By Ramin Mazaheri for the Saker Blog (cross-posted with Press-TV)
(Ramin Mazaheri is the chief correspondent in Paris for Press TV and has lived in France since 2009. He has been a daily newspaper reporter in the US, and has reported from Iran, Cuba, Egypt, Tunisia, South Korea and elsewhere. He is the author of the books ‘I’ll Ruin Everything You Are: Ending Western Propaganda on Red China’ and the upcoming ‘Socialism’s Ignored Success: Iranian Islamic Socialism’. He can be reached on Facebook.)
The West and Israel actively thwart democracy all over the Muslim world by fostering myriad forms of corruption – why should we believe it is any different for Lebanon?
Part 1 in this series, Hiding the West’s ongoing neo-colonialism in Lebanon via blaming Iran, analysed the desperate and absurd propaganda that Iran and Hezbollah are the primary targets of Lebanon’s recent anti-corruption protests: Every single Lebanese person I’ve ever asked has said that France is the power behind the scenes.
Shia have long been forced to be a junior, impoverished partner in the dysfunctional Lebanese system. Despite being the democratic majority, they are its biggest victims – isn’t it obviously nonsensical to put the blame on them?
So who has been reaping benefits from the racist, anti-democratic Lebanese structure?
Were Western media to be believed there has also only ever been one armed militia in Lebanon: Hezbollah. I guess the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990) was Hezbollah fighting Hezbollah? The main reason that the West’s train only runs one way – on tracks of anti-Iran and anti-Hezbollah propaganda – is because there is not enough paint in the world to whitewash the negative consequences of their decades of support for extreme-right militias, puppets and mafias in Lebanon.
The groups which the West dares not describe are akin to France’s National Front, but with heavy weapons. That’s not hyperbole: French National Front members fought in Lebanon during the Civil War.
The West loves to promote their fabricated “Sunni-Shia conflict”, but the bloodiest and bitterest feud in Lebanon has been between two Maronite Catholic Christian groups, now led by Michel Aoun and Samir Geagea. There are very few column inches devoted to these two groups, despite wreaking so much violence against their own Christian communities and fomenting so much disunity in Lebanon.
The corrupting influence of Israeli-backed Christian extremists and hereditary power
The problem is not their religion, of course, but political ideologies which are indisputably constructed around Western fascism.
They lead Lebanese corruption not because of their religion, of course, but because history proves that they have led the segment of Lebanese society which has been the most privileged by the meddling capitalist-imperialist forces of the 19th-21st centuries. This is not an article to denigrate Lebanese Christianity in the slightest, but to accurately recount Western imperialism and to debunk its current propaganda.
Both Aoun and Geagea spent decades serving the raw power of the Phalangist paramilitary movement, which was modelled and named after the Spanish fascist party. It existed to fight socialism and to enforce policies which segregated wealth and power based on religion. Like all fascist movements it claimed a racist scientific basis: it espouses that Maronite Christians are “Phoenicians” and thus genetically different Arabs.
Geagea is widely considered the biggest and most treacherous criminal in Lebanon – he was the only warlord who went to jail in the 1990s – and yet most outside of Lebanon do not know his name. He was a commander in the most vicious militia in Lebanon for decades because of this ruthless ideology, and also because they were armed, trained and fought with the Israeli Defense Forces. Fighting alongside Israelis against their fellow Lebanese – what can be more corrupt than this? In terms of death tolls these Israeli-backed Christian militias have been responsible for the worst crimes in wartime Lebanon, with rapes, torture and mass murder at places like Sabra, Chatilla and Karantina.
It would be wrong to take away from these facts that “Lebanese Christians are more brutal and corrupt than Lebanese Muslims” – the point is that these neo-fascist, Israeli-allied groups have proven themselves to be incompatible with modern democracy in Lebanon. It should be little wonder why the mainstream media doesn’t like to mention Geagea, who is now reportedly funded by the US and the Saudis.
These far-right Christian militias were opposed by the Lebanese army, which Christian powers always made purposely weak out of fear of the democratic Muslim majority. Furthermore, the Lebanese army has customarily been commanded by a Maronite, with Christians also historically comprising the officer posts.
Michel Aoun was a commander, but he was not an extreme sectarian like Geagea. Nor was Aoun interested in money – his nickname, “Napol-Aoun” reflects his lust for power and titles. However, Aoun’s son-in-law, Gebran Bassil, to whom Aoun controversially bequeathed the presidency of his party, is a reputed money shark who now reportedly manipulates the dottering Aoun.
The Hariris, the Aoun clan, Walid Jumblatt (whose family has perched atop a hereditary Druze hierarchy for centuries, creating their own corrupt patronage system) and Geagea (the former “monk-warrior” married into a hugely rich and powerful family) – it cannot be stressed enough that these familial, hereditary, inequality-rooted “clan powers” are an enormous component of the multi-generational corruption problems in Lebanon which protesters are loudly decrying.
Maronite control over the army has been diluted but not ended: a council of generals – six Christians and six Muslims – now reigns. It’s an improvement, and the commander cannot act unilaterally, but still reflects long-standing Christian domination and manipulation of the Lebanese state.
