Friday, September 15, 2006

Hezbollah: strategy of containment or disguised coup d'etat?




To say that Lebanon is divided in two camps is a truism today. A cursory look at the Lebanese medias illustrates this unprecedented level of political polarization and sectarian tension. But the post-July war is not simply a continuation of the pre-war tensions, and could augur a more serious stage in the political division of the country.
In the period ranging from the assassination of PM Hariri to the beginning of the July war, the main division in the country was between the March 14 Movement and the ‘others’. What is meant by this distinction is that the division was between a well-defined political narrative on the one hand, and various opposing forces to it, coming from different perspectives, without a narrative uniting them or legitimizing them, on the other. The original event of the March 14 Movement was the assassination of PM Hariri around which a nationalist narrative of independence and sovereignty was weaved, structuring the domestic political field and the international relations into two camps. The effective culmination of this narrative was the international investigation, which was expected to consolidate the gains of the March 14 Movement by (probably) implicating Syria and (possibly) some of its local allies.
Faced with such a narrative, the opposition to the March 14 Movement, coming from different quarters, not the least being the Hezbollah, attempted during last year to slow down the rise of the movement. The critiques flowed from different corners, un-coordinated, contradictory sometimes, the goal being to mitigate the effects, rather than to eliminate this movement. The strategy of the Hezbollah, for example, was a series of contradicting positions aiming at disturbing the March 14 Movement without facing it upfront: understanding on the electoral law but only partial alliance, participation to the government but opposition to it, media attack on the government but meetings with MP Hariri, etc.
The July war offered these critiques a draft of a political narrative, around which they could unite and that could be opposed to the March 14 narrative. On an international level, the war offered a criterion for defining friends and foes, reversing the March 14 evaluation. Domestically, the war divided the political forces into two camps, the allies and the traitors. These two criteria were weaved around a narrative of resistance and honour, offering a fully formed counterpart to the narrative of independence and sovereignty presented by the March 14 Movement.
The new stage of division of Lebanon is reaching a dangerous turning point for two reasons. The first is the failure of the strategy of containment followed by Hezbollah and its allies in the pre-July war period. With all their critiques and weakening of the parliamentary majority and the government, the Hezbollah was unable to reverse the course of action: the international tribunal is expected to be ratified soon, the military infrastructure of the party is gradually being contained and rendered useless, the international investigation continued unabated, the internationalization of the country reached new heights, etc. Faced with this outcome, the Hezbollah could continue its earlier strategy of containment, which would practically amount to accepting these outcomes. Or the Hezbollah could offer his ‘resistance’ narrative as a national project, and with his allies, try to topple the current government.
Even though, the Hezbollah emerged victorious from the war, it is in a very tight spot, seeing its victory only accelerating the processes it attempted to oppose in the first place. The latest attacks by Hezbollah officials could be a simple exercise in rhetoric aiming at mobilizing their constituencies and disturbing, without toppling, the government. Or, they could illustrate the decision of the party to move from a strategy of containment to a strategy of coup d'etat. And in this case, we are heading for more troubles.

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