Despite Hariri’s resignation, the Lebanese revolt may still flutter and wither away

by Claude Salhani

With the euphoria surrounding Lebanon’s popular demonstrations that left the country at a standstill and grabbed the world’s attention, forcing the prime minister to resign, the big question is: What’s next?

Not counting a few scuffles, the movement has been largely peaceful with citizens from all walks of life gathering in denouncing flagrant government corruption and other ills the country has suffered over the past three decades.

There was a strong sense of hope that things would change this time. Regrettably, in Lebanon, the more things change, the more they are the same.

Or are they?

It took almost two weeks of demonstrations to convince Prime Minister Saad Hariri to announce his resignation. It appears that the power of the people has prevailed with the prime minister resigning and three ministers announcing they were leaving the government.

The resignations come on the heels of Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah calling for Hariri not to resign. Sources in Beirut said Nasrallah twice tried to convince Hariri not to quit, saying the protests would eventually die out.

While the protesters may have won the first round in the latest Lebanese debacle, the game is far from over.

Hezbollah represents the largest force in the country with practically unlimited financial and military support from Iran. Hezbollah’s leaders and their Iranian backers are unlikely to raise their hands, accept defeat and join the opposition, as would be the practice in most democracies.

Hezbollah has far too much at stake to accept a political defeat gracefully.

After being hailed as a hero for being the only Arab force to have defeated Israel and ending the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon, Hezbollah today is seen as a villain that will not stop meddling in Lebanon’s domestic affairs on behalf of its master, Iran.

The problem with Hezbollah is that it has gone from helping solve the problem to becoming the problem. The Party of God is too big and too powerful for its own good — as well as for the good of the country.

Its intervention in Syria to help bail out Syrian President Bashar Assad transformed what was supposed to be a national party into a regional powerhouse.

For most Lebanese it was heartwarming to see people from all walks of life, all religious beliefs, all religious denominations and all political parties participate in the protests. It rekindled hope among many Lebanese. Some described this as a new revolution.

Protesters rejoiced when learning of Hariri’s resignation. However, this is but one item on a long list of demands.

Change is inevitable. It will come about sooner or later despite Hezbollah’s stand today.

The Party of God can choose to be pro Lebanon or its members can continue selling their souls to the devil.

Nasrallah’s advice to Hariri was to ignore the protesters who, as days go by and with winter approaching, will lose interest and move on.

That is not the solution.

The solution is getting Hezbollah to join the rest of the country and not insist on being above the law. As long as Hezbollah places foreign interests before the interests of Lebanon, it is hard to see a viable solution.

It is not in the interest of the mullahs governing Iran and pulling Hezbollah’s strings to see sectarianism replaced by an independent, non-sectarian and free society.

Why would Iran and Hezbollah voluntarily cede the power they have gained?

Hezbollah remains the predominant power in Lebanon with 13 seats in parliament and three cabinet posts. Why would it give that up?

Hezbollah said the changes demanded by the demonstrators could push Lebanon into chaos. Nasrallah warned that this could take the country back to a civil war.

Nasrallah may have good reasons to be worried because cracks are showing in Hezbollah’s support base as sympathisers ask why he did not do more to combat corruption in the government.

There is no valid reason why replacing a bunch of corrupt politicians should reignite the civil war unless, of course, the rekindling is provided by Nasrallah and those who do not find it in their interest to have Lebanon on track for prosperity.

Claude Salhani is a regular columnist for The Arab Weekly.

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