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Lebanese President Michel Aoun (L) meeting with caretaker prime minister Saad Hariri at Baabda presidential palace, east of the capital Beirut Image Credit: AFP

Street protests are sweeping capitals all over the planet. Expressing discontent through slogans and placards is the fashionable thing to do. Indeed high profile friends of Jane Fonda who join the celebrity’s weekly climate change protests relish being hauled away in handcuffs.

Boris Johnson’s electoral triumph was met with demonstrators in London and Glasgow yelling ‘Not my Prime Minister’ but to what end. The PM is going nowhere. Residents of Hong Kong who have brought the territory to a standstill for months driving the once thriving economy into recession risk a confrontation with China’s military forces.

People power rarely brings about the desired result, a premise to which participants in the 2011 Arab uprisings can surely attest. Just ask an Iraqi, a Syrian or a Libyan.

The direction in which Lebanon is heading will be clarified in the coming weeks or months. Will the international community hold out a helping hand at the nth minute to keep this tiny country afloat or will it abandoned to fight against the rapids alone?

- Linda S. Heard

Bringing down an unpopular leadership requires unity and dedication on the part of protesters desperate for change but that is often the easiest stage as the people of Lebanon who railed against the political elite are now discovering. They succeeded in forcing the resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri and the dismantling of the government. However, their euphoria was shortlived.

Those same faces remain as caretakers until a new cabinet can be formed. The people rightly want the old guard charged with mismanagement and corruption to be gone and replaced with technocrats. That is going to be an uphill struggle in a country divided between supporters of Iran’s Lebanese-armed proxy Hezbollah and those more in alignment with Western-style values.

Hezbollah and its Shiite partner Amal, propped up with President Michel Aoun’s free Patriotic Movement, rule the roost and call for a unity government refusing any new cabinet without their participation.

Puppet master

Iran, which views Lebanon as a territorial satellite, is the puppet master as evidenced by a recent statement made by a senior adviser to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps Morteza Ghorbani who threatened to attack Israel from Lebanese soil.

“If the Zionist regime makes the smallest mistake vis-a-vis Iran, we will level Tel Aviv to the ground from Lebanon without having to launch a single missile or any other device from Iran,” he warned eliciting a backlash from Lebanese officials angered at Tehran’s infringement of Lebanon’s sovereignty.

That said Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah has upped the ante saying, “If Israel makes a mistake, we will flush Tel Aviv out of Lebanon”. Israel has countered with a warning to the Lebanese government that if Hezbollah is not restrained “all of Lebanon will suffer the consequences”.

The Lebanese are used to such fiery rhetoric and political stalemates, but when the country teeters on economic collapse the political impasse could not have come at a worse moment.

Whereas until now antigovernment protests have been largely peaceful on Saturday supporters of Hezbollah and Amal launched attacks on the protest camps and attempted to force their way through police barriers. Clashes resulted in 46 being hospitalised. Without a strong hand at the rudder the prospect of an all-out civil war, which neither side wants, cannot be ruled out.

Civil war

In the meantime, Hariri is appealing to the nation’s traditional foreign donors for financial assistance but this time his requests have been greeted with a distinct lack of enthusiasm.

He has approached the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to rescue his country from economic meltdown and December 11 witnessed a meeting of the International Support Group for Lebanon in Paris but it was clear that there would be no rescue monies until the formation of a credible government capable of meeting the aspirations of all Lebanese, one capable of delivering urgent reforms. Friends of Lebanon are tired of throwing good money after bad.

Waiting in the wings is the White House which has thrown its support firmly behind “democratic forces” but the US stance is widely viewed in Lebanon with suspicion. The country’s Al Jadeed television station cites a US-Israeli document that purportedly reached the hands of President Aoun detailing US plans to foment civil war in Lebanon with false flag attacks aimed at creating a pretext for an Israeli invasion targeting Hezbollah.

Whether or not such a document exists or is genuine cannot be confirmed but neither can it be discounted particularly when the current US administration has proved its unwavering pro-Israel bias. Hezbollah’s disarming is a worthy goal but America’s interventionist record within the region is absent of good outcomes.

The direction in which Lebanon is heading will be clarified in the coming weeks or months. Will the international community hold out a helping hand at the nth minute to keep this tiny country afloat or will it abandoned to fight against the rapids alone?

— Linda S. Heard is an award-winning British political columnist and guest television commentator with a focus on the Middle East.

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