Maronite control over the army is obviously a neo-colonial concoction, but it’s also a recipe for total disunity and insecurity, something which Israel has been quite pleased about. Certainly, a representative, patriotic, real Lebanese army would be anti-Zionist, as the far-right Christian faction could only necessarily be a minority.
What Syria was able to do during their occupation was to end the power of these minority militias and provide military security. This weakening of the Franco-Israeli axis, along with the advent of Hezbollah, allowed Lebanon to finally stabilise itself in preparation for the next logical step it is now on the brink of for the first time ever: true, modern democracy.
However, Lebanon has to deal with the problems of sectarianism as well as the huge obstacle faced by all pro-democratic protesters worldwide today – bankers.
Geagea, the central bank and Western-allied corruption
After Aoun and Geagea returned from over a decade of exile and prison, respectively, in 2005 they instituted what we can fairly call “neo-Phalangism”: profiting from the corrupt patronage systems which they violently established during decades of Western-backed, Christian sectarianism.
As Geagea once said: Samir Geagea the fighter died in prison. Indeed – he is now a resented politician who seeks to preserve an unjust status quo. Geagea’s four ministers just resigned from the government, and yet it was a purely cosmetic move designed to distract from his own long-running corruption allegations — his party was rebuffed when they tried to take part in protests.
It shouldn’t be surprising that he immediately gave his support to the Lebanese Armed Forces – he is a pro-Maronite sectarian at heart, and his adversary Aoun has aged out. Geagea obviously supports calls for the army to “restore order” because re-militarising Lebanon would increase his power the most. It is not as if Geagea’s history shows that he wants true democracy for all Lebanese, and this fundamentally puts him at odds with Lebanon’s tolerant youth class and seemingly the majority of every other class.
Geagea’s other main ally shouldn’t be surprising, given his Western ties: the central bank.
Riad Salamé has headed Lebanon’s central bank for a stunning 26 years. The former Merrill Lynch employee and Maronite (giving Maronites long-running control over the army and the banks) has totally escaped criticism despite obviously atrocious economic results: On his watch Lebanon has become one of the most unequal societies in the world, pushed 25% of the country below the poverty line, and acquired one of the largest national debts in the world (mostly owned by Lebanese). Lebanese banks do their utmost to thwart Hezbollah, and to compound-grow the wealth of their 1%.
This lack of criticism for central bankers is entirely in keeping with every other Western-allied central banker: no matter what happens, they are never held accountable nor even criticised precisely because their neoliberal policies invariably succeed in increasing the wealth of the 1% and decreasing the wealth of the average person.
The role of the central banker in the West and their allies is – as modern Europe shows – more important than which party takes parliament or which politician wins the presidency. It is even more important in Lebanon where banking is the only robust economic sector. Foolishly, the Lebanese follows neoliberal dogma and makes their central bank independent from their government, unlike China, Iran and other modern nations.
On a personal level Salamé is the personification of the lavish-living fat cat, with billions in family wealth. He does not fear any criticism, much less legal reprisals – what he fears is that Washington and Tel Aviv’s orders to strangle Hezbollah will eventually provoke retaliation.
In 2017 Geagea made the Lebanese central bank’s true master perfectly clear, according to the Lebanese daily L’Orient-Le Jour: “Lebanese banks conform totally to the directives of the Central Bank, which coordinates perfectly with the US Department of the Treasury.…”
The crimes and failures of Geagea and Salamé are so rarely reported on during Western coverage of the corruption protests because they are the links between Washington, Israel, Paris and the incredibly corrupt 1% in Lebanon. The idea that Hezbollah could be the target of corruption protests more than that quartet beggars belief.
The West prefers to act as if Western-backed Lebanese sectarianism only extends to the legislative and executive branches, but for decades money and guns have remained under the control of the Christians so they could build corrupt patronage networks alongside the Western 1%. That the Hariris had to go to Saudi Arabia to make their money is significant. The Shia and Hezbollah have no money, of course, and no friends in Western central banks.
The problem, again, is not Christians or Christianity but the aristocratic (bourgeois) structures penned by Westerners, who also supported fascist and corrupt sectarian militias, and who are all-too willing to support such groups today if the status quo is threatened in an Israeli neighbour full of Palestinian refugees.
Lebanon’s Christian community must concede that it has been given anti-democratic, preferential treatment for a century, and that this has been a huge factor in creating endemic corruption and injustice. However, we must not forget the sky-high inequality of Lebanese society: many poor, not well-connected Christians are also longtime economic and social victims of this system which all Lebanese are saying they now want changed.
Pointing out the role of Christians in Lebanese corruption is not racism on my part because it is the accurate history of colonialism in Lebanon. Conversely, the total lack of accuracy in similar Western allegations towards Hezbollah and Iran is precisely why they are pathetic, racist, scapegoating distractions.
It should be clear that Lebanon cannot become a modern democracy when all their key institutions – and we must not forget to include the military and the central bank – remain so sectarian in nature.
What Lebanon needs is not more sectarianism or even technocratism – the “European solution”, which inherently rejects a role for public opinion in shaping public policy – but a meritocracy. Unfortunately, many are pushing Lebanon to continue following the Western model, which is based on ruthless power (capitalism), arrogance (imperialism), racism (sectarianism and Islamophobia) and hypocrisy (liberty for those with enough money to buy it).