Friday, February 10, 2006

Is Lebanon striving for security at expense of sovereignty

Is Lebanon striving for security at expense of sovereignty?

Ghassan Rubeiz ( Feb. 10, 2006, not published)
Palm Beach Gardens, Florida



Two influential factional Lebanese leaders forged an agreement on February 6 that reveals a shift in local and regional politics. General Michel Aoun, the strongest Christian leader in the country and Sheikh Hasan Nasrallah, a spokesman of Hezbollah, agreed that the Lebanese government (currently with an anti Syrian majority) should revaluate its (implied negative) position with Syria and establish “friendly and reliable relations” with its neighbor. Second, the two leaders articulated a strong rational for popular military resistance against Israel. This articulation of national defense implies Hezbollah’s militia is a normal entity in the Lebanese context. Hezbollah claims that its military forces constitute a “Resistance, not a “Militia”. Aoun somewhat agrees with the terminology hoping the day will come in the foreseeable future when the “Resistance” is integrated within the national army.
Third, the agreement demands that electoral law should be changed to allow the Diaspora community to vote. Diaspora voting serves the Christian community who has a much larger proportion of emigrants, whereas tolerance of militias and opening up to Syria are strong Shiite demands.
The agreement between these two most popular leaders of the country had a longer list of political and national reconciliatory declarations that included serious pursuit of democratic reform, internal dialogue about national defense and cooperation among all political parties and religious communities.
Since the Israeli army withdrew from Lebanon in 2000, Hezbollah has been under domestic and international pressure to disarm. The 2004 UN resolution 1559, demands Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon and Disarmament of Lebanese militias. Syria complied and withdrew from the Lebanese territory last year, but backed by Hezbollah, Syria has remained active (some would say vindictive) in Lebanese affairs.
Hezbollah, enjoying a popular position within the powerful Shiite community, refused to comply with the UN resolution and mobilized public opinion against its major sponsors, the US and France. Ironically, Hezbollah, which is funded by Iran, still accuses the Lebanese government of facilitating foreign influence in domestic issues.
Since the new government was sworn in last spring, Lebanon has witnessed political assassinations of eminent Christian leaders. Currently, Lebanon shows signs of instability that reminds political observers of the year 1975, the start of a 15 year sectarian civil war.
For a powerful Christian leader to embrace Hezbollah’s pro-Syrian-anti-American strategy and to bless a militia structure indicates an overall opinion shift in the Lebanese society. In particular, the Christian Lebanese community, that is still surprisingly powerful, is making a discerning choice for its long term survival in a Muslim majority society. Christian leaders have debated alternatives closely and agonized about their political alternatives. They have started to realize that Islamic resistance movements, like Hezbollah and Hamas, are the wave of the future in Middle East politics. Middle East partial democracies give majorities the authority to rule with power, but they render insecurity to minorities.
Are Christian Lebanese leaders achieving security by going along with Hezbollah’s state defiant politics? This may be the trend, if Islamic resistance continues to gain regional popularity and if US foreign diplomacy keeps misfiring. The US occupation of Iraq, its negligence of the peace process and its heated confrontation with Iran and Syria have made the already insecure Middle East minorities, even more anxious. During periods of stress between Islam and the West, Christians in the orient tend to become scapegoats of the larger society.

The Feb 6 agreement between Aoun and Nasrallah is one step forward and one step backward. When Christians and Muslims unify their vision of the future of Lebanon through domestic reform and sound foreign policy they restore societal stability and reduce foreign interference. However by considering militias a resistance movement the state loses some of its sovereignty.
Aoun’s embrace of Hezbollah may be a real politic move toward becoming the next president of the country. While he is sincere in his reconciliatory and reform policies, his recent move may be weakening the state authority. By accepting Hezbollah, outside the national army, has Lebanon gained security at the expense of sovereignty?

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