Hezbollah derives its clout from outside the Lebanese state

When Lebanese citizens wish Hezbollah the best of luck in its war on corruption, they do so out of desperation.
Sunday 03/06/2018
Members of Hezbollah parliamentary bloc applaud after Nabih Berri is re-elected as Lebanon’s parliamentary speaker, on May 23.(Reuters)
Same old politics. Members of Hezbollah parliamentary bloc applaud after Nabih Berri is re-elected as Lebanon’s parliamentary speaker, on May 23.(Reuters)

In Lebanon, having a partisan bloc in parliament twice the size of Hezbollah’s bloc does not necessarily mean that group’s share in decision-making is commensurate with its size. Hezbollah has no more than 15 members of parliament but nobody in Lebanon doubts the party is the ultimate decision-maker in the government and parliament.

The strength of Hezbollah comes from outside the framework of state institutions. The state in Lebanon is the party’s weakest leg. A mini-state within the state, Hezbollah has more power even though it does not draw that power from any democratic process. It draws its power from military and security considerations and imposes it on the state and its institutions in a model of power legitimacy never before seen in normal countries, be they democratic or dictatorial.

For this model of power legitimacy to continue in Lebanon, other forces in the country must at least have formal representation in parliament. This representation is just a formality and is not meant to lead to effective participation in the management of public affairs. Surely these forces can have a say in minor side issues but they cannot touch the major political issues, such as those related to security, foreign policy and war.

Participation by the other political forces in Lebanon is limited to deciding matters that are not related to state sovereignty, including agreeing on each party’s share of public offices or providing services. All parties are equally engaged in corruption, a major element of the mini-state’s power and protection and its lever for exercising power over the state. Without corruption, the mini-state would vanish.

Corruption is crucial for the survival of the evil connection between the mini-state and the state. The first objective condition for fighting the phenomenon of corruption in any country is an authority possessing the right of coercion and which has the responsibility to fight corruption. That authority is only accountable to the citizenry for its actions.

This concept is quasi-absent from Lebanon. As the executive branch, the government in Lebanon is incapable of maintaining a monopoly on the legitimate use of power. More than that, it is unable to openly admit that it has the exclusive right to be in charge of the country’s security and military affairs.

This painful reality serves as the perfect excuse for the government to flee from its constitutional responsibilities. Naturally, when huge gaps in exercising authority are left unfilled and when accountability is absent, the genie of corruption will escape from its bottle under the watchful and encouraging eye of the mini-state. The message to the Lebanese is simple: Your government is not qualified to govern.

With this in mind, Hezbollah’s secretary-general declaring war on corruption in the state apparatus is extremely dubious and ironic. Hassan Nasrallah made that promise during the campaign leading up to Lebanon’s recent general elections. It is indeed dubious when it is known that all of Hezbollah’s alliances and agreements with other political forces in Lebanon were based on the principle: “leave my army and arms alone and do whatever you want with the rest of the country’s affairs.”

Hezbollah’s multiple wars on corruption have always been merely rhetorical. Not once has it carried through with its promises. Instead, it has often used the threat of exposing corruption cases as a tactic to blackmail opponents and critics into turning a blind eye on Hezbollah’s state-within-the-state project.

Saying that is not to imply that Hezbollah itself is not guilty of corruption. It is known that Hezbollah did nothing to expose or intervene in cases of government corruption that occurred with Hezbollah’s collusion, if not encouragement. However, when the Lebanese government threatened to shut down the party’s communication network, Hezbollah resorted to its blackmailing tactics and almost staged a coup.

The Lebanese are eagerly awaiting Hezbollah’s miraculous approach to stomping out corruption. The country’s economy and its citizens have been worn thin by corruption at all levels and by smuggling. The country’s borders have become porous to all sorts of smuggling operations — with Hezbollah’s complicity. To say Hezbollah will eradicate all of that when most of its power alliances are with figures and parties heavily suspected of systematic corruption is beyond fiction.

When Lebanese citizens wish Hezbollah the best of luck in its war on corruption, they do so out of desperation. They have despaired of the government’s ability to curb corruption.

However, wishful thinking is one thing and reality is another. Reality says that reforms and fighting corruption require state institutions that refuse to be subjected to an outside source of power.