Syrian crisis spreads to Lebanon.
A common headline that one will see flourish in the coming days. As usual, it is difficult to know what exactly is happening in the country.
Anti- Assad “salafis” get arrested by security services while lured into recovering social care money
Sunni clerics suddenly forget to stop at army checkpoints and get killed
And shiites pilgrims get caught by Free Syrian Army in Syria while travelling from Iran in a bus.
And armed psychopaths goes amok against the army and throws grenades from their balconies in the middle of the night over a girlfriend dispute…
Of primary importance is to understand, state, underline, highlight, precise, or describe any origin, religion, nationality or ethnic background of any of the people involved. So we can gather a picture of a very messy Lebanon on the brink of Civil War (again) and composed of plenty of sects fighting each other for God knows what.
Thus, it becomes nearly impossible to understand what is happening in Lebanon. But one can try to think around what is not happening.
First there is no “Syrian crisis hitting Lebanon”.
It is not a crisis, it is a revolution and, unless this very fact is acknowledged, current Syria will remain out of any comprehensive sight. Revolution has specific dynamic and logic and it is impossible to understand what happens if it is thought as a crisis. Crisis have solving. One can solve a crisis, no one can “solve” a revolution. Crisis have blurred origins, it comes from undefined multiple causes while revolutions all share the same grounds. A crisis is located in a specific region of the globe it can be local or regional crisis, while a revolution has a continental or world wide consequences.
What happens in Syria is not a crisis and what happens in Lebanon is not a revolution. Therefore, the two are not as connected as one may think.
Let’s go further from that point: It is not Syria hitting Lebanon, it is Lebanon hitting Syria.
Lebanese political leaders have decided to take sides. March 14 pretending to help the Syrian revolution and March 8 pretending to defend Bachar al Assad’s Syria. Lebanese political leaders have thus decided to clash over Syria rather than clashing over political Lebanese issue. It helps them to avoid addressing real Lebanese issues such as Hezbollah weapons to integrate in national defence strategy, civil state, legitimacy of politicians based on outdated confessionalism or more day to day issues such as lack of internet, lack of electricity, lack of public transport, lack of water, migrant workers slavery or widespread corruption.
Taking sides on Syrian revolution is a useful trick for Lebanese politicians to avoid doing Lebanese politics. March 14 leaders have taken firm stance against Bachar al Assad and desperately try to describe the 14 march 2005 as the inspiration and true origin of the “Arab Spring”. Truth is, when asked, activists in Tunisia or Tahrir square have no idea who Hariri is…
Nevertheless, March 14 leaders need to do that because the political alliance, formed after the popular demonstration that ended Syrian presence in Lebanon in 2005, has not inspired anything truly meaningful since that date. They lack legitimacy and also they lack a real political stance now they are in the opposition. In other words: March 14 does not know how to oppose against March 8 and tries to divert by siding with Syrian revolution.
March 8 siding with Assad also shows political weakness and lack of vision for the country. March 8 still does not believe they can be accepted as a real political force without the help of the Syria. They don’t believe they can survive without Assad and still think their fate is tied to his. Ultimately, March 8 show that they have not realised the reality of their legitimacy, they don’t trust their government to do better job than the previous one and they don’t trust Lebanese to be able to judge them based on that fact.
They also do not want to think what is going to change in the Middle East and how to adapt to new challenges. By defending Assad, they reveal a vision where Lebanon remains a small piece in a wider neocolonial game: Russia and China playing Shias through Iran, replacing US who played Sunnis through Saudi Arabia or France who played Christians etc. They show they are unable to understand “majority” and minority” in a normal political democratic way but only with confessions attached to it: sunni majority, alawi minority, etc. In a new revolutionary middle east it is about politics, not about minorities.
This is not sectarian clashes.
Clashes in Lebanon are between armed militias or militants belonging to political movements. They can have a confessional taint since these very political movements are based on confessionalism but this is not sectarian clashes in its essence. All sunnis in Lebanon are not for Syrian revolution and all Alawis or shias in Lebanon are not siding with Assad. Christian are divided, propaganda and conspiracy runs everywhere and even anti-assad hearts can wish that Assad ultimately wins and brings back “stability” through dictatorship is the best solution.
Despite these truth, Media continues to present what happens in Lebanon as confessional clashes. It becomes very difficult for them and readers to understand why confessional sunnis would clash with other confessional sunnis in Tarek el Jdeideh as all sunnis are supposed to be united against Assad the Alawi.
