BEIRUT - Amid the rapidly worsening situation in Lebanon, the government finds
itself too weak and divided to deal either with Israel or Hezbollah.
In turmoil since the assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri in
February 2005, the government of this tiny country of 3.8 million has been struggling
to overcome internal factions, despite free and fair legislative elections that
brought in a new parliament last summer.
"Our government can help solve this crisis as much as it has helped with
so many of our main issues," a businessman in downtown Beirut told IPS.
"And that means they can accomplish exactly nothing."
Divided along the lines of the fractious population of Lebanon, the government
is split primarily on its Syria policy. An inability to bridge this divide has
left the government severely weakened as the war grinds into its third week.
Israeli war planes continue to bomb southern Lebanon. At least nine Israeli
soldiers were killed in fierce fighting with Hezbollah Wednesday while attempting
to take control of the southern Lebanese border town Bint Jbail. Thirteen Israeli
soldiers were injured. Hezbollah is believed to have lost 30 men in the battle.
Israeli commanders claimed earlier that Bint Jbail had been captured. So far,
at least 18 Israeli soldiers have been killed.
Faced with such fighting, to which it is a mere spectator, the government simply
cannot meet Israeli demands to control Hezbollah. Hezbollah fighters most likely
outnumber the Lebanese army. And it is widely known that many in the army are
themselves Hezbollah members.
Hezbollah has a large following, estimated to be as many as two million Shias,
who revere Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. That means that close to 60 percent
of the population follows the Hezbollah leader's every word. Hezbollah can exert
enormous pressure on the fractured government.
The government is weakly positioned partly because it was set up with parliamentary
representation in proportion to sects based on a 1930s census. Following the
end of French colonial rule in 1943, the top government posts were allocated
to particular religious groups.
The president must be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim,
and the speaker of the parliament a Shia Muslim.
The Shia part of the population was far smaller then than today, leading to
disproportionate political representation that has added to the instability
At present, a Christian-Sunni alliance holds the majority in parliament, though
the two together are outnumbered in the general population.
The position is similar to that in Iraq, where people are invited to vote along
sectarian lines, only deepening the divide.
Lebanon's President Emile Lahoud theoretically controls foreign policy and
national security. In reality, he is seen as a pawn of Syria and little more
than a figurehead.
Prime Minister Fouad Siniora has won little respect on domestic issues, and
has found little success on international ones. Nabih Berri, the speaker of
the parliament, is widely believed to be pro-Syria and pro-Hezbollah.
The 128-member parliament is split into three main groups.
The largest coalition, Tayyar al-Mustaqbal (Future Tide), is anti-Syrian and
led by Rafik Hariri's son Saad. It is heavily backed by the United States.
The Amal Party, with the second highest number of seats, is widely supported
by Hezbollah and is the main Shia party in the country. The third and smallest
group, the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), is led by Michel Aoun, a former prime
minister who returned from exile in 2005. The FPM is popular among Christians.
To cap it all, the government faces $2 billion in damage to infrastructure,
and income from tourism has dried up. The government continues to call for a
cease-fire, but it has little means to enforce it. It waits for the rest of
the world to do something about the country.
(Inter Press Service)