Time to end Hezbollah’s grip over Lebanon

Osama al sharif
Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman. (Photo: Jordan News)
For decades, the sectarian power-sharing understanding between Lebanon’s warlords, who became the faces of its ruling political elite, was a marriage of convenience, allowing each to claim a share of the country’s lucrative economic cake. That understanding, the Taif Agreement, provided a period of economic recovery after years of civil war. Thus, while the political elite enjoyed the economic windfall, leaving enough for their respective sects to survive and endure, the system itself, imperfect as it is, kept going on by sheer momentum. That is, until one party to the deal decided to change the rules and claim a wider share, or what became known as the disruptive vote in any government.اضافة اعلان

Hezbollah’s rise came by accident. Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982, in collaboration with Christian militias led by the Kataeb Party, and the ensuing series of events, culminating with the expulsion of the PLO from the country, finally led in 1985 to the emergence on the scene of Hezbollah with Iran’s solid backing. Back then, Hezbollah had a just cause: to rid Lebanon of Israeli occupation. Along with its Shiite partner Amal they fought Israel and finally drove it out of southern Lebanon in 2000.

And when the civil war ended in 1990, Hezbollah refused to disarm while Israel was still occupying parts of southern Lebanon. That was a milestone in the evolution of the party as an armed militia within the Lebanese state. And that reality remained a major challenge — if not an impediment — for successive Lebanese governments. The sectarian power-sharing deal had become skewed.

Hezbollah became a major political player because it infiltrated key state institutions. Slowly but surely, its leader, Hasan Nasrallah, began identifying himself as a regional player with unabashed fealty to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) regional agenda.

For years, Iran had used Hezbollah as its proxy in Lebanon, Syria, Iran and Yemen. It is no wonder that the paralysis that had crippled Lebanon’s political system for years was followed by economic collapse. Lebanon became hostage to the man ruling from Beirut’s southern district. He dragged Lebanon into a devastating war in 2006 and admitted he was wrong. But his apology was not a remorseful one. He became more defiant as he built an arsenal of Iranian missiles that he threatened to launch at Israel even though a war of that sort would surely destroy what is left of Lebanon.

In May 2008, after a long political stalemate, Hezbollah’s forces overtook Beirut briefly to pin down their Sunni foes. The message was clear to all: Hezbollah had become a state within a state and it now manipulated the sectarian card to bring down the government whenever it wanted.

Its alliance with the Christian Free Patriotic Movement, led by President Michel Aoun, proved to be unholy in all aspects. To serve narrow political objectives, Aoun had allowed Hezbollah to derail the political process on more than one occasion, leading to the mass civil protests in 2019. From then onwards, Lebanon went into a downward spiral. And the plunge continues.

Setting aside the alleged involvement of Hezbollah in the assassination of prime minister Rafik Hariri in 2005, the explosion that destroyed Beirut’s port in August 2020 complicated things for the Shiite group. Lebanon’s political crisis had deepened when a judge was appointed to investigate the incident. Hezbollah and Amal objected and wanted the file closed. Aside from the huge economic losses to the port and property — estimated at $15 billion — the explosion killed 218 civilians and injured over 7,000.

A month after joining Najib Mikati’s newly formed government last September, ministers belonging to the two Shiite groups began a boycott of the Cabinet over the port investigation. Between then and now, the lira lost almost 90 percent of its value, putting 80 percent of Lebanese under the poverty line.

To make things worse, Nasrallah launched an irresponsible and unwarranted verbal attack against Saudi Arabia, a country hosting no less than 150,000 Lebanese expatriates. The diplomatic backlash by GCC countries was severe and Lebanon found itself politically and economically isolated.

Now, Hezbollah and Amal announced that their ministers were ending the boycott for the sake of passing the 2022 budget and alleviating the economic crisis. This is yet another ploy to tighten Hezbollah’s grip over the government. The bitter fact is that the two groups’ leaderships had abandoned their Lebanese identity and brought the whole country to its knees.

The end of the boycott could be related to news that the west and Iran are closer than ever to reaching a deal in Vienna. Hezbollah might be feeling that Iran’s regional priorities may be changing soon. Riyadh and Tehran are resuming their negotiations to end their differences. Whatever the reason, Hezbollah has become a burden on Lebanon’s tired back. Even in a sectarian power-sharing understanding, one that became an anathema for most Lebanese, the group is claiming much more than its fair share.

Going back to business as usual is no longer an option for Lebanon. A new deal must be struck, one that replaces the sectarian power-sharing system with an equitable one that recognizes one Lebanese national identity and that ends the two-decade hijack of the Lebanese state by Hezbollah.

The writer is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.

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