BEIRUT - The unrest sweeping Syria may whip up sectarian divisions that
could spill across the border and threaten to destabilise Lebanon, a
small neighbour where Damascus has both strong allies and enemies.
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already smoulders in Lebanon, where the powerful Shi'ite militant
movement Hezbollah, supported by Syria and Iran, is at odds with
caretaker Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, backed by the West and the
Sunni Arab kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Lebanon, with around four million people, has always been a
battleground for bigger regional powers. Syria, which had a military
presence for 29 years until 2005, remains the most influential external
player in Lebanon's sectarian politics.
"We have sides here who
are linked to Syria and others who are enemies of it [who] would drag us
into the crisis. God forbid if something happened there, Lebanon is not
going to be immune," analyst Nabil Bu Monsef said.
in Syria, where a rights group said on Tuesday 400 people have been
killed by security forces, has sectarian undercurrents because of Syrian
President Bashar Assad's minority Alawite rule in a mainly Sunni
Alawite loyalists occupy pivotal positions in the
Syrian military and Assad family insiders run the crucial security
bodies, tying senior officers closely to Assad's own fate.
there is sectarian tension between Alawites and Sunnis in Syria this
will definitely spill over to Lebanon," said a Lebanese analyst,
alluding to past fighting between Alawites and Sunnis in northern
have growing numbers of Sunni hardliners, this is clear, and it is all
over the Middle East, and from the other side we have the Shi'ites
getting more hardline -- because of the conflict between Iran and the
Gulf states. All of this is growing, so we should be scared. We are not
immune," he said.
"When these countries were stable, we were
paying a heavy price because of their interference, so imagine now that
there is trouble there. We will pay an even heavier price."
For security reasons many Lebanese analysts declined to comment or be quoted by name for this article.
the tension, a little known Sunni militant group staged an anti-Assad
demonstration in Lebanon's northern city of Tripoli on Friday and
chanted demands for an Islamic caliphate.
Some analysts said
Hezbollah might tighten its already strong grip on Lebanon's political
fortunes if it felt that its main ally in Damascus was weakening.
cosmopolitan Mediterranean country with 18 sects, Lebanon endured a
15-year civil war characterised by ethnic and sectarian bloodletting
between Muslims and Christians.
The war ended in 1990 but many
Lebanese felt justice was not served and many households still keep guns
to hand, including AK-47 assault rifles and even rocket-propelled
"There is already plenty of tension in Lebanon and the
Syria unrest will complicate relations in Lebanon, especially between
the (Sunni) Future Movement led by Hariri and Hezbollah," a political
science professor at a Lebanese university said.
authorities, trying to crush five weeks of protests against Assad's
authoritarian rule, have accused a Lebanese lawmaker from Hariri's bloc
of stirring up the demonstrators and providing them with weapons to
attack security forces.
Legislator Jamal al-Jarrah denied this.
But, in a sign of the hairtrigger tension, pro-Syria Lebanese and
Palestinian parties held a news conference immediately after the Syrian
accusations and denounced what they called "foreign interference in
Syria". Some accused Hariri himself of being behind the demonstrations.
"Lebanon is stable when Syria is stable. There is no security in Lebanon
without security in Syria," Hezbollah lawmaker Nawaf al-Mussawi said at
Nabih Berri, the parliament speaker and head of
Lebanon's Shi'ite Amal group, a Hezbollah ally and very close to Syria,
said on Tuesday Lebanese had to "care for Syria's security and stability
more than the Syrians themselves".
He added, "We warn against
any attempt to export strife and chaos in Syria because it will ignite a
fire in the Middle East that can not be extinguished."
Hariri has not commented on the events in Syria.
"What I see in these coming weeks is that Syria will fight by putting
pressure on their opponents in Lebanon via their allies to try to
contain their opponents in Lebanon," said Nicholas Noe, a Beirut-based
Lebanon has been without a government since Hezbollah and its allies
toppled Hariri's unity coalition in January in a dispute over a
UN-backed tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of statesman
Rafik al-Hariri, Saad's father.
Hariri accused Syria of killing his father and although he mended fences
to a certain extent with Damascus in 2009, relations between them
The toppling of Hariri's government after Hezbollah and its allies
resigned from it, and their support of businessman Najib Mikati to
replace him angered Sunnis, who saw it as flagrant Shi'ite interference.
Mikati insists he is politically neutral.
"As if Lebanon does not have enough fire, Syria (unrest) will be like a
spark for many of the problems that have been buried for the past two
years," said another political commentator.