by Ghassan Kadi for The Saker Blog
Hezbollah is facing a new challenge, and this time it is not a military one, but rather political.
Perhaps few countries need peaceful “popular revolutions” more than Lebanon does. In my simplistic way of thinking, Lebanon should actually be on the top of the list; followed by the USA.
Corruption in Lebanon is endemic. Its politicians are in reality the heirs of dynasties with self-given “birthrights”. Lebanon is ruled, owned, and manipulated by a few families and bloodlines that virtually own everything and have control on whatever happens in the country. This excludes the very few new comers such as the Hariri dynasty, Hezbollah, and the incumbent President Aoun, among others that one can count on the fingers of one hand.
Before President Aoun was finally elected, Lebanon had a presidential vacuum and had no head of state for 29 long months. It took all that time for the feuding Mafias to finally come to an agreement that guaranteed their positions and vested interests before they were convinced that Aoun was the right choice.
Aoun does not come from any of the political-feudal lineages. As a former Army Chief, and despite his history as a former enemy of Syria in the 1980’s who turned into a supporter twenty years later and eventually became a political partner of Hezbollah, he was finally endorsed even by his Christian Maronite arch-rival, Samir Geagea, the head of the rightwing “Lebanese Forces” as a conciliatory president. This was what finally gave him the numbers to be elected and ended the presidency vacuum crisis.
Aoun was perhaps the first Lebanese president to be elected by consent of many rivals and former political and strategic enemies. After all, he had the backing of Hezbollah and the approval of Geagea. He had all that was needed to embark on a journey of reform.
And “Reform and Change” was the motto of his political party.
As a former enemy of Syria, he took voluntary exile in France in 1984 and started his movement of alleged reform. As he returned to Lebanon in 1999, in the years leading up to his election, his rhetoric was that of holding politicians accountable for corruption.
In 2008 Aoun visited Syria, his former enemy, and was greeted by President Assad like a head of state. He had a huge reform agenda, but whether he was genuine or not, by the time he was elected as President in 2016, he was already in his eighties and suffering ill health.
As a president and if anything at all, he followed the footsteps of those he was meant to hold accountable by endorsing his son-in-law Gibran Bassil to become a Member of Parliament and a Minister. But this is not all, he acted in a manner as if he has passed on the presidency and the running of Lebanon to Bassil.
This would have gone well had Bassil been “clean”, but he soon proved to be corruptible as hell. Bassil is now perhaps the most hated Lebanese politician. He is believed to have amassed billions of dollars of corruption funds. The current Lebanese uprising in the streets of Lebanon and the world are aimed at many Lebanese politicians; but mainly Bassil.
What is pertinent is that the political backdrop that eventuated in guaranteeing Bassil’s position has originally come from Hezbollah who has secured the presidency of his father-in-law; President Aoun.
In hindsight, Hezbollah has made a bad gamble on Aoun, and this is forgivable perhaps, but what is unforgivable was turning a blind eye to thus far three years of unimaginable corruption of the Aoun tenure.
Admittedly, the Lebanese Cabinet, headed by Saad Hariri, an opponent of Hezbollah, is an all-inclusive cabinet. Politically, strategically and militarily protected by Hezbollah in a manner that represents all political parties of Lebanon, the ambient Lebanese cabinet has Nasrallah as its patron. Right or wrong, this is the general understanding in the streets of Lebanon now.
For the sake of giving itself a constitutional cover and parliamentary majority, Hezbollah’s gamble on Aoun is failing. Aoun is losing ground and for Hezbollah to continue to support him would be an act of political suicide.
Currently, everything about what looks like a “Lebanese Revolution” looks legitimate and worthy of support. Thus far, the protestors have been peaceful and civilized. Lebanon is a country rich in many ways; well-educated human resources, agriculture, water, tourism venues, untapped oil/gas, you name it. People are angry because their government has not yet been able to build up enough infrastructure after the 1975-1989 Civil War that destroyed much of it. The country is reeling from growing unemployment, the high cost of living and a lack of basic local services like water, power and garbage management. Add to this the factor of low income, it becomes understandable that the Lebanese are sick and tired of having to put up with a seemingly endless legacy of government incompetence and rising taxes.
