The Lebanese ‘complexes’ and the Syrian regime

Hazem Saghieh

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The crisis of forming a Lebanese cabinet which President Michel Aoun, who hinted at the possibility of appointing someone else other than Saad Hariri as prime minister-designate, had promised to overcome soon is still on.

For their part, Sunni leaders, despite their differences, rejected what they considered as breach in the authority of the Sunni prime minister. According to the political and media language adopted in Lebanon, this crisis continues due to three ‘complexes’.

The first one is the supposed ‘Maronite complex’, which purports that the Free Patriotic Movement, i.e. the President’s party, refuses to acknowledge the new found weight of the Lebanese Forces in the recent parliamentary elections.

The second is the ‘Druze Complex’ and which is represented in the rejection of the Progressive Socialist Party and its leader Walid Jumblatt to represent his opponents from the sect and who are led by Talal Arslan.

The third is the so-called ‘Sunni complex’, and which is about representing the Sunnis who oppose Hariri, like Abdel Rahim Mourad, Osama Saad and others who won in the recent elections.

Syria's soft spot

There is no doubt that there are domestic Lebanese reasons that partially explain some of these conflicts or “complexes”. Just like sects usually compete with each other to increase their quotas and decrease other sects’ quotas, political parties which belong to the same sect do the same. This situation, which is fixed in Lebanese politics and which is motivated by the desire to dominate over the field of providing services, is being further complicated by the Syrian issue. Bashar al-Assad’s regime is acting as if it won against its opponents and hence intends to impose this victory on Lebanon which had driven the Syrian army out in 2005.

Just like sects usually compete with each other to increase their quotas and decrease other sects’ quotas, political parties which belong to the same sect do the same.

Hazem Saghieh

The victorious return to Lebanon has several headlines of which the most important of them is the full normalization of relations between the two countries, Lebanon and Syria. Then there is controlling other issues pertaining to the return of refugees and the displaced Syrians to Syria from Lebanon and to the conditions of those who oppose the regime and who were left without protection. There is also the issue of Syria’s reconstruction and which there is a huge fuss about.

Lebanon, which is viewed as “Syria’s softspot” as the traditional Baathist language puts it, can play the role of ‘minesweeper’ for Syria both on the Arab and international levels to lead to broader normalization with the Assad regime. There are a lot of indicators that the Russians, whose weight in the region is increasing, are playing an important role in this direction.

However, the victory of this approach requires controlling the Lebanese government via these three parties: the Free Patriotic Movement, or the Aounists, the Sunnis who oppose Hariri and Talal Arslan. The second and the third parties are known for having good relations with Damascus or with Hezbollah, while the first party distinguished itself by opposing the Syrian regime when it was present in Lebanon before 2005, and by being open to it after the withdrawal of its army. In addition to the Memorandum of Understanding signed between the Aounists and Hezbollah, the former had in all major issues had the same stances as the Syrian regime.

Hezbollah had participated in the Syrian war, as it’s well-known. Its participation had its impact in altering the military balance, before the Russian intervention in 2015 resolved the conflict in Bashar al-Assad’s favor.

This involvement of a party that’s represented in the Lebanese government had several consequences, such as displacing the Syrian people and undermining the dissociation policy and robbing it of its meaning.

The complexity of forming the government indicates the desire of Hezbollah’s allies to politically invest in the war results. Therefore, obstructing the dissociation policy is no longer enough but what’s required is proceeding to reaching a frank political alliance with the Damascus regime. The worst thing is that the “moderates” in this direction can only find the Russians as a party to bet on in order to curb Iran’s and Hezbollah’s encroachment!

This article is also available in Arabic.

Hazem Saghieh is a Lebanese political analyst and the political editor of the London-based Arab newspaper al-Hayat.

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