Lebanon is ruled by proxy
Since the exit of the Syrian Army from Lebanon after the February 2005 assassination of prime minister Rafik Hariri, the Lebanese have had a rare opportunity to run their own political affairs without foreign patronage to which they have long been used despite gaining their independence in 1943.
Slogans of sovereignty and independence that echoed across Beirut’s streets during the massive March 14 demonstration that launched the Cedars revolution and forced Syria to quit Lebanon have remained ink on paper.
Today, Lebanon has no sovereignty, no real independence and the Lebanese are not able to settle their chronic disputes in any field without outside guidance.
Lebanon has witnessed vertical divisions between the two main political poles, the anti-Syria March 14 alliance and pro-Damascus March 8 coalition, followed by Sunni-Shia and inter-Christian schisms. Tensions were exacerbated by rampant corruption and insatiable lust of the ruling elite that tapped the state’s last resources and emptied the people’s pockets. Government powers were eroded by the hegemony of armed groups and militias, turning the state into a vehicle whose four wheels went in opposite directions, forcing it to be grounded.
Although Syria pulled out its troops, its spectre remained in Beirut. No Lebanese decision could see the light without being first approved by Syria and Saudi Arabia, the two main regional players.
The Lebanese disagree over many issues, including the fate of Hezbollah’s arms, a new electoral law and a new president. In 2008, a presidential void and exacerbated tensions led to armed clashes, prompting foreign interference that resulted in the Doha agreement, under which a political deal was signed and Michel Suleiman was elected president.
With the outbreak of the Syrian conflict in 2011, Damascus lost its grip on Lebanon but it was soon replaced by Iran, making it Saudi Arabia’s peer in influencing developments in the small country. The rivalry between Tehran and Riyadh reverberated in Lebanon. Security deteriorated, state institutions were paralysed, parliament ceased to operate and the presidential post became vacant. Undeclared anarchy has since prevailed.
Once again, the Lebanese are proving incapable of ruling themselves, as evidenced by recent history.
During the Mutasarrifate, semi-autonomous rule of Mount Lebanon of 1861-1918, the Lebanese had difficulty governing themselves and sought the patronage of the Ottomans. With the creation of present day Lebanon in 1920, the Lebanese ran the country with the help of the French mandate until they were granted independence in 1943.
“The men of independence” were hardly able to rule the country, under the veiled tutelage of France and Britain. The first post-independence clash in 1958 pitted mainly Christian pro-Western parties against mostly Muslim advocates of Arab nationalism and unity led by Egypt’s Abdel Nasser.
Afterward tutelage of Lebanon shifted from Egypt to Syria and Saudi Arabia, the two countries that sponsored the 1989 Taif agreement, which ended 15 years of civil strife. Saudi-Syrian tutorship continued until Hariri’s assassination in 2005, after which Lebanon began to stumble as a result of regional rifts and rivalries involving Syria, Saudi Arabia and Iran, pushing it to the edge of the abyss.
Is it Lebanon’s fate to be ruled by proxy?
Sectarianism is indisputably Lebanon’s curse. It is the sheer opposite of democracy, civil rule and true independence. However, the key to real change is inherent in a new electoral law that would transcend sectarian limitations and bring to power new political elite, not subordinate to foreign powers but dedicated to building a civil state.
It is true that attempts in that direction have failed so far but hope for change should not subside.