The Lebanese equation is very complicated. A thorny marriage and a forbidden divorce. Some leaders find themselves faced with cups of poison whenever the equation becomes unbalanced due to an external storm or an internal adventure. They clash and each tries to eliminate the other.
You then find yourself forced to live with him in the street, parliament or government. You say that you will not shake the hand that has been tarnished with the blood of your loved ones or allies. The equation however forces you into a handshake that you sought to avoid.
Minister Walid Jumblat is an expert in drinking poison. He recounted to me the turmoil he went through after his father, Kamal, was assassinated in 1977. The choices were difficult: leave the country, retire from political work or take the Beirut-Damascus road.
He drank the poison and opted for the last choice. Forty days after the assassination, he was greeted by Hafez al-Assad, whose first words to him were: “You look so much like your father.” On his way back to Lebanon, Jumblat mulled the statement and its meanings.
Jumblat had several doses of poison, the most prominent of which after his father’s assassination was the assassination of Rafik Hariri. On that day, he drank the poison and revolted. He acted as the backbone of what was called the “Cedar Revolution.” New seasons of poison will not take long to arrive.
In December 2009, Hariri drank a big dose of poison when he took the Beirut-Damascus road to shake the hand of Bashar AssadGhassan Charbel
The ‘Doha agreement’
On May 7, 2008, “Hezbollah” used its weapons on the Lebanese internal scene and Jumblat and his ally Saad Hariri had to drink the poison dose that was the “Doha agreement.” It was no secret that the image of Lebanese lawmakers flocking around then Emir of Qatar Hamad bin Khalifa was deliberate.
It held a hidden desire to avenge the image of Lebanese lawmakers flocking around then Saudi King Fahd bin Abdulaziz in Taef. Jumblat would later drink the poison of once again heading on the Beirut-Damascus road to meet President Bashar Assad, knowing that they did not get along from the first time they met.
Jumblat entered the political arena carrying his father’s coffin. In February 2005, Saad Hariri would enter the arena carrying the coffin of his father. A young man, whose painful destiny was to enter the ring of heavyweights. He would enter the ring where he would deal blows and receive them. He often had to drink poison to preserve national unity or what was left of it.
In December 2009, Hariri drank a big dose of poison when he took the Beirut-Damascus road to shake the hand of Bashar Assad. He had taken an exceptional dose because prior to the meeting, he was informed by the late Wissam al-Hassan that “investigations indicate that ‘Hezbollah’ members may have been involved in his father’s assassination.” Despite all of the mediations and vows, the seasons of poison did not end.
Saad Hariri was preparing to enter the office of then US President Barack Obama in 2011 when he was surprised by news from Beirut. The Free Patriotic Movement, “Hezbollah” and AMAL ministers had resigned, toppling his cabinet before his return to Lebanon. After that, Hariri would drink the poison of being forced to stay outside of his country over security fears.
Experiences showed that winning a parliamentary majority does not mean being able to govern because “Hezbollah” changed the rules of the game. It monopolized the right to violate any Lebanese decision and monopolized the right to make dictates onto others.
Hariri feared that what was left of the Lebanese state would be eaten up as “Hezbollah” was cementing itself in all of its institutions. Its units were crossing the border to fight in Syria and defend the Assad regime under the pretext of combating ISIS. Iran is continuing its violations in four Arab capitals.
Hariri took a chance that could be considered drinking poison when he backed Michel Aoun for the presidency despite the latter’s alliance with “Hezbollah.”
Hariri gambled on this settlement. He expected Aoun to run the game enough to preserve the least amount of rights of the state and its image. The president however appeared unable to manage a game that is this complicated. Some say that he does not even want to. The scene therefore appeared very difficult and dangerous.
Hariri’s stay in power appeared to deplete him and his team. The regional tussle intensified after it became clear that Iran is insistent on marginalizing the Arab role and on bringing Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen into its axis and policies.
With the emergence of the “Popular Mobilization” phenomenon and armies parallel to official militaries, talk of demographic changes and a Sunni crisis in more than one country, it appeared that the fragile settlement in Lebanon was on the verge of collapse.
After daily dealings with “Hezbollah,” which succeeded in creating deep changes within the choices of the Shi’ite sect in Lebanon, Hariri discovered that the party is insistent on achieving a complete change in Lebanon’s position and identity.
The party’s policies have employed the Lebanese scene in favor of the major Iranian coup in the region and in the crises with Lebanon’s natural allies, meaning Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries. It has also caused crises and complications with the United States and other countries.
Hariri grew tired of drinking poison. He could not accept that his government would be transformed into some form of agreement to approve the process of changing Lebanon’s position, identity and eventual isolation from its Arab fold. In this regard, his resignation came as a form of revolt. That is why it was frank and clear and phrased in damning terms, which he had previously avoided out of his keenness on stability and civil peace.
Hariri acted like someone who decided to reveal the game and all of its details. He said that Lebanon could not live with the existence of two armies and a statelet alongside the state. It could not leave its natural position and live under Iranian clout.
It is an internal and regional battle and the Lebanese have to take sides. It is a difficult battle to restore the Lebanese state from internal and foreign hegemony which will ultimately witness several cups of poison being passed around.
This article was first published in Asharq Al-Awsat.
Ghassan Charbel is the Editor-in-Chief of London-based Al Sharq al-Awsat newspaper. Ghassan's Twitter handle is @GhasanCharbel.