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Lebanon: Strength’s Weakness and Pettiness

Lebanon: Strength’s Weakness and Pettiness

Wednesday, 6 October, 2021 - 10:30

Michel Aoun’s reign is a “strong reign,” as the famous slogan goes. “Strength” is almost the only word in the president’s program. “Strong Lebanon” is the name of the parliamentary bloc founded by Aoun, to whom it remains loyal. Bringing up his military past from time to time reinforces this association with strength.

This strength does not stop showing its colors through its choices of its adversaries. They are implicitly accused of working to undermine it and, therefore, of undermining the country. Who are these dangerous adversaries who have allowed themselves to challenge this strength and have dared to challenge its reign?

A few minor incidents we saw recently answer this question:

Al-Jadeed correspondent Layal Saad was barred from entering the Presidential Palace and covering its news because she said Michel Aoun’s name without introducing it with “his excellency.”

Newly appointed Information Minister George Kordahi criticized the media, claiming they “violate politicians’ dignity.” That was said during Kordahi’s meeting with the Lebanese Press Syndicate.

That was the second blow dealt by the new minister in a matter of weeks, following his assertion that he is not in favor of media outlets hosting opposition figures and critical guests.

Aoun and those close to him, in his government and his party, relentlessly incite against Palestinian and Syrian refugees and displaced persons day and night. These repeated attacks make it seem as though those groups are another major impediment that stands in the way of the strong’s strength.

A few days ago, General Security canceled a play entitled “Tanfissa” (letting off steam) at the Madina Theater in Hamra in Beirut. The theater group is composed of students whose ages hover around twenty. The play, according to General Security, violates the law. Its General Directorate issued a statement that mentioned the director’s (Palestinian) nationality and defamed those “who claim to know the whole truth” and “are trying to play it smart.”

The latter are those who attributed the decision to cancel the play to its actual cause: the play criticized the ruling clique, including the president of the republic. That is an attack on strength.

What do these events have in common? Who are the adversaries who threaten Aounist strength and are painted by the strong as a danger that threatens them?

Besides drowning them in matters that are trivial when compared to what the Lebanese are undergoing today, the most prominent attribute that strength’s enemies share is that they are weak. They do not threaten anyone. They cannot. With that, the second attribute they share is a strong voice. That is the case because of their positions in the media, public opinion, the cultural sphere, social media and international organizations... And because they have a voice, that voice must be stifled.

In other words: Aounist strength is strength used against the weak.

That is not a characteristic of the strong, especially since stifling is, by definition, done in the shadows and in secret, with a rope tied behind the back of the person being strangled or with a pillow suffocating them as they sleep...

Impeding the investigation into the blast at the Port of Beirut remains the zenith of the stifling strategy. However, even theatrical catharsis, letting off steam (Tanfissa) about the country’s catastrophic state is stifled.

Sure, it is difficult to take Aounist strength seriously with Hezbollah, its state and its army in the picture. And of course, demanding that it shows its strength by defying this party would inevitably fall on deaf ears. It is an impossible task. Nonetheless, to grant their strength some seriousness, they could replace this advanced task with one for beginners, which they could find the chance to take on and succeed in.

For example: On Hamra Street itself, where the play was recently banned, the Syrian Social Nationalist Party’s militia held, on 27/9, a military parade for which the entrances to the street, its roads and its sidewalks were closed. Its masked armed men were spread all over it. Another wing of that same party did the same thing, in the same place, on 23/6, which suggests that it is the internal rivalries among the Syrian Nationalists that are behind this lawless, repugnant spectacle that repeats itself on one of the capital’s most important streets, which had once been the most important thoroughfare in the whole Middle East. ‘Liberation Day’ and Syrian Nationalist Khaled Alwan having shot at Israeli soldiers are mere pretexts and justifications.

Here, Aounist strength, which presented itself against the students behind the play, could have done something. It didn’t.

As a reminder: traditionally, the Lebanese state used regularly to provoke the Syrian Nationalists and leave them in a corner, pushing the party to attempt coups that lead to its political annihilation. That happened during Bechara El-Khoury’s term in 1949, with the attempted coup that led to Antoun Saadeh’s execution.

It also happened during Fouad Chehab’s term in 1961-62, with the attempted coup of Fouad Awad and Shawki Khairallah. That is because the Syrian Nationalists used to provide the Lebanese authorities with opportunities to consolidate what it calls “national unity” that cuts across religious sects. It was, of course, neither a respectable nor prudent policy in the long term, but it used to indicate how weak and marginal this party had been. Recently it has become weaker because it moved further in the direction of being many rival parties.

But the difference between the weakness of the Syrian Nationalist Party- or the Syrian Nationalist parties- and that of the individuals and groups targeted by Aounist strength is that the former is armed and under the tent of the bigger armed faction, Hezbollah.

Aounist strength thus turns a blind eye to the lawlessness of the armed parades desecrating Hamra Street time after time to focus on youth plays in the same street.

Such a strength is nothing more than absolute weakness and pure pettiness.

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