Tuesday 22 May 2012

“Difficult days ahead for Lebanon”

(Photo from al-Joumhouria)

By George Solage*
The situation in Lebanon becomes all the more dangerous as the Lebanese sides increase their meddling in the Syrian crisis.
Successive security incidents also show the struggle in and over Syria has started creeping into the brittle Lebanese interior, which is prone to blow up instantly at any time.
The controls have all but evaporated as sectarian compulsions get the better of national logic and external agendas take precedence over internal priorities.
The release of Shadi Mawlawi won’t pacify the Tripoli streets. Nor will holding to account the killers of sheikhs Ahmed Abdul-Wahed and Mohammed Hussein Merheb calm the volcanic anger of the people of Akkar, whose social and economic development rights have long been overlooked.
The people of the North feel targeted and hunted. They feel their youths are trailed. They feel accused of being Takfeeris. Weapons are seized from their hands but permitted in the hands of others. They are dubbed terrorist suspects liable to be penalized. They are banned from sympathizing with their Sunnite brethren in Syria. They are threatened with a return of the Syrian army to their region to supposedly prevent Akkar from becoming a sanctuary for the Syrian regime’s opponents and a buffer zone and launching pad for military operations inside Syria.
In light of this perception, which raised tension to unforeseen levels, chances of a political solution sponsored by Lebanese officialdom receded. Some branches of government floated the idea of a security solution on the ground, which effectively translates into pitting the Lebanese army against its own people in Tripoli and Akkar.
The security situation did not work in Syria and can’t succeed in Lebanon because the problem is not a question of security, but of politics. The problem needs to be addressed politically.
Even though some people point the finger at the army, the issue is not between the army and the political forces or the denizens of the region.
Talk about a likely return of the Syrian army to Lebanon is pure scaremongering. The Syrian army now is in no position to undertake such an adventure. Also, there’s no international decision to that effect. On the contrary, such a move would trigger an international outcry of which Syria is aware and can ill afford.
A high-ranking security source confirms this and does not anticipate security turmoil in Beirut at this stage, despite the incidents of the past couple of days. He is surprised by the amplification of reports about al-Qaeda cadres being in Beirut and heading to Syria. He is also confident the Lebanese army and the internal security forces are in control.
But good intentions alone are not enough and warnings are futile so long as “self-distancing” (from Syria) remains a (government) policy slogan, which the political authorities either don’t wish to uphold or don’t dare to respect.
Proof is that the “virtual (parliamentary) majority” still does not see the need to replace the present government with a salvation government in order to safeguard Lebanon from the high-risk challenges threatening its security, unity, sovereignty and future.
What lies in store (for Lebanon) is onerous and extremely intricate.
It will become more menacing if the past fortnight’s realities on the ground – the realities of coupling Lebanon’s north and the Syrian interior – take hold.
The directives by Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain to their citizens to avoid travel to Lebanon is one of many prices the Lebanese would have to pay should they choose to poke their nose further into the Syrian crisis and ignore the pressing need for a salvation government in anticipation of arms proliferating and the situation flaring up on a wider scale.
*This think piece by George Solage appears in Arabic today in the independent Beirut daily al-Joumhouria. Solage is a longtime media aide to Lebanon’s former defense minister Elias el-Murr.