Lebanon and its Syrian Legacy |
Al Hayat - 17 August, 2012
Author: Hassan Haidar
In vain, Lebanon tries to dissociate itself from developments in Syria. And in vain, the Lebanese of different communities exchange accusations, holding each other responsible for attempt to drag the country into the fierce civil war taking place in the neighboring country. Indeed, their system of government, with its fragile and artificial structure, which Syria itself worked to consecrate, cannot follow a policy of neutrality even if several of the country’s constituents so wish it, just as it cannot suddenly remove itself from the process of identifying with the regime in Damascus after having surrendered to it for decades, making the absence of a unifying state a basis for its civil peace, according to the formula of keeping its main pillars separate: the army, the people and the Resistance – such that abandoning one of these three components becomes equivalent to turning against the presence of the state itself.
Ever since the Syrians first entered the country in 1976, it was clear to Damascus that remaining in Lebanon would require making structural changes to its system and voiding its institutions of their substance while preserving them in form, in such a way as for it to harmonize with their regime, adapt to its needs and swiftly abide by its instructions. This was accompanied by a process of gradually merging the foreign policy of the two countries, a process that culminated in what has become known as the “unification of the two paths”, which in effect eliminated the differences between them and turned Lebanon into a mere extension of the position taken by Syria in Arab and international forums.
The new Syrian authorities, as represented by the army and intelligence services of every kind, succeeded at replacing, over several phases, Lebanon’s state institutions and services, with minor exceptions, in managing the affairs of the various communities, setting the balance of power between them and linking them all to a single frame of reference represented by Syrian “Security and Reconnaissance” officials.
As for Lebanon’s legislative elections, which, despite all their flaws, represented a reasonable extent of popular and regional representation, they turned under Syrian rule into merely a procedure of pure form to announce the “victory” of lists set in advance, whose fortunate members would be selected by Damascus. Thus the Lebanese Parliament turned into a carbon copy of Syria’s “People’s Council” and a mere instrument in the hands of the political power, accompanying “its Syria” with legislation instead of monitoring it – so much so that even the position of Speaker of Parliament has become a lifelong position.
Under Syrian rule as well, generations of politicians have been bred to total submission to orders coming from Damascus, having grown accustomed to competing over offering Damascus their obedience and consulting it in all matters, great and small, and to abiding completely by what it considers to be in its best interest, including its whims of renewal and extension (of the presidential term of office). As for those who would show any kind of resistance, they would either be boycotted and isolated, or charges would be fabricated to throw them in jail, or there would be no other way to “deal with them” but assassination.
As for the “crowning achievement” of Syria’s management of Lebanon, it was when Damascus got its hands on the fledgling Iranian instrument (Hezbollah) in the early 1980s, adopted it politically and in effect, including it under its protection and in its system of control, and amplified its role by giving it the exclusive right to liberate the South from Israeli occupation – before supplying it, along with Syria’s Iranian ally, with weapons and funds that have made it a state greater than the state and an army more powerful that the army.
The Damascus regime succeeded at subduing the vast majority of Lebanon’s political, military and labor union leaders, as well as prominent figures of Lebanese society, and to keep them dancing to its tune. Even if its army was forced to withdraw from Lebanese soil, it left behind not just groups, organizations and individuals connected to its apparatus and grateful to it for where it has brought them, but also a country politically torn and economically exhausted, in which multiple loyalties prevent working together and getting the country on its feet.
Today, as the Damascus regime is nearing its end, the Lebanese are discovering that getting rid of its legacy will be more difficult than toppling Bashar Al-Assad himself. Indeed, Lebanon, in addition to one of its sectarian communities being armed to the teeth, is rife with “politicians” convinced of the effectiveness of explosive devices, and crowded with “armed wings” of clans and families. In fact, they are discovering that saving their country will require immense efforts and a very long time.