BEIRUT: As the debate over the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) rumbles on in Cabinet, with Speaker Nabih Berri this week warning of an increased chance of civil strife due to political divisions at the top, is this a view shared with people on the street?
Most of those interviewed by The Daily Star in Beirut on Friday, while acknowledging a greater feeling of tension in the country, spoke of their firm belief that conflict is unlikely in the next few months.
Caroline Sajh, 29, a chemical engineer from Beirut, says that while she doesn’t have faith in half of the government, “the other half is working as hard as possible to maintain stability.”
“It is a bit tense now. But actually we are used to it in Lebanon. And I don’t really think there is going to be any new civil strife because of the Tribunal.”
Kamal Haykal, 28, a shop manager originally from Sidon, agrees that talk of war is just part of the national conversation in Lebanon.
“This talk of war happens all the time. If you live in Lebanon you just get used to it. I don’t know if it’s fake this time or not.”
Hoda, 49, from the district of Achrafieh, thinks that while the situation is tense right now, the foundations for civil war do not exist in the country.
“Hizbullah have no right to frighten us like this. If they want to do something, they have to do it through politics, not force.
“It’s tense in Lebanon, but I don’t think there will be a war. War needs two sides, and I don’t think it will happen now. I don’t think all the parties are ready for war.”
She adds that people’s desire for peace is strong enough to prevent any conflict.
“Lebanon is full of war and death, we have had enough. We want to live.”
Nick Daher, 70, an engineer, is not as confident in the strength of the Cabinet, members of which have been threatening to walk out over disagreements over STL funding.
“I don’t have faith in the entire government. We have a good prime minister, he is trying to do his best – I am not saying he is perfect, but nobody is. But he is open and willing to make things better. But he has 30 people in Cabinet who all want different things.”
Not everyone has confidence in Prime Minister Saad Hariri. Noura Saade, 25, believes that the outcome of the STL will definitely lead to civil strife, and that Hariri is not doing enough. “I don’t have that much confidence in Hariri.”
Saade is skeptical that the prime minister’s recent about-turn, when he apologized for ever having implied Syria had played any part in the 2005 assassination of his father, was done out of personal conviction.
“I think he said that just because of political powers who don’t want Syria to have any problems, like the States, or other countries in the region, and Turkey. That’s why, by force probably, Hariri said that Syria wasn’t involved in the assassination,” she said.
In an already fractious political environment, Syria’s issuance last weekend of arrest warrants for 33 Lebanese politicians and journalists close to Hariri, allegedly involved in the issue of false witnesses, has stirred things up further.
Daher believes that external actors hold the greatest power in Lebanese politics, and that, “… there is no possibility of civil tension if you leave it to the Lebanese. Not one Lebanese person wants a war. But if they are asked by Arab or non-Arab countries to go ahead and start a war, it will happen in five minutes.”
However, Helen Jurdak, 38, who works at the American University of Beirut and lives in Hamra, thinks there is scant desire for war, either inside or outside of Lebanon.
“It’s possible that other countries might intervene, but I think that Syria and neighboring countries don’t want to start a war either. They don’t want a regional conflict.”
Ramzi Sardouk, 45, a university instructor from Beirut, thinks it is quite possible the tribunal, and its findings, might lead to civil strife, and that foreign powers do not lack motives for getting involved.
“I’m sure the STL might cause a mess in the country, but I have no idea really whom it will indict – the international community is being very vague, and biased for so many reasons. So you cannot take the international community as a judge – as the public sees, the US is in charge.”
But Sardouk is nonetheless positive that any civil unrest will be settled quickly.
“I’m sure they will find a compromise – we’re used to compromises … Like usual, our country is on top of a volcano, we’re used to civil strife and problems. But then we sit down, have dinner, and we talk and then we party. It’s very normal,” she said.