Friday, January 26, 2007

Lebanon's brewing civil war.

Busy as I have been, it was remiss of me not to at least mention that the first blow in a civil war was struck in Lebanon the other day when the Hariri gangs fought with the opposition in Beirut during the general strike, and three died. We are not allowed to know who killed who, so far. Nor are we told who the 175 wounded are. But according to Fisk, the violence involved Amal protesters and Sunni forces. Meanwhile, the Lebanese Forces, a far right militia and political movement that played a crucial role in the so-called 'Cedar Revolution', are active on behalf of the government.

There is a curious alignment going on. The supporters of Siniora, as Angry Arab points out, are Christian fascists bearing the stars n stripes, and Sunnis bearing Saddam's portrait. They are now complemented by the Walid Jumblatt militias who are busily carrying out sectarian kidnappings. (Angry Arab notes that they are represented in the Socialist International. One has to wonder why the Democratic Left Movement, splitters from the LCP, left-face of neoliberalism, a promiment participant in the March 14th movement, aren't invited). In opposition to these forces are Hezbollah, the Lebanese Communist Party, the trade unions and the Free Patriotic Movement. On the one side, those who by and large collaborated with the US-backed Israeli invasion, and on the other, those who fought to defend the country (and won).

It is hard to forget the hand of the CIA and Mossad in this, especially since Bush administration chose to tell the newspapers that it was planning 'covert' action against Hezbollah. But one shouldn't miss the sense in which the imperialist dimension of this conflict is continuous with the class dimension. The general strike is in part motivated by widespread hostility to Siniora's programme of savage economic 'reform', which includes massive cuts in social security and privatisation of key utilities. The IMF, recognising an ally in despair, are rushing to help the government, with grants to help debt repayments. Israel and the United States are propping up a ruling class based on a narrow and often bitterly reactionary segment of Lebanese society. The reason they miss Hariri so much is not that he was put in power by the Syrian government or that he eventually came to some friction with them, but that he was a billionaire neoliberal who worked Lebanon into a state of massive international debt, thus making the state highly dependent on American support.

Of course, because the Shiite Muslim population tends to be the poorest, class-driven conflict could easily find sectarian expression. This is exactly what the Siniora government is attempting to accomplish with its use of far right Christian gangs to break the strike. The other thing is, the political system of Lebanon is designed in an undemocratic fashion that gives Christians a disproportionate representation even under provisions of the Document for National Reconciliation (the Taif Accord). Aoun was outraged even by the Taif agreement for allowing Syrian troops to remain in Lebanon indefinitely, and was instrumental in organising anti-Syrian protests. Since Hezbollah were the beneficiaries of Syria's presence at the expense of Aoun's army, and since what Hezbollah demands is a rebalancing of the political structure to end the disproportionate Christian hegemony in Lebanese politics, it is remarkable that Hezbollah and Aoun have been able to work together. As was widely remarked at the time, Israel's attempted invasion produced massive solidarity across Lebanon, such that clear majorities of every sect in Lebanon supported Hezbollah's fight. Sectarian political movements were massively damaged - yet, they are operating again with the connivance of the state.