Lebanon News

Pre-Civil War tension in the air: ICG

File - Islamists protest against Syria's President Bashar Assad after Friday prayers in Beirut, Friday, June 1, 2012. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

BEIRUT: Lebanese politicians have painted a thin veneer of functionality over the country which is barely able to mask an increasingly fractured society, according to a report released this week by the International Crisis Group.

The social and political landscapes in Lebanon today “bear an uncanny similarity to those which preceded the Civil War,” the report warns.

Amid the political system of splintered clientelism, the report warns that Lebanon is seeing a “revival of militia culture inherited from the 1975-1990 Civil War.”

While diplomats often praise Lebanon’s resilience in the face of regional crises, the report claims that this relative stability can only last so long under the current conditions. Indeed “the situation is little more than a frozen, institutionalized version of the pre-war template,” the report warns.

Lebanon’s stability is, in effect, a façade, said Sahar Atrache, a senior analyst at Crisis Group who worked on the report. “Nothing is really being done to address the deep rooted causes, the challenges that sooner or later the country is going to face,” she said.

Key subjects, like presence of armed militias and the “equitable development” promised in the Taif Accord have yet to be resolved.

The Syrian crisis has thrown into relief many of these fault lines, the report says.

The Syrian war has re-ensconced Hezbollah’s weapons into the fabric of Lebanese society and politics. The bomb attacks on Beirut’s southern suburbs last year “have legitimized heightened, intrusive security measures by both Hezbollah and the Amal Movement: identity checks, vehicle controls and armed patrols have become a part of everyday life, especially during political and religious events,” the report notes.

Aside from Hezbollah’s controversial military intervention in Syria, the party has “re-energized the Lebanese Resistance Brigades,” which, the report says, “do not have to comply with Hezbollah’s rigorous religious and martial discipline.”

In response, some “Syrian-Lebanese Islamist networks are pursuing a jihadi agenda in Lebanon,” setting their sights on the Lebanese Army, which they perceive to be a tool of Hezbollah. The Army’s legitimacy, the report cautioned, is being “increasingly questioned in Sunni quarters for turning a blind eye to Shiite militancy.”

Lebanese authorities and political figures, the report says, have made easy scapegoats of Lebanese Islamists and the Syrian refugee population. Atrache warned that marginalizing these groups may create a “self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Lebanon’s political class, the report insists, is a main source of the country’s woes.

The ICG report excoriates politicians from all factions for corruption and cronyism, which have left the nation’s citizens without functioning state apparatuses or faith in government. In the absence of working institutions, constituencies begin to see their politicians as necessary lobbyists in a system built on patronage.

“In a way we also maintain the system,” Atrache acknowledged. The political class, she said, has made itself “indispensable for many people to access basic services.”

While the Taif Accord put an end to the hostilities of the Civil War, the country’s political class remains stacked with former militiamen and their ilk, “assimilating them into state structures.”

Unable or unwilling to engage in real democratic governance, politicians “keep the state weak but more or less functioning and hold their bases hostage to the system as it stands,” while profiting from patronage networks and corruption, the report says.

For the political class, “the shaky equilibrium inherited from post-Civil War arrangements has become the desirable status quo.”

Indicators suggest that at least for now, regional actors and the political parties have little interest in making Lebanon a flash-point for further conflict.

“The situation is most likely to continue just as it is,” Atrache said.

The prospect of widespread civil unrest is, at least for now, marginal as the various political factions have a vested interest in maintaining calm.

However, even if Lebanon stays the course, Atrache said, unresolved issues continue to fester barely below the surface.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 25, 2015, on page 4.

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