Socialist Worker

Lebanese leaders face a showdown

by Simon Assaf in Beirut
Issue No. 2028

Support for Hizbollah grew during Israel’s assault on Lebanon in July (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Support for Hizbollah grew during Israel’s assault on Lebanon in July (Pic: Guy Smallman)

A confrontation was looming this week between the US backed Lebanese government of Fouad Siniora and the opposition anti-imperialist bloc.

Ghalib Abu Zeinab, a representative of Hizbollah’s national council, had earlier told Socialist Worker that there would be mass demonstrations if the Lebanese cabinet did not agree to a “national unity government” that included more representation for Hizbollah and its allies.

The Hizbollah-led bloc views a national unity government as a way of curbing the power of pro-US parties in Lebanon’s governing coalition. These parties, known as the March 14 movement, were the driving force behind last year’s so called “Cedar Revolution”.

“This government is run by Jeffrey Feltman, the US ambassador, not by Siniora,” said Abu Zeinab. “We don’t believe this cabinet can be trusted. They are working on behalf of the Americans – and we do not want a US mandate over our country.”

Ever since Israel’s assault on Lebanon in July, the country has been polarised between supporters of the right wing government and an opposition comprising Hizbollah, the smaller Shia party Amal, the Communist Party and the Free Patriotic Movement of former general Michel Aoun, a mainly Christian grouping.

Hizbollah ministers resigned earlier this month after their demands for a national unity government were rejected. The opposition was this week preparing mass protests to press its claim.

Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hizbollah, told supporters last Sunday that the opposition “has to be ready, even on the psychological level, to take to the streets. We might be calling for you 24 hours beforehand, or 12 hours beforehand, or at any time.”

The March 14 parties say the protests would plunge the country into sectarian strife, but this was firmly rejected by Abu Zeinab. “We no longer talk of a Muslim-Christian divide,” he said.

“The Israeli bombing has brought people together. We are now in alliance with the largest Christian party in the country and the Lebanese Communist Party.”

The government flooded Beirut with over 20,000 police and soldiers to try to prevent the potential protests. It has also waged a propaganda campaign blaming the resistance for the war. The city is tense and there are fears of violent confrontations.

Hizbollah, however, says it is calm about the situation. “We do not think Lebanese security forces will oppose the people. The army are our brothers,” said Abu Zeinab.

The US has been pushing the Lebanese government to complete what the Israelis had failed to do during the war – disarming the resistance. A recent deal by the US to sell arms to the Lebanese army has raised the stakes.

“The point of conflict is the question of national unity,” said Abu Zeinab. “We want to create a new equilibrium in the political situation. So either we create a national unity government, or we should have early elections.”

The opposition’s demands flow from the mass support given to the resistance during the war, he added. “The whole country united against an enemy that was killing civilians, bombing homes and destroying bridges. The Lebanese rallied around the resistance because the resistance stood for the defence of the country.

“The strategy of the enemy was to divide the Lebanese against each other, and turn them against the resistance. They failed.

“The Lebanese people understood that this was a national struggle against the US vision of a ‘new Middle East’ – a plan to wipe out any resistance to imperialism. This war was an attempt to subdue the country and its people.

High price

“Although we paid a high price for this war – over a thousand killed and damage to our infrastructure – the Israelis and Americans did not succeed in any of their war aims.

“We defeated their soldiers, shot down their helicopters and destroyed one of their warships. We exposed the weakness of an army that prided itself on its military might and we have exposed Israel’s arrogance.

“The Israelis will retrain their army and get new weapons, but they will wait a long time before confronting the resistance again.”

The United Nations brokered truce that ended the war involved the deployment of thousands of international troops – the so called Unifil forces – across the south of Lebanon.

This has created dangerous instability. One aid worker with the Samidoun solidarity network told Socialist Worker of concerns that international troops could attempt to disarm the resistance.

“Unifil troops started by setting up checkpoints in the south, but not stopping any vehicles. Then they placed barriers at the checkpoints. Then they started stopping cars, but not searching them.

“The next stage will be to begin searches. This would be a serious provocation – especially since Israeli jets continue to fly over the south unopposed.”

Abu Zeinab said, “We have no problem with the international troops, providing that they do not interfere. Unifil should stand aside and allow the Lebanese army to control the south.”

Before the war, the government approved a package of neoliberal reforms that created mass anger across the country. Over a quarter of a million workers demonstrated against these economic policies.

Since the war, Lebanon’s national debt has reached $42 billion – one of the highest per capita in the world – while unemployment has risen from 13 percent to over 20 percent.

The former Hizbollah minister of labour tried to institute an emergency payment to workers laid off during the war, but these plans were blocked by the rest of the government.

Meanwhile the government has been reneging on its promises of speedy reconstruction. And this economic crisis has fuelled the anger against the March 14 government.

However the opposition also faces tricky choices. They could call demonstrations in support of a national unity government, or they could call for more far reaching changes – including abandoning the neoliberal programme and the transformation of the sectarian political system.

A national unity government would only manage the crisis within the present system. It would not to solve Lebanon’s deeper political and economic problems.

The anger across the country would be thrown away if the opposition abandons demands for new elections and fundamental changes by settling for a few more seats in the cabinet.

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