75 years after independence, Lebanon is still standing

Lebanon faces very serious challenges, essentially due to the country’s failure to understand the importance of preserving state institutions.
Tuesday 27/11/2018
Hope and challenges. A Lebanese flag hangs from a building in downtown Beirut, on November 21. (Reuters)
Hope and challenges. A Lebanese flag hangs from a building in downtown Beirut, on November 21. (Reuters)

On the 75th anniversary of Lebanon’s Declaration of Independence on November 22, 1943, a nagging question remains. How is it that Lebanon is still able to defend itself, within narrow limits, and to resist those who seek to completely eliminate its institutions? The answer is that the Lebanese model is potent enough to enable the country, which has been described by more than one Arab leader as “fragile,” to catch its breath from time to time.

In Iraq today, there is a clear inability to restore the cohesion between the different components of the country’s social fabric after the widening of the gap between Sunnis and Shias, which Iran did its best to worsen and consolidate. Day by day, the extent of Iranian infiltration in Iraq, much greater than previously thought, is becoming clearer. This is exactly what the Americans failed to understand, leading them to go along with Iran’s veto on keeping Haider al-Abadi as prime minister.

The Iranian alternative to Abadi, namely Adel Abdul al-Mahdi, turned out not to be up to par in the end. Even Speaker of the House of Representatives Mohammed Halbousi is not much different from the six Sunni representatives in Lebanon who actually belong to Hezbollah. The party is exerting tremendous pressure to place one of those representatives in the new Lebanese cabinet. Just as it penetrated the Sunnis in Iraq, Iran is currently working to penetrate the Sunnis in Lebanon by using its followers who have nothing to offer but hatred for Prime Minister Saad Hariri and his Future Movement, a political party that has concretely proved that it transcends sects and regions.

Syria fares no better than Iraq; in fact, it is doing much worse given the extent of the damage to its infrastructure and of course to its society. We can no longer talk about the possibility of restoring the Syrian entity. Iran has endeavoured to change Syria’s demographics, with cover provided by the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. That regime has resolved to remain in control of Damascus no matter what price it has to pay to any foreign party, including Israel.

Russia, which seeks to return refugees to their land and to rebuild Syria, does not really have the means to implement its policy. This is due, above all else, to its erroneous belief that Syria still has institutions that can be built upon.

State institutions have been absent from Syria since the 1963 coup. What existed before Hafez Assad monopolised power in 1970 were the security agencies. He invested in developing the Syrian security apparatus, which in the end was nothing more than a protective cover for the Alawite minority in Syria. The Alawites controlled power and wealth in Syria and enslaved the Syrian people through repression and political blackmailing.

What will Russia do with the Syrian card, which is not a card in the first place? There is nothing that can be done with it really. One day, Russia will discover that there is nothing on which to build in Syria now that it has become clear that the problem is not with a new constitution as much as it is with an oppressive security system that has been in place since 1963 and that has decimated all hope of a civil state in the country.

Back to Lebanon now and to the 75th anniversary of independence; it seems that there remains source of hope for saving what can be saved. All the Lebanese have to do is look to Syria and Iraq to see that sectarian militias are not a solution.

On the contrary, the only role these militias can play is destroying the country’s remaining institutions. In Lebanon, however, there are still institutions that remain steadfast. They’re as old as Lebanon’s independence and the fruit of three eras in Lebanon’s modern history, those of Bishara Khoury, Camille Chamoun and Fuad Chehab.

These institutions enabled Lebanon to cross into 2018. These institutions enabled Lebanon to withstand a crime called the Cairo agreement of 1969. They enabled Lebanon to survive the bloody era of Christian and Muslim militias. Behind these militias lurked the Syrian regime just as it lurked behind Palestinian armed groups. At the beginning of 1976, the Syrian regime hoped to receive the green light from America and Israel to invade Lebanon. It finally achieved that in 1990. when the Syrian army seized Baabda Palace and the Ministry of Defence in Yarzeh.

The circumstances surrounding those events reveal a great deal of naivety on the part of Lebanon’s Christians. It was also very naive for people to believe that Saddam Hussein and his regime had any future, especially after his Kuwaiti adventure and his pompous boasting of the Iraqi army’s invincibility that preceded it.

Three quarters of a century after independence, Lebanon faces very serious challenges, essentially due to the country’s failure to understand the importance of preserving what remains of state institutions. Yes, there is concern about Lebanon these days. At the root of this fear is the existence of a sectarian militia that seeks to infiltrate the Sunni community in Lebanon as it did to the Christian community. This militia is expanding in all directions, especially in the absence of the Christians’ ability to absorb the significance of the regional and international equations and the meaning and significance of what is going on in Syria and Iraq.