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Living with the Elephant in the Room

Living with the Elephant in the Room

Monday, 18 October, 2021 - 09:45

Lebanon’s October 17 movement’s second anniversary passed amid dangerous and violent divisions in the streets and elite political circles over the investigation into the Beirut blast and the Shiite duo’s (Hezbollah and the Amal Movement) demand that Tarek Bitar step aside as had his predecessor, Fadi Sawan.

In this vein, the Shiite duo organized a protest, which it was claimed had been peaceful, demanding that Tarek Bitar be removed. But it ended with clashes that left seven dead from one side and several injuries.

In the minds of the Lebanese, October 14 will be firmly rooted as the day the so-called October 17 revolution was hit with a bullet of mercy. Before that date, for many reasons that will not be delved into here, it had been brain dead.

Was the October 17 revolution really the seed of an uprising against the state the country finds itself in? The answer today is, of course, not. What had transpired is more akin to a revolt launched during a particular phase in which many problems dating back to over 50 years had accumulated.

We have not missed the fact the Lebanese launched an unprecedented revolt on March 14, 2005, demanding that the Syrian army leave the country after the Syrian regime and its allies had been blamed for Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s assassination.

The October 17 movements, especially the protest of November 22, 2019, tried to replicate the protest of March 14. However, both movements were unfortunately nullified, and the political forces in power and in the oppositions returned to the language of weapons.

Of course, it was the obnoxious provocations typical of Hezbollah and its allies that sparked the events of October 14. Still, it is difficult to determine who is responsible for what happened, as it would be naive to disregard the possibility that internal and external intelligence apparatuses may have infiltrated and created unforeseen problems. The question that preoccupies many remains: why did the first movement in 2005 and the second in 2019 fail, leaving us in the state we find ourselves in today, with the country almost on the brink of armed civil conflict?

We have neither the time nor the facts that would allow us to allocate responsibilities and give out lessons. However, the dangerous events that transpired and their potential implications push us to say that this outcome could have been avoided if those responsible and political officials, whether in power or the opposition, as well as the various committees and groups that sprung from the October 17 movement, had taken a different approach to Hezbollah and it allies’ arsenal and policies.

All of us are with Judge Bitar and his genuine effort to reveal the truth about the Port of Beirut blast. However, the people and the majority of political forces pin those hopes on an assumption that is misguided in the first place, that some state institutions and apparatuses are functioning soundly at a time when the state is absent. Its wealth, resources and decision-making have been seized. So how can we believe in an independent judiciary that is capable of implementing its rulings while all the executive tools have been hijacked and subordinated by non-state actors?

The time has not come for the Lebanese to forget the disputes about referring the crime of Rafik Hariri and his companions to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon or all the violence and assassinations that followed.

The country was left reeling, and even after the Tribunal was formed, Hezbollah refused to recognize it, claiming it was politicized. It ignored its rulings and decisions. It is also useful to remember that its rulings only accused one person, Salim Ayyash, and it did not address the party to which he belongs, demonstrating the significance of the regional political dimension of the party’s role and international fears of pointing fingers at it. The same certainly applies to the Beirut port blast, with transferring the case to the international judiciary rejected and the internal investigation painted as politicized.

The second misguided assumption is seeing that sharing power with the party and its axis is a viable option and that it would thus be better not to abstain from taking part in the government entirely. Druze leader Walid Jumblatt had referred to this matter and advised Saad Hariri to “leave them to govern.” However, he soon retracted his advice despite its prudence.

It would have been better for those opposed to Hezbollah and its politics to allow the party to govern with its allies. Sharing power with this axis translates to nothing more than providing it with political cover and opening the door, though just a little, to international ties and economic and financial aid, as Najib Mikati’s government is doing. His government’s formation was strongly welcomed by the Europeans, and now we find it stumbling after the first problem it has faced because of Hezbollah’s despotism. It is threatened with continuing to be a sticking duck; either it accepts what the party wants or it accepts it. There is no second option. Hezbollah won’t venture to bring the government cover because it will inevitably subordinate it as it had gotten used to hollowing out the constitution’s principles, like sovereignty, separation of powers and the judiciary’s independence. Or, it could resort to its “black shirts.”

Prime Minister Hariri and his government had struggled with the same problems, and the struggles peaked with the last government formed through the agreement with the Free Patriotic Movement and de-escalation with Hezbollah until it fell with the eruption of the October 17 revolution in 2019. Before that, RafikHariri had taken the same approach when he allowed the Syrian regime to take charge of security and political matters while he kept the economy, and when he revolted against that formula, he was killed.

The third misguided assumption is that of the October 17 movement, and it led to fatal mistakes being made by its factions. The first was describing the movement as one making particular demands rather than a political movement. When they realized that the central problem is political par excellence, they made another; they focused on the ruling clique’s corruption, replacing it, and taking its place. By the time they realized that there had been an elephant in the room, that the problem was the Iranian occupation being enforced by Lebanese, and that the focus should be to retrieve the state and work on confronting this danger looming over Lebanon, they had become scattered groups without a shared vision.

They focused their minds on intellectual acrobatics and studies on the crisis’ consequences, such as electricity problems, the banking crisis, and the plummeting exchange rate. It would have been more fruitful to look into the reason behind these problems, the state’s absence in Lebanon since 1969, when Palestinian armed groups were allowed to move and work freely on the borders, after which came the Syrian occupation, and today we have the Iranians’ occupation.

The fourth false assumption is considering the upcoming legislative elections a path to salvation that does not require changing the internal balance of power and while they are held amid Hezbollah’s control. Amid the current conditions, the movements’ groups could win some seats, but Hezbollah and its allies will undoubtedly manage to form a majority in parliament and turn the ongoing occupation into law, with hypocritical and naive recognition by the international community granted merely because elections were held. That is the most dangerous thing that could happen to Lebanon, as it would imply the opposition’s acceptance of the status quo and leave it searching for shares within the regime dominated by Hezbollah; their concerns will be to compete for power within its state, and it will then exploit them to further its project to change the face of the country.

To conclude, a single, united opposition front without partisan or personal ambitions, one that leads a peaceful, unarmed civil movement that uses all means available to it to drag Hezbollah to the negotiating table, is the only solution. Choosing anything else would be choosing to go on a highway to suicide.

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