Thursday, December 07, 2006

the real threat...

...is not that these protests will overthrow the Lebanese government. For however well organized, however many, however frequently staged, no protest will bring down a government in Lebanon that is supported by the majority of Parliament. Despite all the enthusiasm evinced by the protestors who are down on the streets, Hizballah will never be able to storm the Serrail and form its own cabinet. Hizballah will never be able walk into parliament and call for new elections. Hizballah will never be able to seek and retain the Army's loyalty to achieve its own objectives.

Consequently, if bringing down the government is impossible, why is the ruling coalition so overcome with fear? What is Hizballah really doing? Why is the entire country purportedly on the edge of a calamity?

In trying to answer those questions, I’ll articulate what I believe to be Hizballah’s immediate objectives and then look at its actions from a more strategic vantagepoint. The party, it seems, seeks to achieve three short-term objectives, 1) as they've openly declared, they seek to “paralyze” the government and the country (to , among other things display what the repercussions of a “Shi'a walk-out” really means), 2) regionally, they apparently seek to shake the Arab dictators a little - the reason ostensibly being, these governments will prod the ruling coalition to make concessions, 3) and most dangerously, they seek to expose themselves to Lebanese in a way that they know would inflame passions.

This taunting... this provocation, Hizballah calculates, will inspire fear among its political rivals ... fear that they will lose control of their “streets” and ultimately set off a chain reaction of events that would destroy everything in the country that they have a stake in. Recent news coming from the country prove that this plan is working. The Army Commander's recent words concerning the strains being felt by the institution he leads only serves as further evidence that supports this contention.

On a more strategic level though, we can see that for the past twenty years Hizballah invested itself almost exclusively in fighting the Israelis – politically, ideologically, culturally and economically. Today, however, if local, regional and international political developments maintain the trajectory they have taken for over a year or so now, the party will, to put it rather crudely, simply lose all their “money.” Therefore, faced with this prospect of total loss or, alternatively, defeat, it now puts its counterparts on the other side of the “aisle” in a similar situation.

One of the least talked about strategies (one that was brought to my attention by Dr. Theodore Hanf) that was used to bring an end to the Lebanese civil war was a systematic effort to gradually give the warlords an economic stake in peace. The strategy could be seen as a marked success – with a few exceptions. One of these exceptions was the price average Lebanese paid as a result of unchecked corruption and perpetual economic underperformance. However some could make the case that those two depressing features of post-war Lebanon were prices worth paying for peace. Moreover, one could also make the case, that as peace became more entrenched and secure, the corruption would gradually recede to acceptable levels as a result of pressure from a public that felt more secure.

The more dangerous flaw of the strategy though, one that for numerous reasons could not have been averted, was the exclusion of certain parties from the system. Hizballah is one of them. The party, until recently, was not only independent of the Lebanese state politically, but it also existed and continues to exist outside of the Lebanese state militarily and economically the organization itself is quite understandably isolated from the rest of the country. Michel Aoun is another actor in the Lebanese sphere with no stake in the status quo. And lastly, Emile Lahoud, who dedicated his presidency to implementing Bashar’s plan of destroying this system, is a third.

It is no coincidence that these three players constitute the principal actors in the opposition movement today. The question that begs for an answer though, is: will the system (i.e. Lebanon’s political-economic establishment; the glue that has helped keep Lebanon together for this long) be able to withstand the onslaught? I doubt it. By maintaining its current campaign, Hizballah gradually but surely erodes the investment that yielded post-war Lebanon. If Hizballah succeeds in destroying it, then it would quite simply eliminate its political opponents without having to attack them directly. It would successfuly execute a coup d'etat without having to actually execute a coup d'etat.

In response to this threat, will the current stakeholders, the ruling majority, be able to extend the political and economic largesse they have accumulated over the years to their adversaries in time to save Lebanon? If they do, what will the implications for the country be? Politically, the electoral law will definitely play a role – at least with regards to the Maronite political elite. Other than the electoral law though, and specifically with regards to Hizballah, I predict that the ruling coalition will need to allow the party to maintain at least some of its own long-term “investments.” The ruling majority will have to do so because they are now faced with the threat of losing everything themselves. Will this mean a return to an active state of war with Israel? If not, what else of value would induce Hizballah to relent?

I don’t have an answer to most of those questions. However, we’ll either find out in the coming days, or say adieu to our beloved Lebanon.

10 comments:

Solomon2 said...

One of the least talked about strategies used to bring an end to the Lebanese civil war was the systematic effort to gradually give the warlords an economic stake in peace. The strategy was a marked success – with a few exceptions...Hizballah is one of them.

Why were the Aoun crowd and the Hizballah-dominated Shia economically isolated from the rest of Lebanon?

hummbumm said...

Salomon, we are only talking leadership here. Aoun lost and had to go to France so he did not benefit. Hizbullah considered itself to pure for lebanon and stayed outside lebanon political/governance process till they felt threatened. This is the first time they entered the govt. Berri who is shia was one of the biggest beneficiaries. For ordinary citizens, as always beiruties benefited more than the outer regions, but that is like a new york city vs. upsate new york dynamic with the added complication that till 2000, those in the security zone were cut off, and post that still had way too much uncertainty for direct investment making the south even more of a basket case then it would have been in any case. After all the northern areas of lebanon are not shiite but also econmically destitute. All the wealth is congregated in Beirut and its environs. this centralization of wealth and government is a typical developing world issue where the capital city does and its inhabitants do well but the rest are left behind. Actually strike that you have hat in the UK where London and SE england are way wealthier than scotland and the north

Doha said...

Berri is an example in point. He took part in the Taif Agreement which ended the war, which benefitted him in an economic sense, provided he operated through the state institutions.

And this shows that though he's with the opposition, he's the only Shiite opposition leader who still has diplomatic channels open, with a stream of ambassadors visiting him on a daily-basis. And he still did not address his folks in Riad Solh.

He probably will not let things get totally out of control, but is just flexing muscle.

Solomon2 said...

The information supplied here, added to a recent post by "Charles Malik", suggests to me the outlines of possible political arrangements that might satisfy Lebanon's periodic domestic crises. However, the existence of foreign agents and their supporters who have the motivation and ability to prevent any such settlement would make rearrangements impossible.

That is where the Hariri Tribunal comes in. The more the investigation advances, and the more dirt it collects, the higher the price March 8 & Co. may be willing to pay for it to stop - if the path is open for them to take.

Anonymous said...

email me if you want a pdf of the baker report. barrage@sympatico.ca

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