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Lebanon’s Regime and its Opponents’ Illusions

Lebanon’s Regime and its Opponents’ Illusions

Thursday, 27 January, 2022 - 11:45

Civil war is the magic word that should startle the Lebanese and awaken them to the fact that what awaits them in the months ahead will be miles worse than the crises they have seen so far. Facing these warnings of war are predictions that the corrupt ruling clique is on the brink and a new, civil regime will emerge.

Lebanese politicians do not economize in exploiting the specter of the civil war’s resumption. Some heap praise on themselves for distancing its poison from the Lebanese, and some warn us about war as though it were at our gates, while others scramble to predict the “terrifying developments” this small country will witness.

The discourse about war’s resumption is based on the specter of the negotiations in Vienna failing, the escalation of the war in Yemen, and Iran’s insistence on expanding its influence in the Arab Levant.

Turbulent and bankrupt Lebanon could thus become an open arena for all forms of account settling. The sects would be on high alert, ready to fight and battle it out within the familiar framework in which domestic incentives are blended with foreign powers’ incitement. That is theoretical, for now… Meanwhile, some of the “revolutionary” groups’ supporters believe the Lebanese regime has become totally bankrupt and that former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s decision to step away from political life is only the beginning of the end for the regime that has brought the economic and political crisis up in Lebanon.

Hariri’s decision to step away from politics is no minor, fleeting development. Although it brought back memories of when the Christians were forced to boycott the political process after the civil war, following Michel Aoun’s exile to France, their boycott of the 1992 elections and Samir Geagea’s imprisonment, the situation today is radically different from that which prevailed thirty years ago.

The most significant difference between the Christians’ marginalization at the time and today’s Sunni decline is that there is no vision for Lebanon’s future right now, while a reconstruction project that required a truce had been underway at the time under Syrian - Arab - American auspices.

Calls for reconfiguring the Lebanese political system in light of the new balance of power, with the Sunni share distributed among the victorious sects that have shown they can withstand the horrors of the economic and political collapse, may be premature. The country has yet to reach the bottom of the pit that it has fallen into.

That is what is being said regarding the reformation of the political system after deleting or amending the stipulations of the 1989 Taif Agreement. Those making the statements have the popular base, the arms, financial power, bloody legacy, and political mandate need to demand amendments to the country’s system of governance after the disintegration of the Sunni sect’s leadership, which had been a pillar of the “Taif regime.”

As for those preaching about the entire system’s imminent collapse as they await the sight of “its corpse passing through the river,” their position is bewildering. They derive their legitimacy from the October 17 uprising and see it as a foundational moment establishing a new form of politics in Lebanon diametrically opposed to everything about the current corrupt regime, starting from its bet on the sustainability of an unproductive economy dependent on real estate speculation and excessive debts and up to taking dictates from the Syrian and then Iranian regional powers.

However, radical criticism of the corrupt Lebanese system that has been subordinated by foreign powers does not necessarily mean that the critics have the capacity to become a viable alternative.

Things in Lebanon are more complicated than that because the factors precipitating political groups’ rise and fall go beyond the identification of immediate interests and how to further them. An array of kinship and communal solidarities that the “revolutionary” groups cannot speak to determine political success. These solidarities explain the sectarian parties and movements’ resilience in the face of the disaster that began in 2019- rather, their capacity for exploiting it and benefiting from it to draw increased support.

Civil war is the vision in the imagination of Lebanon’s traditional politicians, who can only strive by spreading panic among their constituents and terrifying them with narratives about the dark developments the future holds.

Nonetheless, asking how the current situation could be described is valid, as the country is not short on sectarian and class divisions and tensions. In fact, we are currently embroiled in what resembles a cold civil war, as every group preoccupies itself with putting its affairs in order and surviving the sinking ship that is Lebanon.

The Sunni community in Lebanon has historically only rarely ever been loyal to a single leader, with the most prominent example being Rafik Hariri’s rise. This stems from several factors. One significant reason is that, in contrast to most of the country’s sectarian communities whose members are concentrated in certain regions, Sunnis are scattered across many cities and peripheral areas throughout the country. This sets the Sunni sect’s political structure apart from that of other sects, and the same applies its ability to produce leaders who can draw support from the majority of its members.

As for the opposition groups that cheered Hariri’s departure- seeing it as a prelude to their electoral success- they have disappointingly demonstrated a weak conceptualization of our country’s politics.

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