Hezbollah, “The Party of God“, has led a walk out in Lebanon’s parliament, causing the collapse of the government while Prime Minister Saad Hariri was meeting with President Obama. What’s new about this latest political confrontation? Lebanese and foreign observers alike have seen this kind of manipulative magic before. Only this time, the absurdity of political rhetoric has reached a new high. And some believe it could lead to a new war.
The primary political dilemma is straight forward. The Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, has been working with a coalition of political parties in support of the UN Tribunal for Lebanon which has been investigating the 2005 murder of the former Prime Minister, Rafiq Hariri. This takes place during what some see as the great re-birth of Lebanon, with its economy and political system recovering tremendously well after the long civil war and the brief war with Israel. Here’s where the volatile absurdities kick in:
Prime Minister Saad Hariri, tasked with hosting the Tribunal, providing them full access for their investigation, and ensuring civil cooperation with the eventual trials, is the son of the main murder victim, former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. It’s important also to note that Saad Hariri has been a favored leader among the country’s more liberal and moderate circles.
It goes as no surprise that the more conservative and radical parties, led by Hezbollah, who already saw Saad Hariri as representing the opposition, are furious that he theoretically may have influence in how the investigation into his father’s death is carried out.
Many on both sides assume the Tribunal is going to indict men with connections to Hezbollah, therefore reinforcing Hezbollah and the radical opposition’s belief that the Prime Minister is conspiring with the Tribunal to frame Hezbollah. When given the opportunity to plead their innocence ahead of the indictments, Hezbollah, of course, threatens to “cut off the hands” of anyone accusing it of such political violence.
Hezbollah cannot afford the blow to its popular legitimacy that would occur if it is pinned with the Hariri killing. The group’s power depends on the unconditional backing of its roughly 1 million supporters. Its constituents are the only audience that matters to Hezbollah, which styles itself as sole protector of Arab dignity from humiliation by Israel and the United States.
He also makes the very important point that the Prime Minister has no choice but to follow the rule of law and attempt to restrain any of his allies impulses to overreact to Hezbollah’s ire when the Tribunal makes its announcement.
Last year, Cambanis, reflecting on his work in Iraq, joined a debate I edited on whether journalism can ever be truly objective in war? Writing the book on Hezbollah was right on time, and a truly admirable telling of a tough story with relative objectivity. If you’re looking for more context on Lebanon outside of stories on Hezbollah, see Robert Fisk’s Book Pity the Nation or Thomas Friedman’s From Beirut to Jerusalem. And for a current look into cultural life outside politics, see Michelle Chahine’s recent story on Beirut’s alternative rock band, Mashrou’ Leila.