Lebanon Divided Like No Time Since Civil War

Lebanon Divided Like No Time Since Civil War
The flag of Lebanon.

In the aftermath of the Israel-Lebanon war, the Lebanese are divided like no time since the civil war of the late 1970s and 1980s. One is either with Hezbollah or with the Lebanese government. Gray areas are evaporating and being replaced by tribalism and patron-client loyalties, for which the Middle East is particularly famous.

In a recent trip to Beirut, I witnessed this rising tension firsthand. The pan-Arabic weekly magazine al-Mushahid al-Siyasi (The Arab Viewer) recently wrote that the next three months in Lebanon will be characterized "either by permanent stability, or frightening deterioration."

One side is represented by the central government of Prime Minister Fouad al-Siniora and his patron Saad al-Harriri, the leader of a parliamentary majority and son of the slain former Prime Minister Rafiq al-Harriri. This so-called March 14 Coalition includes the Druze leader Walid Jumblatt and the Maronite leader Samir Gagegea. The coalition, some of whom are former allies of Damascus, is opposed to Hezbollah, accusing the armed group of operating under the orders of Iran and Syria. By nature of being anti-Iranian, the March 14 Coalition is close to Saudi Arabia, the strongest opponent of Iranian influence and Shiite power in the Arab and Muslim World. The coalition's members cooperated with the Bush administration in 2005 to secure Syria's exodus from Lebanon, but were backstabbed by Washington when the White House urged Israel to carry out its war on Lebanon in July and August. They felt betrayed because the war was waged in all of Lebanon and not only in the Shiite neighborhoods or Hezbollah strongholds in South Lebanon. The greatest asset of this coalition, in addition to Saudi and U.S. backing, is the massive media machine that it operates, headed by Harriri's Future TV and Saudi satellite channels, and the money used by Saad al-Harriri to win the allegiance of Lebanon's Sunnis.

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