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Tensions have already been high and the collapse of the government may cause an outbreak of violence between Sunnis and Shias; the former see Hezbollah as overstepping its role as the opposition and national “resistance” to Israel, while the Shias see the Sunnis as trying to keep them down. During the last cabinet crisis in 2008, 81 people died in clashes between Sunnis and Shias, with Hezbollah eventually moving into Sunni neighborhoods in Beirut, an act that almost resulted in open civil war. The crisis led to meetings in Doha, Qatar and an agreement where Hezbollah achieved almost all of its goals.
Hariri, or whoever is the next March 14th prime minister, will be faced with the same knotty problem that led to the collapse of government; what to do about the STL. If the next government disavows the Tribunal, it is likely that Sunnis will become enraged at this betrayal, seeing the STL as they do as the only way to achieve justice for the murderers of their beloved Rafiq Hariri. But not disavowing the STL might lead to a coup by Hezbollah if they feel their existence is threatened by the indictments.
The last cabinet crisis saw the majority March 14th forces fold their tents in Doha and give Hezbollah the power of the veto over decisions made by that body. Since then, another parliamentary election was held where the March 14 coalition triumphed. But elections are slippery things in Lebanon, and despite winning a clear majority of seats, the price of stability was once again granting Hezbollah and their allies enough cabinet posts to cause trouble if they chose.
Hezbollah has now chosen, and that choice is a familiar form of brinksmanship where they threaten civil war if they don’t get their way. This is an extremely effective tactic because so many who are alive today in Lebanon remember full well the hell on earth their country endured during 15 years of bloody conflict. No responsible politician in the majority can countenance a return to those terrible days. Hence, despite firm denials to the contrary, it is very possible that Mr. Hariri, or whoever replaces him as prime minister in the new government, will bow to Hezbollah pressure and disavow the STL, humiliating himself again in order to maintain the peace.
And so Lebanon’s descent into the Iran-Syrian orbit continues unabated as Hezbollah’s grip on the throat of the tiny country gets stronger and Syria circles around the carcass like a jackal waiting to pounce once the prey stops struggling. It’s a far cry from the heady days of the “Beirut Spring” just 5 short years ago when such high hopes were ignited by massive protests that kicked the Syrian army out of Lebanon and elections brought independent-loving democrats to power.
Now, many of those politicians are either dead, or cowed by events. And the people of Lebanon are on edge today wondering how long – or if – the peace will last.
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