Any major political event that happens in Syria reverberates in Lebanon, and vice versa. And to understand how a Syrian Army win in Qusayr can echo in Tripoli Lebanon, we have to go back to the drawing board of Lebanese politics.
Ever since the Republic of Lebanon has been an independent entity, politics in Lebanon has been a combination of democracy and feudal hierarchy. Not only the Lebanese Parliament is based on sectarian representation, with quotas that are meant to give fair per-capita representation of different religions and sects, but the leaders themselves are in reality feudal leaders who pass on their leadership to the eldest son.
Sectarian and feudal as it was, it was kept “functioning” as the feudal lords had some role to play in attracting votes. Those feudal lords had to compete with their local competitors with the aim of attracting votes to put them in the Parliament.
No less competitive was the competition between Sunni leaders, both within their own electorates and regions, and also nationwide.
The position of Prime Minister (PM) in Lebanon is exclusive to Sunnis (according to the Lebanese Constitution). Ever since independence, this position has been the outcome of a game of musical chairs played in between the prominent Sunni families of Solh (of Beirut), Karami (of Tripoli), Salam (of Beirut) and few other minor ones.
The change from one PM to another did not mean much, but the same could be said even about Western democracies. Recent events have shown that not even Obama was able to implement real change. However, the change in the leadership and the person of the PM in Lebanon did a lot of good and as times it meant that certain reforms and/or changes had to be implemented, and the competitiveness between the legacy leaders kept the population buzzing with news of failures and scandals, and it was difficult for any politician to find a façade to hide behind.
Moreover, apart from swinging voters (who would have to be minorities in Lebanon), political loyalties were often based on personal acquaintances with the actual leaders. Those leaders had to have “open salons” for their constituencies where they often offered sweets and refreshments and people went there asking for special favours; such as fixing the village roads and even personal ones such as finding jobs for their children. Those loyalties were very personal and very strong, and quite often, the hardcore loyalists were prepared to put their lives on the line in protection of their leaders.
Then suddenly, this delicate, archaic, but somehow functional system was hit with a political atom bomb; the Hariri bomb.
Rafik Hariri was a self-made billionaire. He was an entrepreneur who was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth. When he wanted to get into the political scene in Lebanon, he did not have a legacy to capitalize on, he had to create one. He spent hundreds of millions of dollars on national projects including rebuilding Beirut’s CBD which was ravaged during the Civil War. His Hariri Foundation sponsored the tertiary education of thousands of students. He did do a lot of good things which no traditional politician has ever done. But at the same time, he rose to political power by bringing into Lebanon the American style of campaigning with an open and overt corruption that his son Saad was later on better able to be shameless about.
At leadership level, Saad Hariri has literally bought the Sunni leadership legacy with the power of money. The Karami legacy in Tripoli under the leadership of the patriarch Omar Karami did not kowtow to him, but Hariri managed to create a split in this family and found splinter groups who are now pro-Hariri Karami’s. The other Beiruty and/or Sunni legacies had to either tow the Hariri line or simply vanish.
Even prominent and highly respectable Sunni politicians (such as ex: PM Salim Al-Hus) have lost their seats, and Hus had to lose his seat to a virtually unknown bimbo named Ghonwa Jalloul to the outrage of many Lebanese.
One of his Akkar MP’s (Muin Merhibi) has recently lost his cool and brandished his AK47 and emptied its magazine in the air in defiance of a Lebanese Police check point.
At the hierarchal political level, Hariri makes it clear to his puppet MP’s and regional leaders that he wants numbers and not necessarily brains within his ranks. All they have to do is to follow his orders, unquestioned.
Other self-made leaders in Lebanon have gained support and loyalists in the past by having charisma and their ability to round up people with agendas of reform, promises of freedom from feudalism, etc…. but Hariri cannot even speak. His only asset is his deep wallet.
At street level, Hariri has literally bought votes for cash, and even sent free return tickets to Lebanese ex:pats who live in places as far as the USA and Australia to go and vote for his candidates nationwide. The loyalty of this new age of loyalists is not based on personal relationships that connect the leader with the community. They are only on money. That said, there is a new form of loyalists, those who have an Islamist fundamentalist agenda, and they are using Hariri’s money to have free access to arms so they can go and fight their Jihad wars in Syria and prepare for their Jihad war against Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Hariri has also bought a huge percentage of the religious Sunni leadership and when, for example, Malek Shaar, the Mufti of Tripoli opens up his mouth to speak, he would only be regurgitating the words and emotions of Hariri.
More can be said about this dangerous Mafiosi, Saad Hariri. But in relation to the recent developments in Tripoli, he is the only reason behind the perpetuation of the fighting. The blood is on his hands. This is the only place where he is able to vent his hatred on Shiites, and the only reason this is possible is because Jabal Mohsen is a tiny area that is totally surrounded from all angles by his thugs. And in the wake of the advances of the Syrian Army in Qusayr, he sent his thugs to retaliate in the hope of taking over the Alawi region of Jabal Mohsen. They failed and failed abysmally.
In doing this, he is truly playing with fire in the most dangerous manner possible. If this Tripoli conflict is not resolved, and if the Jabal Mohsen community capitulates, Hariri thugs will march in and kill every man woman and child.
If the Jabal Mohsen militia reach the enough-is-enough point and start attacking rather than defending (as their leader Rafaat Ali has said recently), then the fire will be highly like to spread to engulf all of Lebanon.
Among other hate-mongers, in Saida South Lebanon Hariri has his puppet Sunni Imam, Ahmed Al-Asir who has been making it very clear that he wants to fight Hezbollah and kill Shia. This half-wit is waiting for half a signal from his ulterior master Saad Hariri to send the South into a blood bath.
Ironically and sadly, Hezbollah does not only need to focus on averting Israeli danger, but also to deal with those sectarian war mongers and blood thirsty Jihadists.
What is more ironic, is that Hariri and his Jihadist policies are all happening with the blessings of the West, the same West that is mourning the innocent slain British soldier.
"Ever since the Republic of Lebanon has been an independent entity, politics in Lebanon has been a combination of democracy and feudal hierarchy."
This one sentence, and its potent imagery of the admixture of demo[n]cracy and feudal hierarchy, *finally* has me slightly understanding the geopolitics of Lebanon.
Thank you for this essential analysis.