Top News

HENRY SREBRNIK: Lebanon’s sad history continues

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri. - Associated Press

It’s been 74 years since France set Lebanon free, yet this tiny country has had very little of freedom.

Instead, this politically splintered land, populated by numerous and contending religious sects, emerged as an arena for other people’s wars.

Its sovereignty is as compromised as ever by the agendas of foreign states that have shaped its history since the French mandate ended on Nov. 22, 1943.



The future was hinted at in 1958, when Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser and American President Dwight Eisenhower sparred in Lebanon, inviting an American invasion. 

In the 1970s, things got much worse. First, the Palestine Liberation Organization controlled much of the country prior to 1982, and Yasser Arafat used Lebanon for his attacks on Israel.

In 1982, Israel sent its army all the way to Beirut, driving out the PLO. It occupied a southern strip of the country until 2000.

Then Syria fueled a Muslim-Christian war, before invading the country it would occupy for 29 years.

The 1976-1990 civil war cost over 120,000 lives. Many Lebanese politicians have been assassinated as well, including former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, father of the state’s current prime minister, in 2005.

The Syrians finally left that year, after a wave of popular protests and international pressure following the Hariri assassination.

Finally, following Iran’s Islamist revolution, the neglected Shi’ite south, under Hezbollah, created a radical state within a state.

“The idea that Lebanon is an independent state is a lie.”
- Tammy Qazhya, Lebanese rights promoter

Having finally seen Syria and Israel leave, and after having restored a modicum of peace between Christians and Muslims, Lebanon today finds itself, like neighbouring Syria, along the Sunni-Shi’ite fault line.

The small country is now a battleground in the struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran for influence in the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia is Iran’s arch foe in the region. The Saudis support Syria’s armed opposition while Iran and the Shi’ite group Hezbollah both support Bashar al-Assad’s government.

Much speculation has circulated about what might come next for Lebanon in the wake of Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s Nov. 4 surprise resignation while in Riyadh.

Hariri, who occupies the position allocated to Lebanese Sunnis, attributed his move to the behaviour of Iran and Hezbollah in Lebanon itself.

But Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah wants to maintain the compromise achieved with the election in 2016 of President Michel Aoun, a Christian ally of Hezbollah, which led to the formation of a 30-member cabinet, led by Hariri.

Hezbollah blames the Saudis, the defenders of Sunni Islam and enemies of Iran, of orchestrating Hariri’s resignation, in order to push back against it.

Hariri is now back in Beirut and, for the moment, has resumed his position. Opponents of Hariri have labeled him as an instrument of Saudi policy. He is also backed by France, the former colonial power, and the United States.

Speaking during a meeting with the Higher Islamic Council, the official body for the country’s Sunni Muslims, on Nov. 25, he warned Hezbollah against interfering in regional conflicts, saying he withdrew his resignation to discuss ways to disassociate Lebanon from wars in neighbouring countries.

Hariri stressed that Lebanon was being targeted and that it risked being dragged into chaos. “As we have previously announced on several occasions, we will not accept Hezbollah’s positions that affect our Arab brothers or target the security and stability of their countries,” he added. 
 
But Lebanon’s sectarian political system, whereby its parliament and key offices are pre-allocated according to religious affiliation, has left the country bereft of any sense of unity that might transcend religious affiliation.

“The most important thing in a country like Lebanon is to understand that independence is a battle that does not stop,” remarked Interior Minister Nohad Machnouk, a member of Hariri’s al-Mustaqbal (Future Movement).

As Tammy Qazhya, a Lebanese rights promoter, recently stated, “The idea that Lebanon is an independent state is a lie.” So Lebanon remains a fractured state of contending militias and warlords.

 

Henry Srebrnik is a professor of political science at the University of Prince Edward Island.


Recent Stories