Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Lebanon: Civil War - again?!

My first visit to Lebanon was in 2002. Beirut had begun to recover a few years earlier after a devastating civil war. Prime Minister Rafiq Al-Hariri was leading the comeback of what used to be called the Switzerland of the East. There were few signs left of the war. Some buildings bore the marks, some were still destroyed, but most areas of the city were flourishing.

The Solidere project of rebuilding downtown Beirut was a showpiece of Lebanese determination to recover its place in a better more peaceful world. It was a coordinated project between the state and the private sector which was said to cost billions of dollars.

Money was being poured into rebuilding the poor infrastructure of the country’s land, air and sea networks. Tens of thousands of boys and girls who had been sent to study abroad in badly needed specialties at Al-Hariri’s expense returned to help in the rebuilding efforts. In 2002, the country was a huge workshop at all levels.

The Lebanese are good at it. During the Civil War that lasted from 1975 to 1990, when a quarter of a million lives were lost, they used to rebuild during every ceasefire. They partied too, almost every night. Lebanese are very lively people.

Most Lebanese I met told me that the past was a lesson they had learnt only too well. They now knew that religious pride could deliver them to Hell. While political fighting and religious differences still existed, they said that they had learnt to compete democratically. Respect for each other’s right to their own faith and views was the country’s best warranty against another war that everyone would lose.

Enter Iranian-Syrian-supported, militant and armed to the teeth Hezbollah! Enter the assassination of Lebanon’s greatest rebuilder and unifier, Rafiq Al-Hariri. And enter Syria’s own civil war. Now the world is totally different. The commitment to peaceful competition in a democratic environment seems to have evaporated. The parties have shown renewed interest in militant and armed argumentation. The latest street fighting in Tripoli and Beirut shows how easy it is to forget past lessons and commitments to a peaceful resolution of differences and to go back to war. Amazing.

My Lebanese friend, Miriam Zgheib, who studies and works in TV production, told me last week she was reborn again into the country’s dark history. She was born after the Civil War, but the recent fight between the Sunnis and Alawites in Tripoli, then between the pro-Hezbollah Sunnis and Al-Hariri camp in Beirut introduced her to the horror of senseless family wars. She tried to explain what was going on, then gave up and confessed that she just did not know - and did not care to know!  All she and her generation want is to breathe freedom, seek happiness and live in peace.  “Is that too much to ask?!”
The Lebanese army is the nation’s best guard and ultimate security guarantor. It should stand apart from all differences and divisive political-religious issues. If the wolves of hate and merchants of war manage to tarnish its image as an honest force, or to drag it into their wars, then it will lose its widespread public support and trust. Without people’s faith, the army can no longer function as protector of the nation.
The president, government, parliament and all cool heads in Lebanon, together with the country’s partners and friends abroad, should unite to end this nightmare scenario and stop the acceleration into civil war.

Time is not going to heal the injuries. If the looming storms are not immediately calmed, a Lebanon doomsday scenario is upon us all.

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