By Abu Kais
The (now partial) blockade of the government Serail remains in effect, with Hizbullah security agents refusing to remove their tents because “they only follow orders from Hizbullah”. Bearded Hizbullah singers are keeping teenagers and children entertained by performing songs about “Feltman’s government”, the “heroic resistance” and the “evil Zionists”. Hizbullah TV keeps the adults informed by playing news bulletins on loud speakers and on large screens. On the second day, yellow flags and balloon tubes are complementing the show of Lebanese flags.
Hizbullah is now referring to itself as “the Lebanese national opposition”.
The Sunni Arab regimes are up in arms– at least verbally and behind the scenes– over what appears to be a Shia uprising and blatant Syrian-Iranian attempt to take over power. Hizbullah leaders think that they can get away with a protest that outwardly looks peaceful, but is really a coup d’etat attempt by an armed Shia militia against the country’s legitimate government and Sunni leadership. Using the Shia community has succeeded. But using Michel Aoun as a Christian cover for this Shia intifada has failed. Many Christians stayed home, and Aoun had to justify his constituents’ lack of interest in this anti-government rebellion by playing it secular.
There is nothing secular about what transpires in downtown Beirut, precisely because this is Lebanon, the home of 18 sects that share power according to intricate coexistence formulas. Shia Nabih Berri and Hizbullah arrived to power through the same elections that Aoun and March 14 won. Regardless of what we think of the 2005 electoral law, they were elected according to a sectarian formula, and though they are supposed to represent the entire country upon their election, all deputies are viewed as their sects’ representatives. For that, it is unorthodox and quite dangerous for Hizbullah and Aoun to circumvent this confessional democracy by imposing their own kind of government on the Sunnis of Lebanon.
The ironic part is that Hizbullah claims the cabinet does not have legitimacy because it no longer represents the Shia sect. Even if we submit that this is true, and that the imbalance did not result from Hizbullah and Amal refusing to participate in a government they don’t dominate, Hizbullah and Amal cannot constitutionally claim that the Sunni leadership needs to change while still claiming to represent all the Shia of Lebanon. Not without new elections. The only way for them to find out if they deserve to stay is through elections, and the time for that has not come yet. The legitimacy that Hizbullah feel they have from their own constituents is the same that the opposing camp enjoys and that was given to them by their own constituents. Aoun and Hizbullah cannot demand “another Sunni” to replace a popular Sunni prime minister. They do not have that right in sectarian Lebanon. And nobody is stopping them from using the institutions to express and act on their grievances, if they indeed they’re national ones.
But then, Hizbullah never felt that they drew their legitimacy from elections– they are a religious party with followers who vote them into public office out of religious duty and/or intimidation. There are 150,000 Hibzullah "supporters" on the militia’s payroll (according to Walid Jumblatt). Their MPs, just like those tent dwellers who refuse to follow the orders of the Lebanese army, only answer to their clerical leadership, which answers only to the Wali al-Faqih (the supreme leader) in Iran. That is why Hizbullah can never be a fair player in Lebanese politics. Its political structure as well as its raison d’etre — a jihadist militia with a political agenda— prevents it from playing by the rules of democracy, let alone Lebanese democracy. Do not be fooled by Hizbullah members’ sudden love for the Lebanese flag. They were following orders. And that flag is interestingly never used on the coffins of their fighters. Nasrallah likes to use it to make his protest seem patriotic, or as patriotic as a March 14 demonstration.
In reality, there is little difference between what Hizbullah is trying to do and what Syrian intelligence did when they had direct control of all Lebanese institutions. The Syrian regime kept the Sunnis of Lebanon in check by occasionally obstructing Rafik Hariri’s projects and sponsoring Sunni fundamentalists to weaken the Sunni Mufti. Hariri was killed precisely because he was going to openly join the anti-Syrian opposition in the country, bringing with him many in his community. Defeating him through elections did not work in 2000 because he ended up sweeping the vote. Killing him was the only option for Bashar, who wanted to “break the country over the heads of those who opposed his orders.”
And speaking of Syrian intelligence, Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh said yesterday that “armed Syrian elements” were stationed along one of the roads leading to the government building. Hizbullah reportedly had plans to storm the building accompanied by those elements, prompting Siniora to call the Saudi King to intervene. Other reports (LBC) said that pro-government groups were getting ready to move to the area to remove the blockade by force if necessary.
So what now? What is the next step for March 14?
This blogger recommended a march to Baabda. I think March 14 wants to discourage any form of street protests, so they will probably not resort to more street action. Hamadeh said that March 14 are considering going to parliament for another vote of confidence in the cabinet. They will probably get it, although Hizbullah yesterday threatened they would resign from parliament as well if their demands are not met (Aoun today denied it). Hamadeh also said that the parliament majority would try to form a committee to recommend Lahoud be put on trial.
Journalist Fares Khashan from the pro-Hariri al-Mustaqbal has a new plan for March 14 (nothing new here, we’ve been screaming some of these things for over a year):
1- Alliance with independent Shias.
2- Respond to Hizbullah allegations about the government’s role during the war.
3- Insist on a “basket of solutions” that takes into consideration the demands of the entire Lebanese population, and not just a quarter of it.
4- Work on trying Lahoud before the higher council through a petition signed by the parliament majority.
5- Resolve the issue of Hizbullah’s weapons. “Hizbullah is an army, and armies don’t demonstrate. By taking to the street to topple the government, they are staging a coup d’etat.”
6- Start thinking about the upcoming elections, heed the demands of the Shia independents in the South and the Bekaa and provide favorable conditions for their voters so that they’re not intimidated by Hizbullah’s weapons.
Finally, Khashan thanked the “besiegers” of the Grand Serail for “liberating Christians from the illusion of Aoun’s power, for freeing Lebanese from the prison of Hizbullah’s taboos, and for freeing Lebanese politicians from the prison of authoritativeness that almost made them forget that Nabih Berri is but the head of the Amal movement, with whom Rafik Hariri was upset before he was martyred.”
Update. Anton Efendi has an excellent post on Aoun’s "super genius".
One thing Aoun shares with Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah is complete contempt for the complex Lebanese system. With that comes a fundamental lack of understanding of and disregard for its deeply enshrined rules. That leads to devastating consequences not just on Aoun, or the Maronites, or the Christians, but the entire country…
With Sunni-Shiite tension running high, with Iraq and Iranian interference in the background, Hezbollah wanted to make sure to give its own attempt at a coup a non-Shiite face. Enter Michel Aoun, who was the only major speaker at the rally (his speech by the way was incredibly unimpressive and barely coherent)! An abomination in the context of Lebanese politics if there ever was one. Hassan Nasrallah had another engagement in his bunker, and was more than satisfied to see Aoun in that spot. Nabih Berri wanted no part of this. Not even Salim Hoss, the pro-Syrian former PM wanted anything to do with this.
He didn’t show up. Nor did a Christian leader from Zahle, who belonged to the Aounist bloc in parliament, come to the rally. I wonder why!?.