For Lebanese, Syrian Crisis Cuts along Sectarian Lines

Within both the March 8 & 14 Alliances, reactions differ at the grass-roots level regarding the events transpiring in the country bordering Lebanon, Elie Hajj reports

al-monitor Lebanese security forces reinforce the barriers during clashes with protesters who were trying to storm the Lebanese government offices in Beirut, Oct. 21, 2012. Photo by REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah.

İşlenmiş konular

Ara 17, 2012

The reaction of the Lebanese people to the ongoing crisis in Syria is split along sectarian and party lines. With some difficulty, all parties agreed to the “self-distancing” policy. The government of Prime Minister Najib Mikati depends on this policy in order to avoid domestic confrontations linked with the events transpiring in the neighboring countries.

Before the outbreak of the Syrian crisis, divisions over national and political issues split Lebanon along party and sectarian lines. The March 14 Alliance is a coalition of political parties comprised of the Future Movement — a Sunni Muslim-majority party that was founded by the late President Rafiq Hariri — and Christian parties, most notably the Lebanese Forces, the Kataeb Party, and the National Liberal Party, in addition to regional and leftist groups, the Democratic Left Movement, and independent figures.

In contrast there is the March 8 Alliance, a coalition of political parties led by its Shiite contingent of Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, and counterbalanced by the Christian-predominated Free Patriotic Movement. The coalition also includes parties directly linked to the Syria regime, such as the Baath Party and the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, as well as regional parties, such as El Marada Movement, and independent figures.

It is widely known that the March 8 coalition has, varying from one regime to the next, formed an alliance with the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad. Meanwhile the other coalition, March 14, is linked with so-called moderate Arab countries and the West.

However the internal dynamics of each coalition vary at the grass-roots level. Those in Hezbollah and the Amal Movement consider themselves intrinsically linked to the perpetuation of the Assad regime. The allied Assad regime provides this coalition — which represents the vast majority of Lebanese Shiites — with all of the components of power, such as weapons and material support. This in addition to the aid provided by Iranian elements, the Shiites have become the primary and established directors of policy making in Lebanon for the first time in the history of this ancient and modern sect.

Shiites fear that the collapse of the Assad regime would result in the loss of a very important part of their powerbase in Lebanon. However their large cache of weapons and throngs of soldiers serve as a reassurance that no other domestic force could rival them. Syria has long served as a supply bridge between Hezbollah and Iran and strengthening the alliance between them, and thus the mere thought of the establishment of a Syrian regime hostile to Hezbollah causes concern. Moreover, what if this regime took power in the midst of a world-wide Sunni upswell of frustration with Hezbollah because of its connections with Tehran?

It goes without saying that the parties intensely loyal to the current regime in Syria, such as the Syrian Social Nationalist Party and the Baath Party, fear that they will find themselves naked in a forest teeming with enemies, and that there will be no choice other than to seek shelter behind Hezbollah if they wish to maintain any clout.

As for the Free Patriotic Movement, it is not intrinsically bound to the Assad regime. Historically speaking, Lebanese Christians have been somewhat indifferent to the events transpiring abroad. If forced, they will take a pro-Assad stance, mainly out of fear that the replacement regime would be comprised of Islamist extremists.

Those in Gen. Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement realize that the movement’s clout in state affairs will greatly decline if their leader’s wager on the perseverance of Assad/Tehran turns out to be an ill-conceived bet. This will certainly impede Aoun’s hidden, long-held dream of becoming president of the republic. He considers himself the most deserving of this position by virtue of the size of his parliamentary bloc which he believes reflects a popular trend among Christians during the election cycles of 2005 and 2009.

The Druze — the majority of whom are represented by MP Walid Jumblatt, leader of the Progressive Socialist Party — await the fall of the Syrian regime with a mix of eagerness and apprehension. Lebanon’s smallest Muslim sect, which has historically survived by striking delicate political balances, has not forgotten about the murder of its former leader, Kamal Jumblatt, following a very public disagreement with Hafez al-Assad, father of the current Syrian president, in 1976-1977, although they later allied with him and with his son Bashar.

At the same time, they fear for their fellow Druze in Syria, more than half of whom are affiliated with Bashar’s regime. They are nervous for the wellbeing of their Syrian cousins because they fear that the replacement regime may not be tolerant of those who inflicted heavy material and human losses on the rebel ranks and their supporters. For this reason Jumblatt does not cease in his demands for the Druze of Syria to abandon Assad and to join the revolution, or to at least not stand in opposition of it. At the same time, he stands on the river bank waiting for his nemesis’s corpse to float past, all the while careful not to provoke his Hezbollah partners in government into carrying out any operations against the Assad regime, both in Syria and in Lebanon.

Coming installment: Sunni Muslims and the Christians of March 14

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