Lebanon News

Can Lebanon avoid another Civil War?

Lebanon marks the 36th anniversary of its devastating 1975-90 Civil War Wednesday amid deep divisions in the country’s political leadership, complete Cabinet paralysis and mounting public concern over repercussions of popular uprisings currently sweeping the Arab world on the country’s security and stability.

Unfortunately, this year’s anniversary of a war that killed more than 150,000 people and left the country’s infrastructure in ruins, comes at a time when Lebanon is still under threat with renewed sectarian strife over the U.N.-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), which is probing the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Worse still, another divisive and more explosive issue that threatens to destabilize the country is Hezbollah’s arsenal, currently the target of a fierce verbal campaign by caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri and his allies in the March 14 coalition.

The STL and Hezbollah’s weapons have sharply divided the Lebanese into two rival camps: The March 8 camp led by Hezbollah and the March 14 camp led by Hariri.

The dispute over the STL led to the collapse of Hariri’s government in January, throwing the country in a Cabinet vacuum which has yet to be filled. Even if Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati finally succeeds in forming a government, it will be a one-sided Cabinet dominated by Hezbollah and its March 8 allies, excluding the March 14 groups, further widening the schism.

On the occasion of the war’s anniversary, the question that comes to mind is: Did the Lebanese, especially their feuding leaders, learn any lessons from the sectarian conflict to avoid indulging again in a game of self-destruction?

Given the current deep divisions, political tension that can easily burst out into sectarian fighting, similar to the bout of sectarian clashes in May 2008, the absence of communications between the March 8 and March 14 parties, the Lebanese do not seem to have learned how to protect their country from any type of threat be it an internal or external one.

Summing up the Lebanese predicament was President Michel Sleiman who voiced fears about the country’s future because the lessons of the Civil War have not been grasped by the country’s leaders. He lamented that the 1989 Arab-brokered Taif Accord that ended the war has not been fully implemented.

Asked what he has to tell the Lebanese on the 36th anniversary of the war and if he thinks that the various political parties were acting responsibly to avoid a renewal of the strife, Sleiman said in an interview with An-Nahar newspaper published Tuesday: “It is logical for the April 13 anniversary to provide a lesson to both officials and citizens in order not to repeat it. But unfortunately, anxiety and fear are still prevailing in Lebanon because ever since [the war ended] we have been unable to establish a modern state that can protect itself and care for its citizens’ interests. The steps that have been made in this regard are very small.”

Although the war led to the approval of the Taif Accord, Sleiman said, “we have not so far been able to complete the implementation of this document and the constitution emanating from it.”

“On the contrary, we have deliberately distorted the constitutional concepts, turning them into a means for power sharing. The biggest proof of retreat is the 1960 election law, or the political system which laid the foundation for the outbreak of this loathsome spark,” Sleiman said.

He called on the political parties to complete the implementation of all provisions of the Taif Accord, adopt dialogue as the only means to resolve “divisive issues” and end the “constitutional confusion” that have emerged and will continue to emerge during the implementation of the accord.

The Taif Accord, which came after persistent demands by Muslim leaders for political reforms to the country’s ruling sectarian system, was signed by both Muslim and Christian lawmakers in the Saudi summer resort of Taif back in 1989. Among the main provisions that have not been implemented is the creation a national committee to abolish “political sectarianism,” or the ruling sectarian system that allots key government posts along sectarian lines, and the establishment of a senate to serve alongside the current 128-member legislature.

The accord essentially curtailed the Maronite president’s powers and shifted them to the half-Muslim, half-Christian Council of Ministers, which is headed by a Sunni prime minister.

The Amal Movement, led by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, called Tuesday for the implementation of the Taif Accord’s constitutional and reform provisions, including the creation of a national committee to abolish the sectarian system, the approval of a new election law based on proportional representation and lowering the voting age from 21 to 18.

In the meantime, Muslim religious leaders issued statements on the anniversary calling on the Lebanese and their political leaders to draw lessons from the conflict.

Grand Mufti Mohammad Rashid Qabbani, the country’s top Sunni religious authority, urged the Lebanese and political parties “to seek guidance and draw lessons from the war anniversary and from the harsh experiments through which Lebanon passed during that long period.”

“The political situation in Lebanon stirs permanent worry among the Lebanese about the future and fate,” Qabbani said. “Lebanon needs serious and effective work which reconciles political action and the citizens’ needs … The Lebanese have almost reached the poverty line, this is a threat that harbors more serious repercussions.”

Sheikh Abdul Amir Qabalan, vice-president of the Higher Shiite Islamic Council, called for national unity, saying the Lebanese should draw lessons from the “painful experiments through which Lebanon had paid a heavy price from the blood of its citizens and their property.”

In an address to the Lebanese, Qabalan said: “The April 13 anniversary is an occasion to renew our allegiance to this one and united country with all its people. Let’s uphold the national constants based on strengthening national unity and consolidating the coexistence formula among the Lebanese.”

“My advice to the Lebanese is to avoid hatred and envy. Our country stands at a critical crossroad. We have to choose the safe and straight road that leads us to safety,” he said. “We have to stay away from hypocrisy and challenge. We are all responsible for Lebanon’s security, sovereignty and independence.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 13, 2011, on page 2.

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