disruption and the ability to thwart international initiatives. What is to be said, then, once we add that Iran makes the decisions of Hezbollah, which is supposed to be Lebanese but does not conceal its loyalty to the Wali al-Faqih (ruler of Iran)?

Most probably, Macron might find the expression “the political arm of Hezbollah” very funny after his Lebanese experience. A faction being a respectable party, an army, and a militia is indeed impossible!

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