The Mobs and the Lebanese Spring

The Mobs and the Lebanese Spring

Abdullah Iskandar |

Greater Lebanon is almost one century old, and the components of the Land of the Cedars have not yet managed to agree over a political system rejecting violence in all its forms. Indeed, at one point or another, each of these components used the veto right against the implementation of such a system, and not one decade went by without seeing this right expressed through violence.


In modern systems of governance, it was intended for the state to monopolize violence and the use of weapons, in order to regulate coexistence among the conflicting demands and manage people’s affairs. However, the Lebanese political system was governed by civil violence, which stripped the state of its main specialty and subjected the entire system to the transformations which affected the balance of civil powers. Hence, throughout modern history, the political system failed to find a solution to the crisis among its components or between one of them and the state, while all the settlements and agreements sealed by the political class failed to divest any of the sectarian components of the veto right. Some texts pointed to the disbandment of the militias or the collection of their weapons, but never to the withdrawal of the recognition of their violence. This situation deteriorated with the Taif Accord, which clearly stipulated the right of one civil party to use weapons, i.e. violence, regardless of the justifications used back then to promote the settlement.


This right, granted to the Lebanese Shiites under the headline of the resistance, remained accepted or tolerated for as long as it expressed itself outside the domestic equation and did not affect the shares of the other components in the institutions of the weak state seeking a position for itself. In other words, it was a violence which did not have any consequences on the other components, especially since the regional pressures that accompanied the promotion of this violence were massive.


But when this violence appeared to be turning inward and gradually replacing the state, the other components became disgruntled, regardless of the balance of powers on the ground, and the entire political system became at stake despite the outside appearance that the institutions were working normally. The assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri revealed the deep meaning of the flaw at the level of the political system, in which one sect monopolized the weapons and force and began to transform into an aggressor targeting the others’ similar rights. This new reality was confirmed by the elections that followed the assassination, considering that neither the parliamentary majority in which they resulted was able to practice its legislative right, nor the governments – under whichever name – were able to govern. Indeed, the keys of the political system and its institutions became in the hands of the side enjoying armed power, i.e. Hezbollah and the Shiite sect.


Since before the Arab spring and the escalation of the sectarian conflict in Syria, the Lebanese Sunnis perceived Hezbollah – as the side monopolizing violence – in a dubious way and with great sectarian concerns. This perception was met by the party with further shows of power and disciplinary campaigns, pushing the relations between the two components to exit the context of the state and transforming any problem between two individuals into a civil conflict. The crisis in Syria came to draw a separation line between the two Lebanese components and acted as an additional justification for the standoff and infighting on sectarian bases.


At that point, the most extremist side with the loudest voice becomes in control over the popular mood, leading the management of the relationship which exited the hands of the state towards those of the mobs that hate – by definition - the state and its roles in regulating political life. Hence, the Lebanese spring marked the emergence of the rule of the mobs.


In that sense, Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir’s phenomenon is nothing but the expression of the fall of political life in the hands of the mobs after Hezbollah took control over the state’s tasks. Also in that sense, we are witnessing the repetition of violence throughout the sectarian friction lines in the North, the Bekaa and Sidon, and this is where the great predicament of the political system in Lebanon resides.