Avi Melamed ~ Inside The Middle East
October 21, 2019
The screams and mass protests – unprecedented in volume and intensity – which erupted in Lebanon on Thursday, October 17th are screams of despair and demand for a profound change.
The precise, straightforward, and exhaustive way to describe the background to the protests is that the Lebanese – young, old, Sunni, Christian, Shi’ite, Druze – are just sick of it. They are tired of corrupt politicians. Exhausted from the political violence. Disappointed from the impotence of their government. Outraged at the lack of services and infrastructure. Distraught from the absence of any kind of hope on the horizon. Exasperated about poverty, unemployment, and crime. They are tired of being held hostage by Hezbollah’s and their Iranian masters. They just got tired of it.
The protests are led by young people and crosses sectors and ethnic groups.
Except for individual incidents of violence and disorder, the demonstrations are nonviolent. Sometimes it even feels like a mass celebration – including music, dancing, distributing flowers and sweets to Lebanese security forces who are acting in a restrained manner.
At the same time, there are demonstrations of sympathy among Lebanese diaspora communities in France, the United Kingdom, Australia, the US, Canada, etc.
It is noteworthy that Shi’ite politician Nabih Berri, the Speaker of the Parliament and head of the mainstream Shi’ite party – ‘Amal is being criticized in most Shi’ite areas in southern Lebanon. For example, in a large demonstration in the southern city of Nabatiya, protesters shouted “Nabih Berri is a thief. “In the town of Tibnin in southern Lebanon, where Berri was born, his supporters opened fire on protesters.
So far, Hezbollah has kept a low profile and there is no overt Hezbollah presence on the streets. That said, Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah himself has sent hinted threats to protesters that “Hezbollah will go out to the street and will stay there.” Hezbollah supporters have been trying to disrupt the reporting of Al-Arabiya, the Saudi television network.
In a direct message to Hezbollah, the organizations first Secretary-General (leader), Sheikh Subhi al-Tufayli @SobhiTfaily who is a harsh critic of Nasrallah tweeted the following: “Make sure to not use the resistance weapons (meaning Hezbollah’s weapons) to kill our people in order to protect the thieves.”
The message that is emphasized on social networks is that the protest includes all sects and religions. At the heart of this message is a deep – and justified – concern that Lebanese sectarian and religious demons will take over the protest and lead Lebanon – which is already on the edge of the abyss – to chaos.
At this point, and despite the widespread protests – the only response of Lebanese President Michelle ‘Aoun (a Maronite Christian) was a tweet that “A satisfactory solution will be found soon.”
Among the protests, there are calls for the Lebanese army to take control of the situation. In an October 20th article entitled “The Final Chapter of the Annexation of Lebanon to the Iran Axis”, journalist and commentator, Eyad Abu Shakra, @eyad1949 says that this call is unrealistic since the Lebanese army is largely under the influence of Hezbollah and its political partners in Lebanon. In his analysis, the call for the army to take control is mainly an expression of the despair of the Lebanese who only see a dead-end and have no idea do not know where their salvation will come from.
The protests in Lebanon are sending shock waves throughout Lebanon’s political system. At this point, four ministers from the “Lebanese Forces” (a predominately Christian political party) have resigned from the government.
On October 20th in an article entitled “Lebanon: People want to Revive the Regime!” Saudi commentator Hussein Shobokshi @husseinshoboksh estimates that the current Lebanese government is coming to an end. And that is certainly a possible scenario.
Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Al-Hariri presented a 24-chapter plan to deal with the crisis in Lebanon, focusing on the economic aspect. The proposal includes, among other things, increasing the taxes on the profits of banks and insurance companies, avoiding any additional taxes on citizens, fighting corruption and more. Yet, the Lebanese public that has completely lost – and rightly so – the trust in its leaders, rightly views the program as nothing but a band-aid.
Lebanon’s biggest problem is that Lebanon is ruled by Iran through a terrorist army called Hezbollah. As long as Hezbollah continues to hold on to its weapons – Iran will continue to dictate Lebanon’s domestic, foreign and economic policies. Until Hezbollah is disarmed – which is the only way to limit Iran’s hold over Lebanon – Hezbollah will use Lebanon as a platform to promote Iranian interests, at the expense of Lebanon’s interest.