Ultimately, Lebanon is Assad’s dream: a country where sectarian divisions is the reality he wants for Syria. Transforming the Syrian revolution into the Lebanese civil war is exactly what Assad would like, thinking he will regain his country by solving a sectarian civil war as Syria did with Lebanese civil war.
Syrian opposition knows that and their game is precisely to avoid that as much as they can. If Syria turns into Lebanese civil war, they loose and they know that. And because they do not want to loose, they do not want Syria to become sectarian civil war. A Lebanon falling into sectarian civil war would serve as a reference for Assad to introduce civil war in his country. Assad does not want Syria civil war in Lebanon, he wants Lebanon civil war in Syria.
He is not alone: any political or religious leader seeking to tie a particular community to a side of the Syrian revolution is playing this game. Salafi leaders claiming Sunnis have to support Syrian revolution, religious figures calling to Shias to defend Assad or stupid political analysts declaring that all alawis in the country are supporting Assad because he is himself an alawi.
Assad can play sectarian divisions in Lebanon and he probably does through secrete and hidden channels. But his direct implication is probably much lower than one thinks. Sectarian demonstrations in favour of the Syrian revolution also plays Assad game and harm the revolution. Truth is, leaders organising Sectarian demo in favour of the Syrian revolution could not care less about the Syrian revolution. They do not understand that the very stake of the revolution is to avoid sectarian divisions and to unit the country against the dictator.
That leads to a very Lebanese paradox: Salafis and sunni leaders are in effect harming the Syrian revolution by creating sectarian tensions and Hezbollah is in effect protecting the Syrian revolution by avoiding to play that game.
There is no pro versus anti-syrian in Lebanon
This paradox helps to reveal another truth: there is no “pro-Syrian” versus “anti-Syrian” in Lebanon. Currently, neither Bachar al Assad nor Syrian revolution can claim to be “Syria” and the country is experiencing revolutionary process. Attributing “anti” or “pro” Syrian stance is therefore irrelevant as no one know what is Syria any more. March 14 leader Saad Hariri would not be anywhere without the sweat of the very Syrian migrant workers who built his concrete real estate power.
The division between “pro-syrian” and “anti-syrian” is used to hide the reality of the political game in Lebanon and to deny democracy to the country. Instead of political stance, programs, ideas or projects, everything is put under the giant carpet of “pro vs anti-syrian”. March 8 is pro-Syrian, march 14 is anti-Syrian and anti-Syrian are March 14 and pro-Syrian are march 8. With that trick, politician can avoid to take real political stance (left / right – majority / opposition). But ultimately, pro-Syrian vs anti-Syrian is purely and strictly Lebanese thing that has nothing to do with Syria. Because the Syrian revolution is more and more revealing that trick, Lebanese politicians, especially March 14, start to be afraid for their legitimacy and resort to the sectarian factor: Sunnis are against Assad and side with March 14 and any sunni who disagrees is a traitor and has to be expelled from Sunni neighbourhoods (such as Tarek el Jadeedeh).
There is no civil war in Lebanon.
A civil war in Lebanon needs civilians willing to fight against each other and the country lacks this basic elements necessary for a civil war to happen.
But because there is a will from media and politician alike to imprison Lebanon in its past, anything happening in the country is considered the sign of a new coming civil war. A never ending 1975. So now Syria is under the spotlight, headline reads: Violence in Syria may trigger a new civil war in Lebanon,
The dangerous game in Lebanon is about who is going to not start the civil war. First party to start the civil war has lost. If one party is more clever and rational than the other, civil war won’t happen. And the last speech from Nasrallah calling against violence or road blocking and for calm to prevail is indeed a very clever and rational move proving that if Hezbollah does not wants a war, no war can really happen.
Civil war in Lebanon is not as useful as the fear of civil war in Lebanon. Fear is a very useful tool to rule a country and keep people quiet. It is convenient to avoid a revolution. It is useful to prevent people from calling against corruption or to complain about lack of electricity, water, public services or prices. It is also a useful tool to retaliate. If, for instance, UAE, Kuwait and Qatar wanted to punish Mikati prime minister and 8march government they could try to destroy the tourist summer season. They could do so by advising their rich citizens not to travel to the country using the “fear of civil war”.
The fear of Lebanese civil war, a very useful tool indeed…