So once again, Lebanon needs a peaceful popular revolution that can provide reform; not more destruction, and the current uprising, which hasn’t been given a name yet, will inevitably, for better or for worse, yield some outcomes.
What seems probable is that President Aoun will be forced into retirement at the very least. And, this may only be the prelude to further developments. However, what we are seeing now in Lebanon is not necessarily a “Lebanese Spring”. The seasonal aspect of it does not necessarily mean that it is a “Lebanese Fall” either. It is a Lebanese test; and most specifically a defining moment for Hezbollah.
Thus far, Hezbollah has been “faultless” in as far as deterring Israel, protecting its own ground base and providing enough popular support to guarantee its popularity.
And the support of, and well regard for Hezbollah did not only come from the Shiite sector of the Lebanese community. After all, Hezbollah represented resistance, and this ideological arm has no sectarian boundaries. But what Hezbollah seems to have failed to realize is that it cannot bank on ideology alone, all the while turning a blind eye on corruption.
It has to be said as it is. Hezbollah is becoming increasingly perceived in Lebanon as having a role in protecting its corrupt government. This situation is inviting the “Soros connected” forces to take control of the “Lebanese Revolution”.
But as events in Lebanon are changing on daily basis, we must look back at the Arab Spring and what came out of it.
There is a revolution in Lebanon and I support it. People on the streets are genuine and have legitimate demands. But this revolution is headless and has fingerprints of meddlers already. After all, as we see virtually millions of Lebanese flags appearing all over the world, including some that are 300 and 400 meters long, we ought to ask where did they come from and who paid for them? And, who is giving the greenlight for mainstream media coverage to this all?
After the Israeli war with Hezbollah in July 2006, Shiite Muslim Hezbollah had a huge popularity in Lebanon even in the Muslim Sunni as well as Christian regions. This changed soon after Hezbollah made the decision to control the streets of Beirut in May 2007. Ever since, Hezbollah lost a fair chunk of its popularity outside the Shiite sect.
Nasrallah must make his position clear in regard to the street protests and his stand on the ugly corruption that is bringing Lebanon to its knees. He had to urgently respond to the street rallies during the 2005 so-called “Cedar Revolution”, where protestors wanted Syrian troops out of Lebanon, and the counter pro-Hezbollah protestors demanded the opposite. The schism back then brought Lebanon close to civil war again. A repeat of such a scenario now is potentially more dangerous and inflammatory than back then.
Hezbollah rose victorious, both politically and militarily, and with victory in Syria, the position of Hezbollah in Lebanon has never been stronger. Hence a wise and appropriate response to the current crisis is paramount.
The situation occurring presently is quite different to the events of 2005. It is no longer ideological. People are literally unemployed, angry and hungry. They blame the corrupt government, and are pointing the finger at Hezbollah for its silence.
Hunger and popular anger do not stop at sectarian boundaries.
Nasrallah has been making the right decisions thus far, but he cannot afford to be complacent. Each and every camel has a straw that can break its back, and Aoun is not the one for Nasrallah to count on for political survival; quite the contrary in fact.
Even within the ranks of heartland pro-Hezbollah territory, there is an element of opposition to the Aoun administration and its political and economic bankruptcy.
The success of Hezbollah as a liberating force in Lebanon may well have reached a crossroad now. How the protests and the issues voiced are dealt with, will define the future of Hezbollah. It can cause it great damage or, if quickly respond to with sympathy and solutions to the issues raised by the groundswell of angry and fed-up protesters, Hezbollah can maintain the grassroots support they enjoyed. It is time for Hezbollah to revisit the viability of its political alliances.
The progress of the popular uprising thus far, sounds too good to be true. However the substantial support this uprising is receiving, both domestically and internationally is ominous. International support can only be based on political interests aimed at reducing the stronghold of Hezbollah and to weaken the position of the axis of resistance.
Without a figure head, without a clear agenda, the Lebanese uprising is likely to end up like the Egyptian uprising back in 2011. The street anger will be employed by the meddlers in order to serve their own agendas, and the suffering of the people will not be reduced. This is my fear.