Two recurrent motifs structure the debate on the future of Lebanon. The first is the series of opposition used to characterize the situation: Hong Kong or Hanoi, Paris or Mogadishu, Riviera or Citadel, International Community or Iran, etc. This series of opposition is grafted on the problem of the state-in-the-state, used to describe Hezbollah’s apparatus and monopoly on vital functions of the state.
The main argument is based on a classic reading of state’s prerogatives. After the ‘discovery’ of Hezbollah’s apparatus, it has been argued that the Lebanese state cannot coexist with a non-state actor competing with it and monopolizing the decision of war and peace while regulating the access of the state to a large part of the population. This situation of state-in-the-state cannot last; the notion of the duality of the state and the resistance, used by the Hezbollah to justify its position, has reached its limits.
The problem with this reading relates to the identity of the state: which state is in which? Which state is tolerating the other? Who should be integrated in the other? The latest developments shed some doubts on the usual reading. Increasingly, it seems that the Hezbollah is the one tolerating the Lebanese state, while delegating, willingly or not, part of its sovereign functions to the government.
On a number of accounts, Hezbollah is emerging as the main player in the Lebanese polity, while the state is recessing. One of the attributes of a state is its international recognition; the international system’s exclusive recognition of state actors was one of the main impetuses behind the survival of weak states. Today, two principles of international recognition are competing in Lebanon. The international legitimacy of Hezbollah is supported by the Arab masses and a number of countries while the Lebanese state is relying on the Arab regimes and international community. These two loci of recognition are competing today, with the latest development improving the, still minor, position of the former.
On the level of institutions and popular mobilization, Hezbollah has proven to be more efficient, being able to mobilize in short time impressive resources, both human and financial. The Lebanese state, torn between its historical weakness and the haplessness of its backers, resembles a provincial local government. Moreover, it has consistently failed to mobilize its constituency. Hezbollah managed to harness the power of a modern state while the official state looks like a remnant of feudal power.
Lastly, regarding the legitimation discourse, the competition between two worldviews is reaching its apex. The Lebanese state has adopted a ‘reform-and-democracy’ discourse, as opposed to Hezbollah’s ‘Arab-Israeli conflict’ discourse. The failure of the former discourse, both on a regional and domestic level, with the recognition of the potency of the Israeli-Arab conflicts tipped the balance toward Hezbollah’s vision.
The current developments illustrate the idea that the Hezbollah has turned into the main source of authority while the state is trying to eat away from its prerogatives. Yet, the Hezbollah is still not the sole source of authority. The state is still needed in Lebanon. As with the latest wave of privatization of the state, the state will survive but in an even more diminished form. It will become the sectarian and social safety net for a non-state economic and political project. In the same way that the Neo-Liberal project of the 1990s needed the state to ensure a modicum of social and political stability, Hezbollah will need the state to deal with the rest of the political actors and to ensure the social and economic requirements of the country.