Burying Heads in Sand: A Thing of The Past
By: Ibrahim al-Amin
Published Monday, May 14, 2012
When the Lebanese decided to raise the slogan of “dissociation” from developments in Syria, they all assumed that things were headed for a speedy resolution.
Everyone knows Lebanon is as involved in Syrian affairs as Syria is in Lebanese affairs.
This time, however, the stand taken by Lebanon’s Christians toward the Syrian crisis signalled the capitulation of the last group of Lebanese that were seeking to remain relatively aloof from Syria.
They were preceded by the Shia, albeit from the perspective that the regime there is their ally in numerous respects.
For the Sunnis, meanwhile, Syria is the root and they are a branch, living in the Damascus hinterland.
This is the first time that Lebanon in its entirety admits that Syria is our state, or our larger country. It is there that the fate of the western part called Lebanon is determined, and the outcome there will reverberate here.
Moreover, the deeper the Syrian crisis becomes, the more inseparable it seems to get from Lebanon. At the moment of truth, Lebanon ceases to be distinguished by its supposed freedom, in the absence of either accountability or change. We have instead become a reflection of the equation in Syria – where the accounting is determined by a few, in the absence of freedom as well as of change.
There is no longer any difference between the Syrian and Lebanese peoples. Our lot are unable to do a thing. The sectarians in Lebanon have -- with the support of foreign powers and on their behalf -- hijacked the public and packaged them into compartments, so as to prevent them from creating a state. Likewise the sectarians in Syria -- also with foreign backing -- have hijacked a popular protest movement which reflected valid political and social demands, and sought to confine it to a course that can only lead to interminable civil war.
Lebanon has few options today. It cannot take the initiative. It lacks the clout to intervene effectively in any case, and divisions here echo the current divisions in Syria. All the Lebanese can do is wait and see how the crisis there unfolds. And while the players calculate what they stand to profit or lose, depending on how the Syrian winds blow, sections of the population have already begun to pay the price.
The clearest explanation for what has been happening in Tripoli is that the time has come for total engagement with developments in Syria.
The Salafis, intent on increasing their contribution to the battle against the regime there, face unwanted adversaries here – some remnants of the Lebanese state (e.g. the army), plus sections of the population classed as being on the other side (the Alawites in Jabal Muhsin). More of the same can therefore be expected until further notice, as these groups – provided with a popular civilian embrace currently known as the Future Movement – strive to assume an overt role in supporting the Syrian regime’s opponents.
These groups view proponents of “dissociation” as beneficiaries of the regime’s success in striking the opposition. Thus the organized activists in the north – be they civilian members of political parties or religious groups, gunmen, or Syrian workers – are now in the process of freeing themselves from any of the constraints imposed by the “dissociation” game. Nobody can tell where the confrontation that inevitably results will lead.
This explains their reaction to the arrest of someone charged with smuggling weapons or suicide bombers into Syria, and their quest to turn their clash with the state (the army) into a clash with the regime’s community (the Alawites). On both issues, a concerted effort has been made to raise the level of sectarian passions and mobilization. And it is all about one thing, the struggle in Syria.
There have also been battles in the northern Beqaa border area where communal front-lines have been drawn over Syria too. Some have been reported, others kept under wraps. These incidents involve Lebanese groups from the community allied to the regime (local Shia residents), and other groups, both Syrian and Lebanese, opposed to it. The clashes occur as though taking place inside Syria. They employ the same methods: gunfights, kidnappings etc...
Just to make things clear to everyone, the mayor of Ersal, a Future Movement loyalist, announced that everyone in his village would henceforth bear arms and forcibly resist any attempts to apprehend or arrest them. AIi al-Hujairi did not, of course, explain why people in Ersal might face arrest. But all know he was referring to the provision of money, arms and other things to the Syrian opposition. He sees that as normal, rational and justified, and therefore any attempt to prevent it will result in a showdown.
This is how the stage been set for polarization, followed by confrontation, in this region which – along with Akkar, Tripoli and parts of the eastern Beqaa -- has come to be at the heart, rather than the periphery, of the Syrian conflict. Through their complete engagement with it, the divided Lebanese populations of these areas are currently serving notice that there is no point waiting longer, and that the situation cannot be resolved quickly. They are thus duty-bound to become involved in support of one side or the other.
In Syria, all have entered the tunnel of civil war. The regime’s successes in preventing the opposition from establishing political or military strongholds are insufficient to set it on the path to a solution. A genuine solution requires practical steps in parallel to the regime’s security operations, and the demand for Syrians to have a say in the running of their country will not go away.
The regime in Syria cannot choose the opposition it wants. It must not repeat the experience of the Taif crowd in Lebanon, when for 15 years they decided, with Syria’s support, who would represent the Christian opposition. The Syrian regime must acknowledge the opposition as it is, not as it would like it to be. That means taking steps beyond the laws and decrees that have been announced.
For the rites of passage through this tunnel are bloody, and it is connected to Lebanon’s, which sometimes cools down and at other times ignites.
Ibrahim al-Amin is editor-in-chief of Al-Akhbar..
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.