FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Midnight in Beirut

by KARIM MAKDISI

At midnight last Friday night, Lebanon entered the uncharted waters of a constitutional crisis as the outgoing President Emile Lahoud’s term ended without the appointment of a successor. Earlier in the day, the scheduled meeting of parliament to elect a new president was postponed for the fifth time, this time to November 30, amidst an opposition boycott that prevented the two-third quorum required by the Constitution.

Lebanon has now entered what is being called “controlled chaos,” a precarious phase in which leaders of both the pro-US March 14 coalition and the opposition have pledged to intensify the search for a consensus presidential candidate over the coming week while toning down the provocative political rhetoric and sectarian venom that has featured so prominently in recent months. This deal has prevented, or at least postponed for now, what most Lebanese fear most: civil unrest which could lead to yet another war. The dangers remain very real amidst claims by the more extreme elements within March 14 that they retain the right to elect a president even in the absence of the two-third quorum, something the opposition claims will provoke conflict.

In the meantime, it remains unclear who has inherited Lebanon’s presidential powers. In his final act as President, Lahoud transferred authority to maintain security and order to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) to prevent a slide into what he considered a ‘state of emergency.’ March 14 members, including Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, dismissed this move as legally void, asserting that under the Constitution it is the cabinet that automatically assumes the role of the presidency to avoid the dangers of a presidential vacuum. However, the opposition-which includes Hizbullah, General Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri’s Amal Movement, as well as Lahoud-have considered the Siniora government illegitimate since the resignation of all the Shi’a ministers last November, and will interpret any attempt by the Siniora government to use such authority as tantamount to a coup d’état.

The apparently irreconcilable political split in Lebanon may be illustrated by the debate surrounding President Lahoud’s legacy. On the one hand, supporters of March 14 demonize him for being Syria’s man in Lebanon and for not preventing Hizbullah’s construction of what they refer to as a ‘state within a state’ in southern Lebanon. They trace the current crisis to Syria forcing the extension of Lahoud’s term for three years in 2004 which, they say, precipitated the assassination of the former PM Rafiq Hariri and Hizbullah’s dragging of the country into war with Israel at the behest of Syria and Iran.

On the other hand, opposition supporters champion Lahoud’s seminal role in protecting and defending the Lebanese Resistance, and in particular his legitimizing Hizbullah’s armed presence in the face of unprecedented pressure from March 14, the US and the UN Security Council (SC) via the insidious Resolution 1559 that calls for disarming all “militias.” Moreover, Lahoud’s status as former commander of the Lebanese army has solidified excellent relations in terms of cooperation and coordination between the army and Resistance during his tenure.

It is this second legacy which the US and March 14 perceive as a threat and thus share a common desire to destroy.

While the personal and sectarian dynamics of Lebanese politics (including the declining role of Maronite Christians in Lebanon that has so incensed Michel Aoun and even the Maronite Patriarch) should not be underestimated in terms of prolonging the current crisis, it is the larger US project to reconfigure the Arab (as well as larger Muslim) region–and the resistance this has engendered–that has played the decisive role. In this sense, Lebanon’s constitutional predicament and effective state of emergency reflects the US failure to impose its will, and mirrors similarly botched US interference in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

For Lebanon the US project means eliminating Hizbullah, one way or the other, so as to remove Israel’s only genuine security threat and deprive Syria and Iran of leverage in their own negotiations with the US regarding the Golan Heights and nuclear arms respectively.

However, in light of the failure of the July 2006 US-Israeli war to destroy Hizbullah, the US has for now shifted its strategy away from a military solution to co-opting the Lebanese state itself to pursue these tasks on its behalf-much as it has done in Palestine with Abu Mazen’s recent declaration of war against Hamas.

By recognizing March 14’s disputed claims to executive authority (now apparently reinforced with the governments’ assumption of presidential powers), encouraging it to reject the opposition’s repeated calls for a national unity government, and supporting its call for the full implementation of UNSC resolution 1559, the US appears to believe it has accomplished the first stage of this strategy which has focused on removing the Resistance’s official cloak of state legitimacy it enjoyed under President Lahoud.

The second phase of US strategy is to create what the Pentagon calls a “strategic alliance” with the Lebanese army–the only state institution that enjoys broad support from all Lebanese communities, regardless of sect or class– by transforming it into a force that would confront, rather than support, the Resistance. US military aid has been rising exponentially, as has the EU’s; while March 14 has been working hard to install officers loyal to its cause in a bid to reverse the army’s pro-Resistance sympathies.

In this case, the key question is: how far will the US push Lebanon’s delicate system if the opposition remains intact?

