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Lebanon: Fractured Past, Bleak Present

PJ Media interviews William Harris, renowned expert on Lebanon and Syria.

by
Barry Rubin

Bio

July 29, 2012 - 12:00 am

In other words, the Iranian regime has a narrow base in Lebanon, being dependent on a faction that perhaps amounts to 20% of Lebanese. This precarious situation would become worse with a collapse of the Syrian regime, Iran’s strategic partner and route to Lebanon. Iran would presumably have to fall back on Beirut’s airport and Lebanese ports to supply Hezbollah, which would not be appreciated by most Lebanese.

BR: Would it be correct to describe the opposition as being an alliance of Sunni Muslims, Christians, and sometimes the Druze, and what are their positions and goals?

WH: The opposition encompasses the overwhelming majority of Sunnis, at least half the Christians, and most Druze regardless of the perambulations of Druze leaders. Senior Druze politician Walid Jumblatt is an interesting case; he has been a forthright Lebanese voice against the crimes of the Assad regime since 2011 yet his party continues to sustain the Mikati government, Hezbollah’s vehicle.

In political terms, the opposition is an alliance of Sunni Muslim and Christian leaders who want to resurrect a mercantile Lebanon somehow insulated from regional turbulence, and its support base includes most Druze and a significant minority of Shia. However the opposition does not really have a coherent vision of a new Lebanon and many Sunnis, frustrated by weak leadership, are drifting toward Sunni Islamist militancy.

Christians in general and Maronites in particular are split between the two major political camps. Drawing on the resentments — especially of less well-off Maronites — toward the Sunni bourgeoisie and Sunni Arab oil state money, Michel Aoun took a substantial segment into alignment with the Shia of Hezbollah. However, Christians are also sensitive about the pretension and pressure of Hezbollah and that party is not mentally well-equipped to interpret the shifting tides. The Christian mood is fickle and still influenced by rancor from the poor outcome for Maronites of the late 20th century war years.

Apart from the usual personal agendas, opposition politicians — targeted in the post-2005 political murder campaign (which they believe was the work of Assad and Hezbollah) — want the downfall of the Syrian regime, the removal of Hezbollah weapons, and constriction of Iran’s involvement in Lebanon. They are short on reassurances to Shia Lebanon on building a positive partnership in a restructured political order.

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