Regional or local?

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.

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14 Replies to “Regional or local?”

  1. If I ever hear that something happened in Lebanon, I begin a five-part analysis:

    1) personal
    2) local
    3) national
    4) regional
    5) international

    The sequence is in decreasing significance …

  2. Have the Lebanese made one bit of progress, in the last 15 years, in the quest to define themselves as a nation instead of a nasty junk pile of families and sects?
    Is that quest even on the agenda?

  3. One needs to understand that ‘sects’ and ‘clans’ exist everywhere and at all times can have resonance politically. It is really the political institutions in place that make the sect or the clan comply. Unfortunately, Lebanon does not have these institutions.

    The problem is not one of “mentalities”, but of alternative ways to solve problems, i.e. opportunities. The elaboration of ‘modern’ parties – where the word modern has no other significance than to refer to the period where you started having large states with political parties – can only be done according to specific historical circumstances.

    In general, the Lebanese but also most of the Arabs did not succeed in having modern political parties stabilized across time. All of them factionalized (along clan or sectarian etc.), whatever their ideology.

    The notable exception is Hizbullah. And this puzzles me I must say. How come Hizbullah did not factionalize? Even Hamas is made up of clans, the Muslim Brotherhood, and all other popular based group. What’s the deal with Hizbullah?

    This can help greatly in building state institutions, and vice versa, fully-fledged ‘public’ institutions can do that. None of this exist in Lebanon, except for Hizbullah, although Hizbullah is locked with a narrow political agenda (the fight against Israel). But this may change over time.

  4. I doubt, though, that the hezb will manage to pull any tricks that will institutionalize the rest of the Lebanese and make them put national interests above their selfish personal and local ones.

    If they manage to do it for them, good for them. But they won’t be able to force thirst-less donkeys to drink (on ne fait pas boire les ânes qui n’ont pas soif).

  5. I don’t think they’ll have the choice.
    At some point hte political circumstances may create opportunities that will spill over the rest of the system. I doesn’t mean they intend to do so, but just by acting in their self interest (i.e. party survival), there will probably durable construction of a state. But this needs an entire discussion on its own.

  6. bech,

    I still dont see how Hizbullah as a social phenomenon is any different than what we might call maronitism in 19c Lebanon. That is an new type of corporatism that had to find its place amidst other social arrangements and constellations … In fact, the historical similarities are a bit frightening to my mind …

  7. “changes”? 🙂

    Other than having my brain turn into a big wad of meat because of all the inter-party bickering, not much change going on..

    Unless a mental switch from pessimism to fatalism qualifies.

  8. I have to fundamentally disagree with you apokraphyte. Hizbullah has nothing to do with “nineteenth century maronitism” (which by the way doesn’t mean much).

    Hizbullah is a full blown political party with a diverse array of institutions and techniques of molibizing that have nothing to do with petty nineteenth century feuding.

  9. I agree that maronitism is an unhelpful term, but if we look at the rapid growth of the Maronite population, their migration to new areas in the 19C, the church-led development of a sort of social and political consciousness (and of course the economics behind that development) and the deployment of that conciousness by various political elites — some feudal, some not — to various political ends, including and ultimately state power, I think I am not too far off.

  10. yes but you still forget the presence of a highly organized political organization which at the heyday of maronitism clearly did not exist.

    this makes a huge difference.

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