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Democracy under the gun in Lebanon

Although its founding fathers created a national political alliance, few shared their ideals and many compromised intrinsic values for alien beliefs

Image Credit: AP
Lebanese mourners light candles during a vigil for Brigadier General Wissam Al Hassan and at least seven others who were killed in a Friday bomb attack in Beirut.
Gulf News

Although meant as a show of support in the aftermath of yet another assassination, the presence of UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Derek Plumbly — along with the ambassadors of the five permanent members of the Security Council — at the Baabda Presidential Palace podium last Monday, bordered on the insulting.

By pretending to support legality, Plumbly and his colleagues actually threatened the only truly democratising Middle Eastern country, which faced another existential challenge to freedom. Will the Lebanese now manage to insulate their country from regional upheavals and protect as well as promote cherished socio-political liberties?

“The UN will stand by Lebanon during these hard times,” Plumbly declared following an emergency meeting held with President Michel Sulaiman, though the killing of Brigadier-General [posthumously promoted to Major-General] Wissam Al Hassan, the head of the Internal Security Forces (ISF) Information Branch, shook the head of state.

The astute British diplomat’s pleas for “all Lebanese sides to move forward on a peaceful political path to preserve stability and security,” betrayed previous pledges by precisely those elements that did not share such a vision.

In fact, a vast majority of Lebanese, including those generally associated with the March 14 public, was weary of such entreaties. Most believed that too many criminals were loose and demanded that the current cabinet, led by Prime Minister Najeeb Mikati resign, precisely because previous assurances came to naught.

Inasmuch as the naive backing of this government, best articulated by Plumbly’s hope that the Miqati team would “put an end once and for all to impunity in Lebanon,” was comical, one wondered what truly motivated the five US Security Council permanent members.

It may not have occurred to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s affable diplomat, nor to the five ambassadors standing around the podium that there were criminals at liberty, and that the government was protecting rather than arresting and prosecuting them.

It fell to former prime minister Fouad Siniora to ask for an honourable resignation as he vowed that there would be no discussions with “a government that covers crimes”. “No dialogue on the blood of the martyrs,” he avowed and, even more direct, accused the Mikati government for being responsible for Hassan’s death, underscoring: “Your continuation in the government means you agree with the crime.”

For his part, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea called for the formation of a “sovereign, truly patriotic government,” stressing that the struggle of the March 14 forces would not stop before the Mikati government’s departure.

In contrast to these forceful declarations, Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt warned against forcing the government to “carry more than it can bear,” fearing that a “resignation will lead Lebanon to a vacuum and the country into the Syrian regime’s trap.”

Remarkably, both the president as well as the prime minister declared that Hassan’s murder was most likely linked to the arrest of former minister Michel Samaha, apprehended last August and charged with the formation of a criminal gang that aimed to carry out attacks at Syria’s behest. As such, both affirmed that this latest assassination was not aimed against a particular sect or political party, but against the state itself.

Of course, many political voices opined across the gamut too, as most realised that a national salvation government was now a necessity if Beirut was not to fall into a political-military abyss. In fact, several March 14 officials were already threatened with death, which highlighted the prevalent moral bankruptcy throughout the region.

Specifically, five Future bloc lawmakers, including Hadi Hbeish, Nouhad Mashnouq, Ahmad Fatfat, Khalid Daher, and Ammar Houry, received threats from Syria via telephone and text messages. One caller congratulated Hbeish, emphasising that Hassan was “the first to be slain among a list of 10,” which was telling to say the least.

At least 126 individuals were injured in the Ashrafiyyah blast that killed Hassan, his driver, Sergeant Ahmad Sahyouni, and Georgette Sarkissian, a 42-year-old mother of three.

These killings will now be added to a long list of crimes that are yet to be solved by the moribund Special Tribunal for Lebanon. Naturally, all of the victims, their families, as well as the country deserved better, but few ought to hold their breath for propitious outcomes as long as small-countries are sacrificed by the powerful on the alter of Realpolitik.

What ails Lebanon in 2012 was what ailed it in 1943 and ever since. Although genuine founding fathers created a national alliance between various denominations and political factions, few shared their ideals and, even worse, many compromised intrinsic values for alien beliefs.

Beirut was burdened with the curse that a good portion of its population — both Muslim and Christian — wished to secure freedoms, create a strong state with a laissez-faire economy, and equip it with working institutions that preserved and promoted law and order. Others shunned these goals.

Significantly, both sides confronted existential dilemmas, because everyone needed the other to justify his own privileges. Still, democracy itself was under the gun, since few Lebanese accepted accountability.

Even fewer realised that only citizens who truly wished to live as free men and women were capable of forging the liberties than ensured rights. Notwithstanding virtuous but largely compromised UN Security Council members’ objectives.


Dr Joseph A. Kechichian is the author of the forthcoming Legal and Political Reforms in Saudi Arabia.


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