Lebanon: The long lament for a bastard nation

I mourn for Lebanon, not only for the civil war, the Syrian invasion, and the two wars with Israel that have each brought a devastating human and material toll on Lebanon and sent many of its citizens to dozens of other countries around the world, but I also mourn for Lebanon’s future that is bound to see more war, more blood, more tears, and more destruction.

Ever since non-governmental entities armed themselves in Lebanon, the country has been unstable. Other than Israel, Lebanon is the only country in its neighborhood that has a political system that could be considered somewhat democratic. It is not perfect, but it is a good start, and it can evolve over time. The system, however, cannot withstand armed groups trying to impose their will through violence.

Although much of the threat from private militias has subsided over the decades, there still remains one private group that is very heavily armed, Hezbollah. It is not only more powerful than the Lebanese army, but there is also no one within Lebanon who can confront it. This places Lebanon in an unstable situation that is highly likely to lead to another war with Israel, another civil war, or both.

Hezbollah was created under the pretense of fighting Israel, but it was obvious from the start that its reason to exist was to control Lebanese politics. The Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s recent resignation, announced from Saudi Arabia, demonstrates that there are deep divisions in Lebanon and that those divisions cannot be resolved politically while Hezbollah has a gun to the head of every politician.

While Lebanon could theoretically have stopped the development of Hezbollah’s armed wing, it would not have been easy. Hezbollah was created in the middle of the chaos of a civil war. When the Lebanese government was strong enough to even consider disarming Hezbollah, it could not have done so without another civil war because the Lebanese army would not have been united in fighting Hezbollah.

Although Hezbollah is a proxy of Iran and receives extensive militarily support from it, it is also a Lebanese entity, and many Lebanese people, including army soldiers and officers, support it. Hezbollah is a cancer that eats Lebanon from the inside, but for Lebanon to remove it, it would have to commit suicide.

The only path that could possibly lead to the peaceful removal of the Hezbollah military wing would be pressure by Iran on Hezbollah. If Iran stopped arming Hezbollah and removed its moral support for Hezbollah’s military, there is a strong likelihood that Hezbollah would eventually cave in and disarm.

For this to happen, either the Iranian regime would have to be replaced or tremendous pressure would have to be placed on Iran. Either way, Iran is the key to allowing Lebanon to run its affairs without violence, using its imperfect but workable political system.

However, this is unlikely to happen. The Iranian regime seems as stable as ever, largely thanks to the nuclear deal signed with Iran by former president Barack Obama and other nations. Despite U.S. President Donald Trump’s bluster at the United Nations, there is no political will internationally to confront Iran, especially for the benefit of a small country whose welfare no one seems to care about.

Lebanon should not have been created in the form that it has today. During the civil war that started in 1975, there was often talk of dividing Lebanon into Christian, Shia, and Sunni regions. It did not happen unfortunately. It would have saved Lebanon.

The reason that Lebanon is so easily manipulated by outside forces is that it does not have its own strong identity. It is a bastard nation.

The Lebanese Christians and Druze have a strong identity as Lebanese, but the Muslims do not. The Shia feel more kinship with other Shia Muslims, especially Iran, than with other Lebanese, and the Sunnis feel more kinship with other Sunni Muslims, especially Saudi Arabia, than with other Lebanese.

So this leaves Lebanon in a miserable situation with the prospect of even more misery in the future. For those of us who care about Lebanon and its people, all we have left is a long lament that no one hears and that no one cares about. We are waiting for a miracle that is unlikely to happen.

Note: I acknowledge that the title was inspired by the title of the book “Lament for a Nation”, by Canadian political philosopher George Grant.

About the Author
Fred Maroun is a Canadian of Arab origin who lived in Lebanon until 1984, including during 10 years of civil war. Fred supports Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state, and he supports the Palestinians' right to self-determination in their own state. Fred supports a liberal and democratic Middle East where all religions and nationalities, including Palestinians, can co-exist in peace with each other and with Israel, and where human rights are respected. Fred is an atheist, a social liberal, and an advocate of equal rights for LGBT people everywhere.
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