There was an escalation in Lebanon on Wednesday, with the “armed wing” of al-Moqdad clan taking to the streets of Beirut, causing chaos at the security level, and kidnapping Syrian nationals while threatening to abduct nationals of Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar. But in effect, this is only part of the repercussions surrounding the emergency summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Mecca, which was attended by 57 countries.
Such repercussions do not concern the clan itself, but rather a political party with crucial influence on this clan, namely Hezbollah, with its strong ties and profound loyalty to the Islamic Republic of Iran. The other reason behind rousing terror in the hearts of the Lebanese, and forcing them to return to the nightmare of either a civil war erupting or submitting to Hezbollah’s weapons, is connected to the arrest by Lebanese security forces of Syria’s man in Lebanon, former Lebanese Minister Michel Samaha, on charges of transporting massive amounts of explosives from Damascus to Beirut and of planning bombings and assassinations aimed at arousing confessional strife and setting Lebanon ablaze.
These two elements – that of Iran and that of Syria – of the events taking place on the Lebanese scene are nothing new, except in terms of reinforcing the isolation of the regime in Damascus via a comprehensive decision by the OIC at the Mecca Summit and strengthening the siege on the regime in Tehran via measures taken by the West, including sanctions in Washington and European capitals.
Hezbollah is angry at both, and is also on highest alert as a result of its every move being monitored, at the intelligence, security and financial levels, by US authorities, which have also taken measures against it – the latest taking the form of accusations against Hezbollah of being involved in Syria through the supply of fighters and training to help the regime in Damascus crush the opposition there.
Terror, then, now hounds the Lebanese people, after panic found its way to leaders within Hezbollah and within the regime in Damascus, as well as within Iran’s leadership. All of this portends dangerous escalation in the region, where proxy wars in Syria and Lebanon, and perhaps Iraq, are coupled with increased resolve in Damascus to contain the regime’s ordeal by exporting the instruments to ignite confessional strife and civil war to Lebanon, in response to the regime being shackled with stifling isolation.
Yet reaching the absolute conclusion that Hezbollah or Iran have taken the decision to commit suicide in Syria – or to provide Israel with a pretext to carry out military operations against them (specifically against Hezbollah in Lebanon) – may not be sound reasoning. To be sure, there is much wisdom in Iran’s history, which could lead to decisions that may prevent the eruption of confessional wars between Shiites and Sunnis. There is also much political acumen, which may result in the escalation being reined in, because this would be in the interest of survival.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was present at the OIC emergency summit held this week in Mecca, presided over by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz. OIC Secretary-General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu read the summit’s closing statement, dubbed the “Mecca Charter”, which stressed the necessity of standing with the Syrian people, who face an offensive by planes and missiles.
Such language is not customary of statements issued by such summits. It is in effect a declaration of exclusion and condemnation of the regime in Damascus, which is using planes and missiles in an offensive against the Syrian people. Furthermore, the OIC decided in this closing statement to suspend Syria’s membership in the organization, pointing to the violent campaign of repression waged by President Bashar al-Assad’s government against the uprising. Suspending the membership of Syria under its current regime in all specialized OIC organs and institutions is no mere passing matter, but rather an important measure at numerous levels.
Indeed, what has emerged from the “Mecca Charter” is the legitimization of offering the Syrian people support in the face of the offensive against it by planes and missiles – i.e. the offensive against it by the ruling regime. This means legitimizing support for the opposition and Saudi-Qatari intervention in favor of the opposition, with the OIC’s blessing, thus placing the support provided by Gulf countries, Turkey and the West under a legitimate Islamic umbrella.
This will entail, as a later step at the political and diplomatic level, action by the OIC and its members in international forums, and in particular at the United Nations. This means that action this time will not come from Saudi Arabia or Qatar alone, but rather from an Islamic gathering, which includes Arabs, Africans, Asians and others, under an Islamic umbrella and with a strong relationship with the West, taking the form of a protest campaign directed towards the Security Council, most likely during the ministerial session included by France’s presidency of the Security Council for the current month on the Council’s agenda at the end of the month.
The mobilization of Islamic states inside the Security Council will not be aimed at isolating Syria as much as at isolating Russia and China at the Security Council and before Muslim and international public opinion. Such a governmental gathering mobilized against Russia and China carries dimensions beyond the Security Council which it would be preferable for Moscow and Beijing to pay heed to. For one thing, this message is, on the one hand, directed at the two governments, signifying that anger at their stances on Syria has become overwhelming. And on the other hand, this message was also endorsed by five Muslim republics that surround Russia, signifying that Moscow should realize before it is too late that the emotions of peoples can overwhelm the will of their governments.
Furthermore, the fact that the “Mecca Charter” deliberately considered Myanmar’s actions towards Muslims to represent crimes against humanity is not devoid of a message to China on the issue of Muslim minorities and the protection – or lack thereof – provided by the governments concerned (those of countries containing Muslim minorities) to those minorities.
