Foreign Policy Blogs

Tragedy into Farce, Farce into Tragedy

Saturated as we are with news, it is easy to forget that Lebanon is still without a President, suffering under internal strife and external meddling over what the makeup of the next government should look like.  When this started in November it was scary.  It became frustrating as time went on, and now just seems absurd.   Unfortunately, however, absurdity is not the opposite of tragedy; more often that not it is merely a mask. 

 That seems to be the case in Lebanon.   The head of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, has left Beirut empty-handed, failing to bring a deal to the table.   All sides agree that Michel Suleiman should be the next President, but all are getting hung up on the make-up of the next cabinet.   The Party of God wants enough cabinet members to maintain veto power over major decisions, a decision that is supported by its main patron, Syria (and a decision undoubtedly supported by the patron of both Syria andHezbollah: Iran).   The other parties don't want the Shi’ite group to have that kind of power, seeing it as little but a recidivist and violent proxy for Syrian domination and Iranian influence. 

This, of course, is Lebanon's main problem: it is the constant testing ground for regional rivalries.   The next stop for this is the upcoming Arab Summit in Damascus, which has received boycott threats from the Saudis.  Sana Abdallah discusses this in a sharp Middle East Times article. 

 If there is a boycott, it will both cause and be caused by tension.  It is worth noting that serious boycotts have taken place during major events, such as the Egyptian peace treaty with Israel or the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.  The threat of this shows how seriously Saudi Arabia is concerned with Iran, NIE notwithstanding.

(Of course, the seriousness of a boycott is somewhat leavened by the cold hard fact that nothing ever happens at Arab Summits.   It isn't as if the Sauds will miss anything important or their absence will change anything, practically.  But that isn't the point. Again: farce)

It is difficult to see a way out of this labyrinth.  To me, this is largely due to the intransigence of Hezbollah.  There has been talk for years about Hezbollah modifying themselves when they achieve political power, but that hasn't been the case.  The problem with them is what they do without power- fall back into their old ways, threatening the Lebanese society (actually, this should be its own post, and hopefully will be tomorrow).  

But it isn't just Hezbollah being difficult.   Read this Marc Sioris article from the Daily Star which quickly and insightfully demonstrates the political system's internal rot.

In Lebanon, the only check on such families is the presence of other families competing for the same privileges. Take away that internal balance of power, and one of their scions might dominate the whole scene faster than one can say Bob Mugabe. Even those parties not built on inherited authority have adopted the same reverence for cults of personality and other tribal rituals, simultaneously making them greater threats to dilute the power of existing cliques but also diminishing the likelihood that they would bring substantive change.



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.