Libano, Micheal Young chiede l’impossibile

(The Daily Star, 11 agosto 2011)

Micheal Young offre come di consueto uno spunto intelligente. Troppo – credo – perché venga ascoltato da Hariri e Nasrallah.

In an interview with Al-Akhbar Wednesday, Samir Geagea, the head of the Lebanese Forces, described Druze leader Walid Jumblatt as the “Sergeant Shultz” of Lebanese politics. In the old television series Hogan’s Heroes, set in a prisoner of war camp in Germany, Shultz was the guard who perennially caught the prisoners engaging in illicit activity, but who, after a bribe or threat, would assure them of his silence: “I see nothing, nothing,” was his catchphrase.


It’s true, Jumblatt has an uncanny gift for willfully forgetting his acrobatic turnarounds. However, one thing the Druze leader has consistently sought to do in recent months is advance internal dialogue to avert discord over the myriad issues dividing the Lebanese. And that comes from his ability to see clearly what lies ahead for Lebanon, particularly what is least reassuring.


What is least reassuring today in the country is the potential for blowback from the ongoing repression in Syria. The regime of President Bashar Assad is doubtless in its death throes. However, these can be drawn out and wreak havoc if the Assads decide to bring their foul temple down on the heads of their countrymen and others. Unfortunately, Lebanon is getting increasingly sucked into this Syrian maelstrom, to its detriment.


This is not an easy situation for the Lebanese to manage. Lebanon is still a place, in theory at least, that guarantees free expression. And what is more meritorious of expression than solidarity with the Syrian people in their struggle against a consortium of criminals that has been butchering them for five months? If Assad rule has a saving grace, it has eluded almost everyone for four decades. On Monday I, too, participated in the gathering at Martyrs Square in support of the Syrian intifada. While such events rarely achieve much, it is essential, particularly for the Lebanese, to take an ethical stance on Syria while reminding several pro-Assad Lebanese parties, who have regularly assaulted anti-Assad demonstrators, that their intimidation will fail.


At the same time, however, Lebanon’s politicians should be careful when using Syrian events to feed their domestic disputes. One’s stomach churns when hearing the parliamentarian Michel Aoun declare that Syrians must resort to the ballot box to articulate their demands, and must regain their senses by embracing their autocrat. Aoun would be pitiable if he believed such drivel, and mendacious if he did not. But what the general says has repercussions, both in Lebanon and Syria, and can only damage communal ties.


The same holds for Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s secretary general. The self-described champion of the downtrodden was the first to side with the Assads against the downtrodden in Syria. His excuse was that if the Syrian regime went, the resistance axis would suffer a mortal blow. Here was a nice way of saying that Hezbollah’s political survival depends on the suffering of the Syrian people. For many Lebanese Sunnis, whose Syrian coreligionists make up the majority now suffering, this statement was taken as a declaration of war.


By the same token, when Saad Hariri comes to the defense of the inhabitants of Hama, a move both laudable and overdue, he must yet be conscious of how this will be perceived by his Lebanese rivals. For many, the former prime minister was making a bid for the loyalty of his Sunni brethren in Syria after the Assads’ downfall, as well as looking to undermine Prime Minister Najib Mikati among his own communal followers. It’s too much to ask of Aoun, Nasrallah and Hariri to avoid politics, but when their statements have a deep impact on sectarian perceptions, in the shadow of what may become a full-fledged sectarian confrontation in Syria, then they must beware.


Here is a proposal that will sound absurd today, as Hariri and Nasrallah remain irreconcilably divided over just about everything. But it is necessary, given the deterioration in Syria and the possibility that the Assads will provoke an armed conflict with devastating consequences for Lebanon, that the two leading Lebanese Sunni and Shiite representatives open channels to one another, and very soon.


As I have argued before, these channels can remain secret and be maintained through trusted aides of both leaders. They need not cover at first more than limited measures required to stabilize conditions on the ground. However, they must also be flexible enough to later be expanded if necessary. A Hariri-Nasrallah exchange would not be a substitute for a broader national dialogue, nor should it become one; but it must be conceived in a medium-term timeframe, because Hezbollah will need such a conduit before long if the Assad regime falls and the party finds itself facing circumstances that compel it to reassess its status with its Lebanese partners.


From Hariri’s perspective, such a channel could create political openings while imposing few concessions. If Hezbollah suffers a major setback in Syria, the former prime minister could find himself with substantial leverage. A direct line to Hezbollah would allow Hariri to address several vital issues with Nasrallah, which could then serve as the basis of a national debate. No one has an advantage in allowing the party to panic and devastate Lebanon in order to protect its own autonomy in the aftermath of a change of regime in Damascus.


Hezbollah won’t disappear when the Assad edifice collapses. Nor is it wise to wait for that outcome before speaking with the party. That’s because Nasrallah may, rashly, feel that he first has to pave the way for such a conversation by improving his own leverage, through military means. It’s best to preempt such an alternative by initiating discussions now, and that applies as much to Hezbollah as to Hariri.


Sooner or later, Hariri and Nasrallah will have to sit and converse, as distasteful as this may be for either man. Lebanon’s fate is already being defined by Sunni-Shiite relations, which are far from satisfactory. Political reconciliation is not in the cards, but the disintegration of Syria is bringing that deadline closer. And when it comes we will need a mechanism to persuade Hezbollah, and more importantly the Shiite community, that its preservation of a massively armed, parallel mini-state is simply no longer tenable.