The collective stance taken by Muslim countries at the Mecca Summit has fulfilled for Turkey a demand that amounts to Turkey’s need for an Islamic protective umbrella in order to set up an actual umbrella to protect the airspace when supporting the Syrian opposition. In effect, this means that Turkey has sought collective action and a collective blessing from prominent Muslim countries, in order for the countries of the region to establish something similar to a no-fly zone – and in this context the countries of the region means Turkey. Such a no-fly zone would in effect mean that the North Atlantic Alliance (NATO) would be providing airspace protection through Turkey.
Such Islamic support for the direction taken by the Arab Gulf states, Turkey and the West on Syria in fact represents a shot across the bow for Russia and China, signifying that they are isolated. Moreover, prominent speeches and stances during the Mecca Summit were distinguished by sharp criticism of Russia and China, in collective condemnation that never existed before, and that has now become clear condemnation and a “smear” on the reputation of Russia and China at the Islamic level, as one veteran observer put it.
At the same time, the Saudi monarch made sure to launch an initiative for dialogue among Islamic sects, which represents the first time such dialogue has been initiated with procedures for establishing a center in Riyadh to achieve this goal – and this means holding a dialogue between the various Islamic confessions in order to do away with ignorance and provocation between those confessions.
Indeed, they do not try to understand each other, neither politicians nor clerics, nor even ordinary people – they dwell in division, discord and strife ready to erupt, even raising future generations on the basis of enmity between confessions. This is why dialogue and the call for moderation bear an impact and numerous benefits. Certainly, containing extremism has become a fateful matter for everyone, and Syria represents an important arena to test good faith and the sincerity of the resolve to strengthen moderation against Muslim extremism.
Yet such reassurance will not take place overnight between Islamic confessions. This is why Syria may well represent a foothold for effectively launching such an approach on the field, while technical arrangements would later be made through the center for dialogue.
The conflict between confessions is an ongoing reality, specifically between Sunnis and Shiites. Lebanon will perhaps turn into an arena for the eruption of such a conflict, if the leading Muslim countries concerned in this respect, from Riyadh to Tehran, fail to mobilize all of their capabilities to prevent the Muslim world from descending into sudden confessional strife.
Indeed, dialogue between clerics is one thing, and conflict between politicians using confessions is another, much more dangerous thing. Escalation in Lebanon forms part of the repercussions surrounding the conflict and the process of testing intentions. And Lebanon certainly gets affected, as it represents an arena for producing complex relationships and situations.
Today, the size, impact and scope of proxy wars have become much greater. It might be said that what the West and the Arabs, and especially those of the Gulf, want is an end to radicalism, with the fall of regimes stretching from Damascus to Tehran, and including Hezbollah in Lebanon. It might be said that the battle is not being waged against Shiite radicalism alone, but against Sunni radicalism as well, as represented by Salafism or al-Qaeda. It might be said that this is not a battle in which the West is allied with the Sunnis against the Shi'ites, but rather an alliance open to all against radicalism.
All of this is possible, perhaps. Yet at the end of the day, what takes place on the battlefields of uprisings or wars will be what increases people’s moderation or extremism, and what leaves an impact.
In Egypt, where the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists are allied and fighting together to ensure the monopoly of Islamists on all centers of power, there is only a new dictatorship, one that is more dangerous, because it is religious. This in turn fuels among other sects fear of Sunni tyranny and Sunni hegemony over the Muslim world, whose victims will be the Shiites and other Islamic confessions – in addition of course to secularism and moderation.
It might be said that Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood should not be feared, because it will not be able to remain in power, first because the Egyptian people will not accept a new dictatorship, and second because it will not be able to survive economically – and is therefore inevitably headed towards its demise. That may be, but it remains a kind of risk and a kind of wager.
In Syria, extremism needs to be reined in, even at a time when the Muslim countries concerned are providing the opposition with aid and weapons. The armed opposition must also remain under the microscope of monitoring and accountability, regardless of whether its adversary goes further in violating human rights and international laws. The Syrian opposition has no right to enter as party to inflaming a civil war, neither in Syria nor in Lebanon. It has no right to resort to kidnapping a Lebanese national, leading to a battle of kidnapping by a local clan that could result in achieving the purpose desired by some, that is, arousing confessional and sectarian strife and perhaps even civil war in Lebanon.
There remains the fact that Hezbollah is now under the microscope at the Lebanese level, not just at the regional or international level. It holds the decision to implicate Lebanon in confessional and civil wars, it holds the decision to save Lebanon from an Israeli war, and it holds the key to turning Lebanon into a prosperous country whose people are entitled to lead a normal life.
It knows that choosing to join the campaign of setting Lebanon ablaze will lead it to burn itself up in what is self-immolation, and it is well aware that the time has come for it to prove its wisdom, and that soundly choosing to have its place and its standing in Lebanon represents the razor’s edge separating wisdom from suicide.
(This article was fist publshed in al-Hayat on August 17, 2012.)