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Lebanon’s political Turmoil

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November 15, 2017

Why in news?

  • Recently, Lebanon’s PM ‘Saad Hariri’, surprisingly announced his resignation when he was on a tour to Saudi Arabia.
  • This could potentially plunge the country into political chaos and bring back the Sunni-Shia tensions to the fore.

How is Lebanon’s political set-up constituted?

  • Lebanon has many religions and sects within its borders and has seen many civil wars since its formation.
  • After the end of the 15 years war in 1990, it evolved a complex power sharing arrangement to accommodate all major groups.
  • Accordingly, the Presidency was reserved for a ‘Maronite christian’, the Prime Minister-ship for a ‘Sunni Muslim’ and the parliamentary speaker’s post for a ‘Shia Muslim’.
  • Lebanon has also been a checker-board for geo-political games between Iran & Saudi Arabia - each operating through their respective proxies. 
  • Notably, Hezbollah, a shia’ite pro-Iranian group is very active in the country and controls swathes of territory.

How did the current turn of events unfold?

  • Mr. Hariri, is a Sunni Muslim with close business and political ties with Saudi Arabia.
  • He had formed a coalition with Hezbollah’s political wing (which has Iran’s support) to form the government about a year ago.
  • Since then, Saudis had grown increasingly impatient with Mr. Hariri’s soft approach towards Hezbollah’s militant activities.   
  • Notably, Hezbollah was involved in the Syrian civil war on behalf of President Bashar al-Assad, another Saudi rival.
  • In this backdrop, Mr. Hariri announced his resignation on from Riyadh (Saudi) and blamed Hezbollah and Iran for his decision.
  • Surprisingly, more than a week later he is yet to return to Lebanon and complete the formalities of the resignation.
  • His continued absence has triggered speculation that he was forced by the Saudis to resign and is being held in Riyadh against his will.

How is the anti-Hezbollah alliance taking shape?

  • Israel saw Hezbollah as a treat to its northern border and attacked Lebanon in 2006 to destroying Hezbollah, but failed.
  • Since then, Hezbollah has amassed weapons from Iran and has got battlefield training in the Syrian civil war.
  • Its political arm has also successfully developed enormous popular influence in Lebanon.
  • Saudi Arabia is naturally concerned about this growing military and political clout of an Iranian proxy.
  • Notably, U.S. President Trump has backed Saudi policies in Lebanon and Riyadh also has the silent support of Israel.

How does the future look?

  • Possible War - Saudis would like to see another Sunni leader who takes a confrontational view of Hezbollah to reign Lebanon.
  • It has also asked its citizens to leave Lebanon, signalling potential military action.
  • Given its capabilities and history of resistance, Hezbollah may retaliate if its core interests come under attack.
  • Hope - While the memories of the brutal 1975-90 civil war are still fresh, another civil war would benefit nobody within Lebanon. 
  • Hezbollah should threfore to address the concerns of its coalition partners and work to preserve the delicate political balance.
  • Mr. Hariri should also return home immediately and explain clearly, the reasons for his surprise resignation.

 

Source: The Hindu

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