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ICG urges new Cabinet
Prime Minister Najib Mikati, center, heads a Cabinet session at the Grand Serail in Beirut, Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2012. (The Daily Star/Dalati Nohra, HO)
Prime Minister Najib Mikati, center, heads a Cabinet session at the Grand Serail in Beirut, Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2012. (The Daily Star/Dalati Nohra, HO)
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BEIRUT: The country needs a new government composed of technocrats to avoid a further increase in sectarian tensions from the Syrian conflict, according to an International Crisis Group report issued Friday that claims the nation is as vulnerable as ever to destabilization and violence.

The assassination of intelligence chief Wissam al-Hasan, sporadic gunbattles and increased sectarian tensions have shown that the current government has failed to protect the country from the Syrian conflict and if it stays on the level of peace in the country will continue to deteriorate, the report states.

“The bottom line is that the current Cabinet, whose legitimacy was implicitly based on its ability to protect the country from the fallout of the Syrian conflict, has not been able to fulfill its mandate. As a result, it must give way to another government. Short of that, sectarian tensions are likely to rise in dangerous fashion and the message will be sent that political killings once more can occur with impunity and without consequences,” the report concludes.

In the aftermath of Hasan’s assassination by a car bombing in Ashrafieh, the March 14 coalition has wavered over the correct political response, first calling for immediately toppling the Cabinet and then backing off their initial demand. The International Crisis Group report comes during a period of uncertain calm as politicians search for an appropriate way forward that does not upset the country’s precarious political balance.

The report places particular emphasis on how the Future Movement and Hezbollah have become deeply involved with the conflict next door and have staked their political futures on its outcome, making long-term insulation from instability almost impossible. Whether the Syrian regime stays or goes at the end of the crisis, domestic politics in Lebanon will be drastically changed.

“The notion that Lebanon can be insulated from the effects of the Syrian crisis has been fanciful from the start and this became clear with Wissam Hasan’s assassination. The two parties’ fundamentally opposed visions of their neighbor’s future – and their thoroughly diverging interests in this regard – by definition limits their ability to contain the crisis,” the report says.

The Future Movement has offered strong vocal support for the uprising, even running weapons to anti-regime fighters through Turkey, the report claims. Hezbollah has done the opposite, providing increasing amounts of support for President Bashar Assad’s regime, even as Damascus shows signs of weakening control, and likely contributing fighters to his cause.

Both parties are trying to maintain the domestic status quo, but pursuing policies that will eventually push them to opposite extremes and into direct conflict, the International Crisis Group says. Lebanon’s politics are just too deeply tied to Syria’s.

Equally as worrying, the report claims tensions are already so high domestically that both parties are becoming increasingly incapable of controllingtheir supporters as sectarian tensions ramp up.

The kidnappings in the Bekaa, gunfights in Tripoli and road closures in Sidon all point to waning control of Future and Hezbollah party leadership, putting the country in a much more precarious position than it was just a few months ago, the report says.

“Already, both Hezbollah and the Future Current have proven unusually ineffective at containing grassroots violence originating from elements they traditionally can control, such as the Meqdad family or Tripoli’s Islamists,” reads the report.

“Sunnis feel increasingly emboldened, eager for revenge; Shiites feel more and more exposed, fearful of their growing regional situation. Sectarian clashes have been on the rise, with the ever-present risk of cascading intercommunal violence,” the report said.

To ease some of the tensions, the report called for a new government of technocrats to create an impartial government, preparation for the 2013 elections, abstaining from international votes on Syria and a thorough investigation of the Hasan assassination.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 24, 2012, on page 3.
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