We have this problem when we talk about political matters in Lebanon to either forget about regional dynamics and quarrel between different “Lebanese” affirmations, or forget completely that there are people you can call Lebanese because they happen to live on this land, and have been doing so for several years, and only focus on the regional masters pulling the political strings of either compromise or division.
One needs to understand that both levels are important and feed on each other. Local players need regional players for several reasons that will boost their political leverage, but in the same time, regional players need the acquiescence of local players to benefit in terms of shaping their foreign policy imperatives.
There is some truth in the idea that Lebanon is locked in a Saudi-Iranian confrontational vicious circle. But it means nothing to say that it’s only by looking at what the Saudis and the Iranians are up to, that you will understand how Lebanese politics will shift over time.
The deadlock in Lebanon is definitely “Lebanese”. Although these groups take assurances and back up from these regional powers, they are also weighing their own political benefits on the ground. For now Hizbullah happens to be in line with Iranian ambitions, but this does not mean that in the presence of another Lebanese political opportunity structure, it won’t shift from Iranian alignment. Hizbullah worries about its political survival first and foremost, and for now Hizbullah is threatened in the absence of a state (as in state, look into the dictionary, because rare are the Lebanese who understand this term), so being in line with Iranian prerogatives is a good option. This is because of security, resource, and territorial problems. Like it or not, problems with Israel are real, even if you happen to live in Beirut and can go to the beach everyday and do not feel that there are territorial fights happening in the South.
Likewise for Mustaqbal, and Seniora. If it wasn’t for the fact that the only perceived option to preserve the constant flow of Gulf money and capital in the country (and this is just one factor) is through a durable alliance with the Saudis, we could see appear different policy options especially with regards to possible compromise reached with Hizbullah. For now, alignment with the Saudis is the only viable political option, i.e. without the Saudis Mustaqbal and cie have to revise drastically their political ‘raison-d’etre’.
Again if there are new platforms on which compromise can be found then no regional power can do anything to stop the compromise from happening. The job of the ‘statesman’ or the ‘diplomat’ is to find these options.
The sad thing is that the battle the opposition is waging against the government is not really based on ‘economic’ problems. Now people would mobilize because of that, but this does not mean that the elite think of it in these terms. Looking at the Tayyar’s economic program (I have a booklet, sorry no link), it is as liberal as Seniora’s, although of course the problem with Seniora’s government is that they don’t even have a program. Unless begging donors by inflating balance sheets numbers is a program to you. And we have yet to see what Hizbullah’s economic program is for the country. Then the struggle is one of influence, because there is still no State in Lebanon, only groups tearing apart the state to several pieces to be divided between the contestants. It has always worked that way, and the Syrians only needed to play a policeman role when they were here while they watched the different sects retrench in their regions.
Today the sects are out of their trenches; this is why everybody is scared. But this is a “Lebanese” process by all means. It is helped and framed along regional dynamics, but its source is local. The lack of a State, the increasing inequalities, the security dilemmas, the political quibbles, all this is “Lebanese”.
Oh, I just noticed that I did not mention the US, Syria, Europe and Israel as other influencers. I was just thinking of the latest arguments found in the press that Saudi and Iranian problems are central to understand Lebanese deadlocks.