Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Comparison between Lebanon of 1970-1975 and Lebanon 2005-2008

During the build up towards the Civil War in Lebanon back in the early 1970s, there were several indicators to the situation it will escalate towards a civil war, and now the past repeats itself.

When Sulieman Franjieh Sr. took the Presidential chair, all parties agreed then on this step to demolish the Chehabist influence, which focused on making the Lebanese Army as a third force against both coalitions then (the to be Lebanese National Movement and Lebanese Front). As Pierre Gemayel, Franjieh, and Sham’oun declined reforms demanded by Kamal Junblatt, the government lost its credibility within one faction of the Lebanese. Nevertheless, a national unity government was formed to preserve what Lebanon seemed then as a barely holding patchwork, with Kamal Junblatt himself as Minister of Defense, things collapsed. The President then was effectively the supreme leader of the Lebanese Army, and the army gradually was seen as a pawn in the Christians’ camp. Kamal Junblatt balanced against the Christians because there was a second army, which was re-enforced by the PLO survivors from Jordan (speculated to be an extra 10,000 militant). Hence, there were two armies with two different priorities. When Kamal Junblatt, and Tamam Salam resigned, the government lost its credibility, and its institutions as well.

Currently in Lebanon the same happened. After the Syrians withdrew from Lebanon, a national government was forged between 14th of March and the two strongest (then 8th of March) parties: AMAL and Hezbollah. This kept Lebanon in tact briefly, but the interests of the leaders remained unchanged. Like in 1970, the question of the Palestinian arms were the issue, now the arms of Hezbollah were one of the different issues between both sides. After the Paper Agreement occurred between 8th of March and the Free Patriotic Movement, the 8th of March evolved to become simply the Opposition. After ever increasing disagreements between Hezbollah/ AMAL and the Government, they decided to withdraw after couple of months of the July war in 2006. Hence, the ministers of Hezbollah/AMAL and one pro-President Lahoud Minister withdrew, and the government lost its credibility among half the supporters. This doesn’t mean that the collisions weren’t there, rather the collisions became institutionally legitimate and official. Now, half of Lebanon regards the government as non-constitutional.

The second indicator to the path of the civil war are the collisions between both camps. Just as supporters of different camps occurred in the early 1970s between the pro-National Movement and Lebanese Fronts, collisions are taking place between different supporters of the Government and Opposition. In universities, sensitive streets, and any where else, collisions are taking place. Even at New Years, at Bliss Street collision occurred between the PSP and pro Hezbollah supporters. AMAL and Future supporters collide almost every two weeks, but they are quickly controlled. Logos and accusations such as Syrian agents, US agents, and others were popular then, and they are more than ever these days.

The third factor, which indicates to the collapse of the Nation state is the decline of legitimacy of the Lebanese Army. Just as in early 1970s the army was seen a pawn in the hands of the Christian elites, now the Lebanese army is seen as one-sided in the hands of the government. In 1973, a group of elite Israeli soldiers broke through Beirut from the sea and killed three PLO figureheads. Their residents were next to the army. The army was accused then by Kamal Junblatt as not doing anything on purpose. Ehud Barak himself led this expedition and boasted that he stayed for one hour in Verdun Street. Almost a year later, MP Ma’arouf Saad, head of the Popular Nasserite Organization was shot dead amidst a mass demonstration, mainly composed of fishermen, in Saida against the establishment of Protein (which Camille Sham’oun had his investments in). A photo displayed hinted that the snipers belonged to the Lebanese Army. When rage spread though out the supporters of the Lebanese National Movement, specially accusing the Army with having bloody hands in the affair; Sulieman Frangieh refused, like in 1973, to open an investigation and preferred to keep the case closed. When Frangieh refused to re-deploy the commanding officers of the Lebanese Army or take them to custody, mass demonstrations (composed from Lebanese and Palestinian demonstrators) broke out. When the army was sent to crush the demonstrations, they were accompanied with Phalange supporters cheering the army. Hence the Lebanese army lost its credibility among one faction of the Lebanese, which had an army of its own. War was inevitable between two gigantic coalitions, who had their own militias, and two separate armies (as well as foreign sponsors).

The Lebanese Army, ever since the Syrian withdrawal in 2005, remained neutral. Its leader, General Michel Suleiman, made sure to preserve that way, specially the army was a pawn to Syrian intelligence and was involved in beating anti-Syrian demonstrators. More to the point, the army became a symbol of unity for both coalitions in the government. It was severely bombed by the Israelis during the 2006 war, while it performed its duty as it went down to the Lebanese borders with Israel for a first time in three decades. Both the government and opposition tried to win the army as their own supporters while the head of the army remained neutral to both. When riots broke out in late January 2007, the army again displayed its ability to remain neutral to both coalitions. When the army was sent to face Fatah Islam, the army was hailed as the true defender of the country, and its head, General Michel Suleiman was seen as the next future president of the nation, in an attempt to restore the Chehabist era. The opposition in the past already proposed Suleiman as a potential president of the country, but when the country was sent to the Nahr el Bared camp (despite Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah saying the Camp is a Red Line) and actually crushed Fatah Islam (inflicting Civilian and Military damages), the government successfully made sure that this war was a victory for the Lebanese Government.

Hence, after a lot of political stalemate, 14th of March shoved Michel Suleiman as their primary candidate, and the Opposition accepted briefly then rejected the notion based “on technicalities with governmental details”. 14th of March successfully engulfed Suleiman as their primary candidate while Suleiman himself tried to remain neutral. One day, he visited both after each other: Hassan Nasrallah and Samir Jaajaa. Nevertheless, the army started to lose its credibility with one of the two coalitions. As one general was assassinated, the 14th of March successfully indorsed that the Lebanese Army is a victim equally as 14th of March. As “electricity demonstrations” started to break out, accompanied with riots, and judging this Sunday’s riots, the army was seen a partner with the government. This erosion reminds us totally of the early 1970s events as the Nation state gradually starts to collapse. The last line to hold Lebanon together is falling apart, and there are two armies present on Lebanese soil: Hezbollah and the Lebanese Army.

Just in 1975, the government saw then that the Lebanese National Movement and its militias were gambling on the PLO (which to them is foreign), so does the present day crisis. Junblatt Jr. and Jaajaa accused, like Cham’oun and Pierre Gemayel in the 1970s, the outside army’s arms are used towards domestic issues, so does the former two by stating Iranian arms are directed towards the inside. Just as PLO and Hezbollah arms were promised to be directed towards Israel, now the government accuses Hezbollah of using their arms towards the inside.Whenever Israel brutally raided Lebanon back in the 1970s, it was the PLO and their Lebanese allies blamed, now it is Hezbollah and their allies blamed.

The scenery is set: Mass Mobilizations from two coalitions, each coalition has its own militia, each coalition has its own organized army (each with a different priority), and blood was shed on the street whereby each blames the other. The army may simply be following orders on who controls the Ministry of Defense, but that is the scene we are heading to. Instead to wait for investigations and hold accountable the officers in charge of Bloody Sunday, the political polarizations are reaching new levels of hatred.Whoever wants a civil war to break out, they are successful in systematically destroying, step by step, Lebanon’s institutions. The shadow of a civil war looms over Lebanon, and pessimism is everywhere. The images of the victims during the civil war are repeating itself. Of course, I didn’t tackle the foreign interventions, but the message is clear.

Welcome to the new Jungle.


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