Lebanon is a failing state. Their economy is in shambles. They have a national debt of USD 100 billion, negative economic growth, and unemployment among young people is thirty percent.
Its disastrous situation is to a large extent the outcome of Iran’s control. For example, one of the biggest challenges for Lebanon is the financial burden it bears from absorbing and supporting the more than one million Syrian refugees who fled to Lebanon because of the war in Syria. And who is largely responsible for the fact that there are one million refugees in Syria? Hezbollah – Iran’s proxy, which is a member of the Lebanese government – that Iran sent to Syria in 2011 in violation of the Lebanese government’s neutrality policy on the war in Syria to save Assad and secure Iran’s control of Syria.
Another example of the sacrifice of the Lebanese interest on the altar of Iranian interests is the fact that Lebanon refrained from criticizing Iran’s September 14 attack on Saudi oil facilities. The absence of the Lebanese voice in that matter has angered the Gulf States which are the main oxygen pipeline of the collapsing Lebanese economy. Just days before the Lebanon protests erupted, the Lebanese Prime Minister visited The Gulf to persuade the UAE to increase its investment in Lebanon. The UAE made it clear that in return it expects Lebanon to stand alongside the UAE – not Iran.
Another example of the severe damage to Lebanon as a result of being under Iranian control is the US sanctions on Hezbollah. The sanctions that include individuals, companies, and banks in Lebanon that are associated with Hezbollah or conduct business with the organization also inevitably harm Lebanon’s economy and the Lebanese people.
In order for Lebanon to begin to recover and to renew its sovereignty as a country, the key is releasing itself from the burden of Iranian control. The only way to achieve this is to disarm Hezbollah. In an October 20th article entitled “Pompeo Said what the Lebanese are Saying,” Shi’ite journalist Nadim Koteich @NadimKoteich wrote, “Hezbollah is a cancer that has spread in the body of the Lebanese State.”
A similar opinion was expressed by Saudi writer Mashari Althaydi @MAlthaydy in a July 2019 article entitled Who has the first word in Lebanon? who makes it clear that without disbanding Hezbollah, Lebanon’s is lost.
Disarming Hezbollah is a task that Lebanon cannot accomplish alone. This is a mission that requires the active involvement of the international community. European countries such as France or Italy that have a deep and unique connection to Lebanon should lead an effort which should include the United States, that has declared it will support Lebanon’s sovereignty and independence, and major Arab countries such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, who wield significant leverage.
The call for “revolution” is a refrain heard over and over again in the demonstrations. This is an accurate definition in that these protests are a milestone in Lebanon’s history and have the potential to bring about a dramatic and significant change.
Is the positive energy, enthusiasm and strong will of the Lebanese, led by the younger generation, strong enough to overcome the gravitational pull of corruption, polarizing and sectarian politics, and violence, and generate a wave of dramatic political change that will lead Lebanon into a future of hope and growth?
Will the international community help the Lebanese in their mission of disarming Hezbollah and therefore giving Lebanon hope and a chance to design a positive path and future?
In an October 2019 article entitled The Slogan “Iran “Out Out” is the Next Stage”, Bahraini intellectual, Sawsan al-Shaer wrote: “Sooner or later, Beirut, Damascus, Baghdad, and San’aa) will kick out Iran, and the Arab traitors who sold their homeland to Iran are facing a dark fate. Their punishment will be a lesson for the next generations.”
For now – and the foreseeable future, we will see if this opinion remains wishful thinking.
Strategic Intelligence Analyst, Avi Melamed is the President & CEO of Inside the Middle East: Intelligence Perspectives, training current and future leaders to independently and accurately decipher the Middle East. For more of his articles see www.avimelamed.com – Because True Knowledge is a Real Asset.
Here are some additional links to local resources covering the protests in Lebanon
#كلن_يعني_كلن (Short context: the title كلن_يعني_كلن means “everybody means everyone” and it refers to a speech made by Hezbollah’s leader referring to the riots in Lebanon saying “everybody is responsible.” )
#لبنان_ينتفض – Lebanon Uprises