Foreign Policy Blogs

More on Lebanon

Apologies for this blog being Lebanon-centric these last couple of days; however, when the testing ground of Arab ideologies teeters on the brink of its most intense political crisis in 17 years, it calls for many words.

And there have been a lot of words regarding the assassination of Francois al-Hajj and its confusing implications. Over at Tony Bey's Beirut 2Bayside, the fingerprints of Syria are all over this. As he explains, “The bottom line is that Syria's only conception of its relationship to Lebanon is complete brutal domination, where Syria decides every single minutiae of Lebanese life, including who gets to be president, prime minister, speaker, Army Commander, security officials, election law, cabinet make-up, cabinet portfolios, cabinet policy statement, etc.”

His site tends to see- and not without cause- Syrian involvement in everything that happens in Lebanon. The Daily Star has an interesting piece about how this is the first killing that hasn't involved someone overtly anti-Syrian, but that doesn't totally discount Bey's thesis. Indeed, it could support it, if one thinks that the over-arching Syrian objective is a display of brutal, unhesitant strength.

Though Bey's blog tends to be a little strident, it is with good cause- there are few things that happen in Lebanon in which Syria doesn't play a role. However, a fascinating article in MERIP from over the summer suggests that the crisis with Fatah al-Islam came not from too many Syrians, but from the lack of them. It argues that for years all Lebanese politics tended to revolve around the Syrian security apparatus which stifled Lebanon. The Syrian withdrawal changed all the rules, or at least altered them. The article focuses mainly on the Palestinians in refugee camps, and the radical groups inside of the. One of the points it makes is that Fatah al-islam was not a Palestinian group- just one operating in the squalor of the Nahr al-Barid camp. It draws their source of revenue and operational abilities to anyone from the Syrians to their sworn enemy, the Hariri clan (the latter being part of an effort for Sunnis to strike back against a rising Shi’ite tide).

The author admits this may or may not be true. The article is full of speculation and drawing connections, some of which are fascinating simply because they appeal to the conspiracy-loving mind in all of us. It is informed speculation, though, and important for a major reason: even if none of it proves to be true there are many in Lebanon who assuredly already believe similar ideas. And, in life- but especially in the Middle East- perception is reality. The factions, even as they try to hammer out a constitutional solution to the crisis, are staring at each other across a chasm of rumor and barbed wire, of fear and innuendo. In this, the mere thought that your friend may be in bed with your enemy could be enough to send Lebanon spiraling back into its familiar hell.



Brian O'Neill

Brian O'Neill is a freelance writer currently based out of Chicago. He has lived in Egypt and in Yemen, and worked as a writer and editor for the Yemen Observer publishing company. He currently is an analyst with the Jamestown Foundation.