Events have moved fast in Lebanon. The country now faces the prospect of a
government controlled by Hizbullah and consisting solely of the movement and its
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Parts of Lebanon looked in danger of slipping into chaos on
Tuesday, as angry Sunnis took to the streets for a “Day of Rage” in protest of
what they called Hizbullah’s “coup.”
They were responding to the securing
of a parliamentary majority for Hizbullah’s preferred prime ministerial
candidate, Najib Mikati. Mikati received the backing of 65 members of the
128-member parliament earlier this week, clearing the way for his appointment as
But the protesters’ rage was insufficient to prevent
Mikati’s accession. He received the official presidential decree confirming his
appointment on Tuesday, even as protesters blocked the Beirut-Saida road and
shots were fired in the Sunni stronghold of Tripoli.
This is because the
real, currently silent capacity for violence in Lebanon is on Mikati’s side, not
that of the demonstrators.
Mikati, 55, a billionaire telecommunications
tycoon, tried to present himself as a compromise Sunni candidate (Lebanon’s
constitution requires that the prime minister hail from the Sunni sect). The
candidacy of a previous pro- Hizbullah Sunni, Omar Karami, had been withdrawn
because of his too-obvious ties to Syria.
The new prime
minister-designate even called on supporters of the March 14 alliance and its
leader, incumbent Prime Minister Saad Hariri, to remember his uneventful record
as prime minister for a short period following theassassination of Rafik Hariri in 2005.
March 14 wasn’t buying. It pointed
to Mikati’s close links with Damascus. More importantly, it is clear to all
sides that Mikati would never have been put forward by Hizbullah and its allies
as a candidate for the premiership were he not fully in line with the movement’s
plan to neuter or dismantle the UN tribunal investigating Rafik Hariri’s
Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah also tried to sound
conciliatory this week. He said the new prime minister would form a new unity
government in which “everyone participates.”
Nasrallah’s and Mikati’s
words were rendered particularly hollow by the means that engineered the
parliamentary majority securing Mikati’s nomination.
parliamentary majority was removed following the defection of Druse leader Walid
Jumblatt’s 11-man faction. This defection, according to Lebanese sources, was
obtained by crude and extremely credible threats of violence against Jumblatt
personally and against his family and community.
Saad Hariri, meanwhile,
has made clear that Mikati is the candidate of the Hizbullah-led camp, while he
remains the candidate of March 14. As such, his movement is refusing to join a
government led by Mikati. This has led to the very real possibility that a
government will be formed under direct Hizbullah domination.
of March 14 supporters has been, for the first time in half a decade, to take to
The demonstrators seen in recent days are not the
wellbehaved, idealistic protesters of the period following Hariri’s
assassination. This crowd has the unmistakable whiff of sectarian rage about
Angry Sunnis in their northern heartland of Tripoli smashed
reporters’ cameras. In Tripoli’s Nour Square, the offices of Muhammad Safadi,
the MP who proposed Mikati’s candidacy, were burned. Protesters also targeted a
transmission van belonging to Al-Jazeera, which they associated with Qatar and
support for Hizbullah. The frightened journalists had to be rescued by members
of the Lebanese Armed Forces.
The protests look set to
But for all their rage, the Sunnis of northern Lebanon are
helpless to prevent the rise of a government openly dominated by the Shi’ite
Islamists of Hizbullah and their Iranian creators and backers. And it appears
unlikely that the “international community” will be anywhere around to assist
The real story behind the coup now under way is that of
Since 1982, Iran has been engaged in establishing a political and
military instrument in Lebanon designed to wage war with Israel. That instrument
is Hizbullah. Since late 2006, the movement has been engaged in an
ever-more-overt assertion of its political power.
It now looks set to
move toward open domination of the government.
This may have profound
effects on the way Lebanon is viewed by the world. Certainly, if a new
government were openly to impede the work of the tribunal, isolation and even
sanctions might follow.
Capital could withdraw from the
Hizbullah’s rise to power is the latest victory for the Iranian
model of combined political militancy and paramilitary strategy that has also
enabled Teheran to split the Palestinian national movement and become the
kingmaker in Iraq.
Israel now faces the prospect of two Iran-backed,
Islamist entities to its north and south.
From an Israeli point of view,
Hizbullah’s move into plain view may also bring advantages. For a long period,
the non-Hizbullah “government” of Lebanon functioned for the Shi’ite Islamists
as part cloak, part human shield.
The emerging situation looks set to
have the virtue, by contrast, of clarity. This would raise the possibility of
the next clash between Israel and Hizbullah taking on the unfamiliar dimensions
of a stateto- state conflict.