The Lebanese army’s crisis and its fans!

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Expressing love for the Lebanese army amid normal circumstances is a healthy thing that is also a duty. National armies, as people learn from an early age, are the “country’s fence. There is nothing more glorious than sacrifice for the sake of defending the country and its people.

The soldier who joins the military knows beforehand that one day he may have to use his weapon against those who dare attack his country, although it is not possible he will accept to turn his weapon on his country or his people, like what happens in some countries whose leaderships lose the compass…leaving doors wide open for civil wars.

The Lebanese army is a national institution established as a melting-pot for fusion in a country divided by culture and loyalties, which people are incapable of controlling – or at least of defining – since 1943, the date of independence. Or maybe even since 1920 when the borders of the Lebanese entity were drawn. Or even before that. Fouad Chehab, one of the most honorable leaders of Lebanon and one of those mostly committed to state institutions, patriotism, integrity and co-existence, was the “founding father” of this army.

Division after unity

Except, for a short period of time when some army institutions were considered to have a tendency to interfere in politics, the Lebanese army remained a unifying umbrella for all of the Lebanese people until the 1975-1990 war erupted. The war witnessed the division of the army, the country and its people. Here, it must be noted that army martyrs, since its participation in the Palestine War, until today were from all areas and included different sects, partisan backgrounds and military ranks. In life and martyrdom there are factors; unity, connection and compassion, which there is no preference for one over another.

The Lebanese army was and continues to be, despite its tireless quest to fulfill its unifying duty, a reflection of the reality of its country and people. It does not fake identities and invent loyalties but raises, directs and spreads awareness of the threat of the foreign enemy. It does not get involved in domestic disputes, especially since it suffered from divisions, even when the people were divided, its brigades were dispersed as the country was torn apart because of the ascendancy of “de facto” powers. Based on that, when strife threatens to sprinkle its evil, it becomes the core duty of he who is presiding over the army and its unity to work on distancing it from anything that may harm its image as an institution above divisions.

The issue of “loving the army” becoming a matter of trade and cheap bidding…is a bad-intentioned phenomenon that raises worries over the army’s future.

None of the wise Lebanese were surprised that domestic tensions in the country increased as a result of the situation in Syria. Many of them were aware, for quite a while, that blackmail to propagate chaos and play the card of sectarian tension is one of the possible steps regional players will resort to in their attempt to save the Syrian regime.

It was also expected that with the Syrian tragedy nearing its two-year anniversary, harvesting tens of thousands of victims and displacing hundreds of thousands, it will exacerbate the livelihood and political conditions in the countries neighboring Syria. It is natural that the biggest of threats will target Lebanon where the Syrian regime, during a real occupation and security dominance which lasted for three decades, has created an extremely dangerous factional political situation.

With the deliberate deviation of the path for the popular Syrian uprising toward a factional Sunni-Shiite confrontation, it has become clear that Lebanon will not remain safe from the worst for long as Lebanon’s decision is controlled by an armed sectarian party that in the past few years caused a sectarian opposing reaction.

Funerals of “Hezbollah” members who fell in “jihadi operations” in unknown locations raced with reports that Sunni jihadis were moving along the Syrian-Lebanese borders. This was an indication that the country has already entered the worst phase.

What happened recently in Aarsal, regardless of the details, is a worrisome incident. But for officials from a party which previously marginalized the Lebanese army and rather confronted it with weapons to rush and claim love and concern for the army particularly at this time is an ugly bidding that drags the country into conflict.

During this phase, loving the army is embodied in protecting it and dissociating it from strife not pushing it in it. Inciting a certain sectarian environment against the army will threaten the latter’s unity and coherence because it is being pictured as one that follows a certain category and opposes another…The biggest fear is that this maybe the aim of the inciters.

He was right, he who said: “Lord, protect me from my friends; I can take care of my enemies.”

This article was published in Al-Sharq Al-Awsat on Feb. 5, 2013.

(Eyad Abu Shakra began his media career in 1973 with An-Nahar newspaper in Lebanon. Joined Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper in the UK in 1979, occupying several positions including: Senior Editor, Managing Editor, and Head of Research Unit, as well as being a regular columnist. He has several published works, including books, chapters in edited books, and specialized articles, in addition to frequent regular TV and radio appearances, active in academic, social and charity work, and a former active member of the Labour Party in the UK.)