Published in Socialist Worker
Bassem Chit - February 26th 2005
The funeral of assassinated former prime minister Hariri saw hundreds of thousands take to the streets in a parade of strength by the Lebanese opposition.
The word on the street was that Syria organised the assassination. Lebanon is filled with rage against the Syrian presence.
The US is using the killing to weaken the Syrian regime. The US withdrew its ambassador after the assassination and has stepped up its rhetoric.
And there is rising tension over UN resolution 1559, drafted by France and the US, which calls for the immediate withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon.
Syria doesn’t want to leave Lebanon because it would lose a considerable stake in the Middle East peace process.
There are also around one million Syrian workers in Lebanon — mainly in unskilled, low paid jobs.
Their earnings represent a way round the sanctions forced on Syria by the US. A large section of the Syrian economy depends on it staying in Lebanon.
The Syrian regime is becoming more isolated in the region and is in great confusion, with the US now on its eastern border in Iraq and Israel to the west. The situation could spell serious trouble for the Baath regime.
The pro-Syrian Lebanese government coalition is also losing its grip. Neither current prime minister Omar Karami nor president Emile Lahoud has come up with a view on what happened. Hariri’s death means the government is getting weaker and the opposition stronger, especially as the opposition captured public sentiments by claiming Hariri as a martyr. The opposition is stirring up anger towards the Syrian regime and channelling it for its own benefit.
A clear split in the Lebanese ruling class is forming, and it is getting more and more severe. The government’s call for discussion and a general reconciliation was refused by the opposition.
Hariri represented the centre in Lebanese politics and stood for neo-liberal policies and privatisation. He was a key character in the Lebanese economy and owned 10 percent of the shares in Solidere, the firm that owns the “centre-ville” city centre development in the capital, Beirut.
He also represented a political welcome for foreign investment in the country, especially from the Gulf states. The Lebanese opposition is formed from a wide range of organisations and coalitions.
The past few years has seen the rise of the Free Patriotic Movement led by Michel Aoun — neo-liberal Lebanese nationalists, whose politics can be summed up in the slogan “Lebanon for the Lebanese”. They a call for a complete withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon and the expulsion of Syrian workers.
Another part of the opposition is Qornet Shehwan, which gathers together a range of Christian parties. They call for better Syrian-Lebanese relations, but they have adopted a more confrontational tone in recent months, especially after the passing of UN resolution 1559.
The Progressive Socialist Party headed by Druze Muslim leader Walid Jumblat is another element in the opposition. Jumblat recently shifted into a total confrontation with the government and Syria. This led the Democratic Left — a Lebanese version of European social democrats—to join the opposition.
Before his death, Hariri too was leaning more and more towards the opposition, although he also tried to hold the centre.
Together the Lebanese opposition is maintaining a strong front and there are fears the government may resort to violence against it. The opposition has declared that they will stick to democratic methods.
But most leaders of the Lebanese opposition were formerly warlords, like many in the government. They may use the situation to push for a more violent confrontation.
In the wake of Hariri’s death, the opposition is also tapping into deep rooted racism in Lebanese society against Syrian workers. They hope to use this to gain more votes in the coming elections.
In the past few days there have been at least two attacks by anonymous groups on Syrian workers and racist sentiments are expressed in the street.
On the streets there is a feeling that either the government or the opposition might resort to armed conflict at some point, which could drive the country into another civil war.
Walid Jumblat has said that all taboos have fallen, and everything is possible. He even called for a Western mandate over Lebanon. The opposition is calling for support from the US and Europe. If there was war, people would not be surprised to see US or European troops in the country.
The opposition has clearly chosen to be the next US ally in Lebanon and has quickly shifted from calling for mending relations with Syria, to supporting the UN resolution 1559. But while the opposition is clearly accusing Syria of killing Hariri, the US and France have stopped short of saying so directly.
The situation should become clearer in the next few weeks and after forthcoming elections.
But for the left in Lebanon it is important not to get caught up in the political debris caused by the split in the ruling class, but to build a political alternative.
We are trying to build a movement to stand against the ruling class that might leading the country towards another civil war. At the same time we reject the Syrian regime’s control over Lebanon. And we firmly reject any attempts of the US or Europe to start a war on Syria.