Beirut Bombing Kills Communist Opposition Leader
The victory in Sunday’s polling of the anti-Syrian faction in Lebanese politics has not led to social peace. The coalition of Saad Hariri won in the north in part by having Sunni clerics mount their pulpits in mosques and play on sectarian feelings to defeat Maronite General Michele Aoun’s supporters and other pro-Syrian figures. Ironically, the Syrians originally gerrymandered the north in 2000 so as to give an advantage to the Sunnis over the Christians. In this election, Hariri’s Sunni supporters were anti-Syrian and many of the Christian candidates were pro-Syrian.
Among the primary demands of the victorious parties is the removal of pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud. This aim will be difficult to accomplish, since the opposition has a small majority in parliament and it is not even clear how a president, as opposed to a prime minister, could be removed.
The first major event of the new regime was the assassination of Georges Hawi, a former secretary-general of the Communist Party of Lebanon, who had thrown in with the anti-Syrian opposition. His is the fourth high-profile assassination by bombing in the past year. Many Lebanese believe that Syrian intelligence and/or pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud is behind the assassinations. Gen. Aoun, despite having earlier fought Syria, has defended Lahoud from such charges, saying that they are unfounded. Aoun has about 20 seats for his list in parliament.
The US analysts who called the anti-Syrian movement of last spring, in the wake of the assassination of former prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri, a “Cedar Revolution” or an “Arab Spring” profoundly misread the situation. While it is true that the Syrians had outworn their welcome for most Lebanese, and could be induced to withdraw their troops, Lebanon remains deeply divided, unlike post-election Ukraine, e.g. The Shiite parties, Hizbullah and Amal, support President Lahoud, as does Aoun and his list. Minority factions among the Sunnis and Druze do, as well. But most Sunnis turned against Syria with Hariri’s assassination, and the majority of Druze follow Waleed Jumblatt, who has also come out against Lahoud.
The question is therefore whether a drive to remove the president on the part of Hariri and his allies will so polarize Lebanon as to bring back the social violence of the Civil War years. Hawi’s killing on Tuesday is not a promising omen in that regard.