Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Lebanese Sunni Fight Each Other While Hezbollah Calls for Unity

Miqati becomes prime minister of Lebanon with the Sunnis politically fractured and fighting each other. Is there hope for replacing Lebanon's delicate and anti-democratic confessional structure with a modern political system?
In a clear reference to former Lebanese prime minister Hariri (junior), the press office of Sunni member of parliament Mohammed Safari held those responsible for inciting violence to be responsible. The offices of Sunni lawmaker Safari were attacked by Sunni protestors angry at his support for the new Lebanese prime minister, the Sunni businessman and briefly prime minister in 2005 Miqati.

The Lebanese political situation is unfolding on at least three levels:
  • Hezbollah vs. Sunni;
  • U.S./Israel vs. Iran and those Lebanese who want a Lebanon free to pursue a policy independent of U.S./Israeli wishes;
  • Internal Sunni politics.

The attack on Safari’s Tripoli offices addresses my question yesterday about the possible significance of a split in the Sunni camp.  With the Lebanese Shi’a probably already the largest and fastest growing “confessional” group in Lebanon, not to mention the one with both the most modern political party and the most powerful militia, an open split among the country’s billionaire Sunni businessmen politicians would seem pretty significant for Lebanon’s balance of power.
If Lebanon's leaders can manage to cooperate enough to avoid the civil war that Israel may well be anticipating with glee, it is just possible that this split in Sunni ranks might lead to revision of Lebanon's bizarre and delicate confessional political structure to pave the way toward real democracy. That is the long-term silver lining in the very dark Lebanese political thunderhead we see today.

If Hezbollah wants to seize the initiative as leader of patriotic Lebanese, a convincing policy to help the poor of all confessions that clearly offered something to the poor Sunni of Tripoli and perhaps even the long marginalized Palestinian refugees who fled the Israeli ethnic cleansing campaign of 1948-9 would be a landmark first step.

Miqati is calling for unity; can he come out swinging as the true reform candidate Lebanon needs? To do so will require some creative thinking: with Saudis, Americans, and Israelis all either alienated or actively opposed to the success of Miqati’s imminent rule, he has few places to go for resources. Mr. Erdogan, are you listening? Some spare change and a small Turkish “peace corps” effort right now would really put Turkey on the map as a regional leader.

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