So…Lebanon’s at it again (Thanks Syria)
Posted on August 26, 2012
There’s been a lot going on here recently, you may have noticed.
Much of the coverage of the past three weeks in Lebanon has focused on Syria’s spillover into its little neighbor, and quite frankly ridiculous comparisons to Lebanon’s 15-year civil war. I feel compelled to point out that, while those two artificial connections do make for a more engaging narrative (given that media the world over only really take notice of Lebanon as part of a wider regional context – a sort of stage upon which the entire Middle East’s security problems get rolled out) neither are particularly accurate.
First, the Syria argument. I made the point several months ago, and others are doing so now, but Lebanon doesn’t need Syria to mess things up. The Lebanese are historically and presently quite capable of deteriorating their own security, thank you very much.
The fighting in Tripoli may well be framed publicly as the battle between those in support of and opposition to Bashar al-Assad. There are probably even protagonists that believe this to be the case. But the unfortunate deaths in Tripoli are far more immediately a result of political entities arming civilians – furnishing them with civil war-era weapons and continuing to maintain and proliferate militia’s arsenals – than a ripple effect from the Syrian uprising. People shooting each other (and soldiers, journalists and sheikhs, regrettably) do so because they are paid. They are, additionally, kept quite deliberately in a state of pseudo-destitution by successive governments, in one of the poorest and most poorly educated areas of Lebanon. Without state provisions, people in the ‘hoods of Jabal Mohsen and Bab al-Tabbaneh are forced to turn to their zaims – rich warlords, business tycoons or tribal leaders – for help. They can make themselves far more from a days fighting than they can from several days work, if work even is to be found.
So it’s important not to assume that just because Assad appears to be having trouble containing rebel elements across Syria, this is the only reason why Lebanon is suddenly so violent. These fighters are not ideologues whose future is entirely predicated on the fall or survival of Assad (although I can take the Alawite dependability argument up to a certain extent). These fighters are mercenaries. And you get them all over the place.
As for the kidnappings, many have wondered (told readers) that these abductions harken back to the dark days of the mid-80s, when foreigners were assassinated or taken off the streets with impunity and randomness.
That’s absolutely not what is happening right now. The M.O. of the Moqdad clan and others might be questionable (i.e. checking people to see if they have Syrian passports, whisking them away for interrogation, and only then letting them walk free if they can prove they have no FSA affiliation) but their approach is targeted and their demands are clear. It is a revenge kidnapping program, not random, not motivated by money or religious fervor.
In a country where rule of law is laughably absent, these kind of things can happen. Doubtless, Lebanon has never really cast of the yoke of Syrian tutelage it inherited from the war. Even post 2005, one could see Damascus’ influence and security nets spread right up to Rawda cafe.
Political divides here are based on the Syrian dialectic – March 14 anti-Assad, March 8 pro, ostensibly – and so it would be churlish to suggest that what goes on in Syria has no bearing on life and security here. But in everyone’s rush to blame the Syrian uprising on Lebanon’s current madness, they seem to have forgotten – at least in this country – that what is contiguous isn’t always causal. And to suggest otherwise rather exonerates all the people here working to make sure the Lebanese never really escape their recent past.