The bitter peace of Lebanon
Forty-one years have elapsed since the ill-fated incident of the Ain el-Remmaneh bus ignited the 15-year Lebanese civil war. But war drums are still beating even after the Taif Agreement in 1990 silenced the guns on various fronts without resolving the inner causes of the conflict, which still smoulder under the ashes.
Dissent and clashes are still present, ready to explode. Instead of these divisive factors being defused and dealt with directly to rebuild the future of Lebanon, they were simply frozen until further notice.
Civil strife is not a phenomenon characteristic to Lebanon only. Many countries have internal conflicts. However, rather than suffer the fate of Lebanon, other states came out stronger and more attached to their unity.
Civil war in Switzerland transcended the country from being partitioned along ethnic and linguistic lines into a neutral and peaceful state. In Spain, the war that ended with the historic reconciliation between royalists and republicans restored the country as a powerful player in Europe. The war that reunited its south and the north led to the United States to eventually becoming a world superpower.
So what is the problem with Lebanon? Are the Lebanese a people who take no lessons? Is the problem in the sectarian political system that makes citizens vassals of sects, instead of citizens of a country? Or is the problem with the entourage who let the country slip into multiple wars before the villain virus of dissent and violence hit them?
On the 41st anniversary of Lebanon’s civil war, the signs of dissent and dislocation are even stronger than in 1975 and the state’s immunity at its lowest. Sectarian struggle is at its highest and harshest, compared to the scale of dissent that existed in the 1970s.
Lebanon’s precarious stability could collapse at the first security incident in case an international or regional power allows such a flare-up, for the local terrain is fully ready.
Instead of one Ain el-Remmaneh bus, prevailing tensions could lead to tens of such massacres while the Israeli threat is always present.
War in Lebanon is a deferred project. In the meantime, there is no harm in having municipal elections to give an impression of stability, while the government is dysfunctional and parliament paralysed and a presidential vacuum persisting. In parallel, the economy is in its worst state and economic hardships tightening the noose on the people, further fuelling tensions.
The situation is aggravated by the Arabs preoccupied by their own calamities amid deep vertical divisions threatening the existence of countries from Iraq to Syria, Yemen and Libya.
The Lebanese hope the sparks of regional and Arab wars will not reach them. These conflicts are increasingly taking a sectarian aspect, notably between the Sunnis and the Shias, which would inevitably destabilise Lebanon and deepen its own sectarian rifts.
In short, Lebanon is living in danger, decades after the end of its civil war, because the so-called peace proved to be more bitter than war itself.
It is high time to build a civil, democratic, just and capable state in the country once branded the Switzerland of the Orient; a country where citizens would be treated fairly and equally without reference to their sect.
Sectarianism should not be regarded as Lebanon’s inevitable fate. It is a result of the population composition. It is a social feature that could be strengthened or weakened, depending on circumstances and choices.