Whither Lebanon: a nation on the brink

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The last time a French president arrived in an Arab country in the midst of a crisis, he did so bearing the gift of democracy. That was back in 2011 when Nicolas Sarkozy descended on Benghazi along with his then British counterpart, David Cameron, to cheer on the ‘revolution’ that had erupted in the city, desperate as both leaders were to ride the wave of the so-called Arab Spring all the way to the rocks of Western hegemony. Nine years later you would find it impossible to locate democracy in Libya using the Hubble Space Telescope. What exists there instead is murder, mayhem and slave markets — the grim fruits of yet another country sacrificed on the altar of human rights.

If Libya’s travails prove anything it is that no matter how bad things may be, they could always be worse. It is why the sight of current French leader Emanuel Macron descending on Beirut in response to the horrific blast that destroyed a large swathe of the city, pledging aid while demanding political reform, should send a shiver up the spine of every Lebanese citizen with any understanding of the Western colonial mind.

Of course, it would be churlish to question the right of the Lebanese people to accept aid from any quarter given the nature of the crisis to befall the country, but the idea that Washington, Paris, and even more outrageously, Tel Aviv, care one whit for the welfare of the citizens of a country each of the aforementioned has specialised in attacking in various ways down through the years and also in the present, this is manifestly absurd.

Aftermath of the blast in Beirut

Lebanon’s plight is a stain on its political class, most would agree, with the resignation of a government mired in allegations of corruption and the mismanagement of resources, long overdue. But let’s not understate the specific material circumstances in which Lebanon exists. Sitting in the crosshairs of Western hegemonic objectives in the Middle East, the country also happens to be home to the most effective Arab fighting force in the region, without whose efforts in resisting those objectives the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity would now be non-existent.

This force is of course Hezbollah, the Shia militia organisation established in 1985 in response to Israel’s invasion and occupation of southern Lebanon, starting in 1982. In the wake of the explosion which ripped through the port of Beirut and surrounding areas, the source of which is reputed to have been a large store of ammonium nitrate, the organisation’s leader, Hasan Nasrallah, publicly denied allegations that Hezbollah had any weapons stored at or near the site of the blast.

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Leader of Hezbollah, Hasan Nasrallah

Almost as soon as the explosion occurred, it was being weaponised against Hezbollah both within and without the country. The fact that Israel claimed to have detected and repelled an attempted incursion across the Lebanese border by a group of Hezbollah militants just days before the blast took place in Beirut, had already raised tensions and speculation surrounding the possibility of a military clash erupting between the Shia resistance movement and Israeli forces to a high pitch. Now, with this blast, Lebanon and the wider region finds itself on the brink

Interestingly, in the wake of the Beirut explosion the Jerusalem Times ran a story claiming that Nasrallah had in recent years talked up the possibility of Hezbollah igniting stores of ammonium nitrate in the Israeli port city of Haifa to cause tens of thousands of deaths and mass devastation in a country for which the organisation’s very existence is tantamount to a dagger pointed at its heart.

The last widespread conflict between Hezbollah and Israel in 2006 was widely viewed as a defeat for Israel and a victory for Hezbollah — though a decidedly Pyrrhic one given the devastation wrought by the Israeli air force across southern Lebanon and beyond. Hezbollah has also in recent years played a crucial role in the conflict in Syria, suffering significant casualties in the process, thought to be in the region of 2000 killed with an unknown number injured. Thus the organisation hasn’t had its problems to seek in recent times.

Even with Lebanon now in chaos, and with Hezbollah now one of Lebanon’s only surviving stable and organised political blocs, the fragile nature of Lebanese democracy, which mirrors the sectarian/confessional nature of Lebanese society, still dictates that its ability to gain the support and trust of people outwith its own ranks remains limited. Indeed, with the anti-Hezbollah forces in the country using the blast to apportion Lebanon’s many woes at the door of Nasrallah, how long before the anger currently present in the street against the country’s political class is turned against the Shia militia group?

As with nature, politics abhors a vacuum, and at this writing there is a political vacuum yearning to be filled in Lebanon. Who fills it and at whose behest is not yet clear, but if it is not filled quickly then the tocsin sounding the alarm of approaching civil conflict will start to ring out in a country whose 15-year civil war in the 1970s and 80s was one of the most brutal and cruel in modern history.

Meanwhile, as for French presidents bearing gifts, remember Benghazi.


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