I love Lebanon. Love it. There are few cities I have enjoyed more than Beirut, and few vistas as breathtaking as looking over the Bekaa Valley from the top of Mount Lebanon. It should come as no surprise, then, that my heart sank into my stomach when news of the Lebanese government's collapse came over the airwaves.
For those who are uninformed, 10 representatives left Lebanon's ruling coaltion, forcing an election and reorganization in a country whose latest government was cobbled together with international assistance. They left after the Sunni Muslim Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, refused to stop an inquiry into the assassination of his popular brother in 2005. It was originally thought that Syria was involved in the assassination, leading to the Cedar Revolution that saw the Syrian military withdraw from Lebanese territory.
All of the members who withdrew from the government are associated with Hezbollah - in a series of speeches last summer Hezbollah General Secretary Hassan Nasrallah condemned the inquiry, and it is thought that the inquiry will implicate members of Hezbollah in the assassination.
There is indeed great reason for concern; Lebanon is only 20 years removed from one of the most intense and extensive civil conflicts the world has ever known. Lebanon is also one of the linchpins of the Arab-Israeli conflict, with both sides fighting through proxies in the small Levantine nation.
However, some commentators are taking their fearmongering to ridiculous levels, predicting a civil war or a war with Israel immediately. Their fears are largely unfounded. The collapse of the Hariri government would only be the first step to larger conflict. Though the behavior of external actors isn't helping matters, the Lebanese are still a long way from reorganizing into militias and walling themselves up in sectarian enclaves. Cooler heads will likely prevail.
For one thing, the members who withdrew from the government were all Hezbollah members. The western assumption is that all the Muslims in Lebanon support Hezbollah, but I can say from personal experience that it is not the case. The vast majority of Lebanese, Christian, Muslim and others support the militia's struggle against Israel, framing it as a national struggle against an invasive force. They do not support Hezbollah's politics. I would predict that Mr. Nasrallah has overestimated his influence and will lose this battle against Lebanon's growing civil society. When the Special Tribunal releases its indictments, and if it implicates Hezbollah, I doubt that the majority of Lebanese will support those responsible for the assassination of their beloved Rafic Hariri. They just want to work and live out their lives without senseless conflict and bloodshed, and if they are left to themselves by the likes of Israel, Iran and Syria, they might jsut get that chance.
It should come as no surprise that most of the people predicting doom and gloom in Lebanon are conservative - they have a vested religious and geopolitical interest in sewing the seeds of conflict in the Middle East. What else explains their posturing against peace in the Arab Israeli conflict? It would also come as no surprise if they ended up being wrong - as they have been wrong time and again when it comes to Arab affairs.
Here's someone who has it right.