All eyes in Lebanon turn now to Annapolis to gauge the likelihood of a ‘deal’ over Lebanon in case US-Syrian relations thaw. However, while Syria influences the opposition’s demands in some aspects, it by no means dictates them. The core issues of the dispute-the role of the Resistance; the sectarian balance; the nature of the Lebanese state; the endemic corruption; the social and economic crises-should be meaningfully addressed by the Lebanese themselves.

In any case, it is more likely that Annapolis will represent another signpost in the US drive to solidify the de facto unholy alliance that has bound Israel and the so-called “moderate” Arab states under US patronage. In this case, it is difficult to be optimistic about prospects for Lebanon or the region.

KARIM MAKDISI is Assistant Professor of International Relations in the Dept of Political Studies and Public Administration at the American University of Beirut, Beirut, Lebanon. Email: km18@aub.edu.lb

 

 

 

Karim Makdisi teaches Political Studies at the American University of Beirut and is a Senior Research Fellow at the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs. Makidis is a co-editor of two forthcoming volumes – Land of Blue Helmets: the United Nations in the Arab World, co-edited with Vijay Prashad (University of California Press) and Interventions in Conflict: International Peacekeeping in the Middle East, co-edited with Rami Khouri and Martin Waehlisch (Palgrave-Macmillan).

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
February 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Pierre M. Sprey - Franklin “Chuck” Spinney
Sleepwalking Into a Nuclear Arms Race with Russia
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Exxon’s End Game Theory
John Laforge
Did Obama Pave the Way for More Torture?
Ajamu Baraka
Malcolm X and Human Rights in the Time of Trumpism:  Transcending the Masters tools
Paul Street
Liberal Hypocrisy, “Late-Shaming,” and Russia-Blaming in the Age of Trump
Vijay Prashad
A Foreign Policy of Cruel Populism
John Chuckman
Israel’s Terrible Problem: Two States or One?
Matthew Stevenson
The Parallax View of Donald Trump
Stan Cox
Can the Climate Survive Electoral Democracy? Maybe. Can It Survive Capitalism? No.
Ramzy Baroud
The Trump-Netanyahu Circus: Now, No One Can Save Israel from Itself
Chuck Collins
Wall Street Hopes You’ve Forgotten the Crash Already
Edward Hunt
The United States of Permanent War
Pete Dolack
The Bait and Switch of Public-Private Partnerships
Elliot Sperber
Why Resistance is Insufficient
Brian Cloughley
What are You Going to Do About Afghanistan, President Trump?
Binoy Kampmark
Warring in the Oncology Ward
Yves Engler
Remembering the Coup in Ghana
Jeremy Brecher
“Climate Kids” v. Trump: Trial of the Century Pits Trump Climate Denialism Against Right to a Climate System Capable of Sustaining Human Life”
Franklin Lamb
Another Small Step for Syrian Refugee Children in Beirut’s “Aleppo Park”
Ron Jacobs
The Realist: Irreverence Was Their Only Sacred Cow
Robert Koehler
Costa Rica’s Peace Journey
Andre Vltchek
Lock up England in Jail or an Insane Asylum!
Paul DeRienzo
Three Years Since the Kitty Litter Disaster at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant
Eric Sommer
Organize Workers Immigrant Defense Committees!
Steve Cooper
A Progressive Agenda
Andrew Stewart
The 4CHAN Presidency: A Media Critique of the Alt-Right
Edward Leer
Tripping USA: The Chair
Nyla Ali Khan
One Certain Effect of Instability in Kashmir is the Erosion of Freedom of Expression and Regional Integration
Rob Hager
The Only Fake News That Probably Threw the Election to Trump was not Russian 
Mark Dickman
The Prophet: Deutscher’s Trotsky
Christopher Brauchli
The Politics of the Toilet Police
Charles R. Larson
Review: Timothy B. Tyson’s “The Blood of Emmett Till”
February 23, 2017
Dave Brotherton
Trump, Moral Panics and Resistance
Jonathan Cook
One State: Trump Has Reminded Palestinians What It Was Always About
Bill Quigley
Ten Examples of Direct Resistance to Stop Government Raids
Linn Washington Jr.
Bigot Boy Business: Trump Exposes His Ignorance and Intolerance, Again
John W. Whitehead
The Illusion of Freedom: the Police State Is Alive and Well
Ralph Nader
Restricting People’s Use of Their Courts
David Macaray
Women As Labor Union Organizers
Kathy Kelly
Friendship in Defiance of War
Doug Weir
Why Did the US Use Depleted Uranium Weapons in Syria?
Steve Horn
Former GOP Congressional Staffer Follows Revolving Door, Now Latest Keystone XL Lobbyist
Binoy Kampmark
From Rights to Repentance: Norma McCorvey and Roe v Wade
Thomas Knapp
The Target of the “Border Adjustment Tax” is You
Chris Zinda
Open Letter to Neoliberal Environmentalists
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail