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Lebanon’s hot tin roof

The huge “elephant in the room” which the Lebanese demonstrators do not or dare not see is of course Hezbollah

Eyad Abu Shakra

Published: Updated:

Some claim the street protests organized by civil society activists in the Lebanese capital Beirut point to the collapse of Lebanon’s political elite. Well, this isn’t exactly true since the Lebanese political elite collapsed and went bankrupt a long time ago. Thus, there was no need for a couple of hundred or thousand demonstrators—some frustrated and disappointed, others “shady” and under orders—to prove anything.

Add to the above the fact that accumulating rubbish is neither the real problem, nor something that has occurred suddenly; although it was what sparked the protests. In the long absence of a genuine environmental strategy it would be wrong to blame the current lame government alone.

Whoever said that uncollected and untreated rubbish is the only problem that has become worse due to the government’s failure? Every honest Lebanese accepts that the problem of electricity is almost catastrophic; so are the problems of falling educational standards and the mushrooming of colleges and universities which have graduated thousands of “certified illiterates”; as is lawlessness and the proliferation of arms; corruption of all shapes and forms and “mafiosi”; religious and sectarian extremism and bigotry; and high unemployment forcing Lebanon’s most promising, ambitious, and successful to emigrate—many for good!

All these problems have been accumulating for decades. However, ever since Lebanon’s “First Republic” (1943–1975) was brought down by the Lebanese themselves, major regional as well as international players have prevented the emergence of a healthy “Second Republic.” Consequently, Lebanon has since then lurched from one crisis to another, while the Lebanese made denial and self-delusion their only response.

Today what applies best to Lebanon is the famous English idiom “an elephant in the room,” which denotes an obvious truth that is either being ignored or not being addressed—or an obvious problem or risk no one wants to discuss.
This was clear the moment demonstrators first took to Beirut’s squares and streets. There was no picture of Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s secretary general, on the giant sign raised by the demonstrators containing the faces of all the Lebanese political leaders being blamed for the current crisis, pictures of whom were collaged and glued on to rubbish bags. Instead, they chose the face of another member of Nasrallah’s party. A few days later, when one Lebanese TV channel summoned up the courage to have Nasrallah’s face on its sign, fighting broke out forcing the channel to accept defeat and withdraw the “offensive” sign.

Elephant in the room

In addition to this “exception” that makes a mockery of genuine issue-based mass actions, the demonstrators called for the resignation of Prime Minister Tammam Salaam and his cabinet. This, as the organizers know only too well, has been an old political demand of an armed Lebanese party sponsored by a foreign country, which blackmails other parties and has been blocking the election of a new president because it insists on securing the post for its puppet candidate.

The huge “elephant in the room” which the Lebanese demonstrators do not or dare not see is of course Hezbollah.

Through Nasrallah, Hezbollah has openly boasted that it is a “party” and a “protagonist,” not a “mediator,” in the ongoing political crises plaguing Lebanon—although since the Israeli military withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000 it has continued to refer to its weapons stockpiles as the “arms of the Resistance”!

Why should the “arms of the Resistance” remain in the possession of a party that admits it has enemies and allies, like all other parties?

The destruction of a nation

How can anyone accept that Hezbollah may keep its massive arsenal after it was used within Lebanon in 2008 against its own compatriots, and continues to be used in Syria without official endorsement from the legitimate Lebanese government in which Hezbollah has ministers and parliamentary deputies as well as influence through loyal security functionaries?

Also, as its secretary general proudly declares, Hezbollah follows the guidance of the Vali-e Faqih in Iran—that is, not a Lebanese authority, obviously—and not the Lebanese constitution. Furthermore, Hezbollah neither recognizes Lebanon’s sovereignty nor cares about its institutions given the fact it has ignored both as it fights outside Lebanon, receives weapons from foreign powers, and builds and runs its own infrastructure and security apparatus. All these factors make Hezbollah indeed a “state within a state,” albeit a more powerful one, which has stakes within it, as the sect it represents and dominates thanks to its arms, financial clout and “services,” is presented within the government like other sects.

If all the above is not enough, it is worth remembering that Hezbollah has never accepted the Taif Agreement, but for a while deemed it beneficial to conceal its opposition. For a while too it temporarily delayed turning Lebanon into a Shi’ite Islamic state. Now, however, it is purposefully striving to achieve two objectives:

(1) Bringing down the Taif Agreement.

(2) Preparing the ground for a Shi’ite Islamic state based on its tactical bet on an “alliance of minorities” some international players seem to support.

This is exactly what Hezbollah is doing at the moment. It is throwing its weight behind the hardline Christian leader Michel Aoun, and is working to make him the country’s sole Christian leader—although it is quite aware of Aoun’s political history, and listens daily to his provocative sectarian vitriol.

Through Aoun, an avowed enemy of the Taif Agreement who embroiled Lebanon in pointless wars and now accuses the moderate Sunni Prime Minister Tammam Salam of being an “ISISist,” Hezbollah persists in the task of destroying the Lebanese state for a very clear reason: it already has an “alternative” state of its own.

The wars fought by Hezbollah and its Christian henchman—as well as their ally the Damascus regime—during the years past have driven hundreds of thousands of talented Lebanese abroad, many for good. These wars have also destroyed Lebanon’s economic infrastructure, deprived the country of foreign investment, and prevented its services sector from benefiting from regional economic and development opportunities. Yet, despite this stark reality, Hezbollah is now attempting to ride the wave of popular discontent, and hijack the just demands of a frustrated youth, diverting it to serve its own political agenda.

In these difficult times Lebanon’s youth need to be aware and responsible. They must not partake in the destruction of a nation which the international community may be willing to turn into a failed state as a first step to putting it under an “Iranian mandate.”

In short, they must try hard not to be a present-day version of the Bourbons, who were once accused of having “learned nothing, and forgotten nothing.”

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Sept 3, 2015.

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Eyad Abu Shakra (also written as Ayad Abou-Chakra) began his media career in 1973 with Annahar newspaper in Lebanon. He 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.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.