War and peace according to the Saudi

The first week of November was tumultuous: the Paradise papers were unveiled by the same German journalists who unveiled the Panama papers; the Crown prince of Saudi Arabia ordered multiple arrests of Saudi royal figures and businessmen; Prime minister Saad Hariri of Lebanon announced his “resignation” hours after he arrived in Riyadh and hours before or right in the middle of the arrests, sparking a lashing out by Hezbollah; and a series of accusations thrown back and forth from one ideological end of the region to the other. Remember those Saudi threats concerning Lebanese nationals working within Saudi borders in March 2016? Well, they’ve resurfaced: Saudi nationals living in Lebanon are being advised to leave and come home. Not to mention there is a weird scenario analysts do not want to sideline: apparently, Saudi Arabia has asked Israel to declare war on Hezbollah. As if the situation wasn’t dire enough and people have to believe that..

All of the mentioned above happened within days of each other and doesn’t look like a coincidence. The New York Times has called Mohammed bin Salman a modernist, but its treasure cove of articles on the issue are far from depicting a modernist man. He seems more like someone who has prepared a lot behind the Veil and has now decided to go public with it. It also seems like those in power are scared of something and want to display this front of “citizens’ trust” by enacting certain key reforms. However it is not reflected in the foreign policy, which remains the same. As the war in Yemen is ending, and the two belligerent Muslim States show no signs of bringing aid to end the humanitarian crisis, the question of Lebanese sovereignty comes back to the table. Once again, the Lebanese find themselves in a tight spot since their country is yet again being used as a bargaining chip by not two but several entities. Both Saudi Arabia and Iran have made it clear they are key actors on the political scene.

What is also clear is that the Lebanese have had enough of being pushed around; the international community has gathered around Lebanon but one of the actors who is present on the joint declaration is a representative from the Arab League, major entity headed in part by Saudi Arabia and its allies. France, another of the actors, has had a very fishy way of advising and mediating this situation. Hariri found himself in France, but to what end? Just as fast as they united, the Lebanese became divided on the question: has he resigned; is his power legitimate; what is the nature of his stay in France; on whose side does France stand? Remarkably, no one has said a word about Hezbollah starting a war, or Hezbollah’s more-than-a-simple-political-force stance.. That might ultimately be the most important set of issues.

Now, Hariri is back in Lebanon but nothing has been said. Talk is a beautiful concept but it leaves out more than it includes. Silence speaks volumes about the position of an official or individual than spoken words do. He has spoken but not about what he plans to do. To make the situation more gravissime, Saudi Arabia, in its modern historical capacity as the Arab leader of the Arab world, organized a summit for regional security. Like the events of the first November days, this seems to come out of the blue. Why a summit now? Who is the threat? Of course for Arab countries, this points to Iran. Nevertheless, rumors aside, it could be Israel also, or even Turkey, for those who want to check all the possible security threats. The authoritarian regime in Turkey might be a threat for Saudi Arabia, but then the more-than-200 arrests have been enough of a threat already. Lebanon was not even present at this summit. L’Orient-Le-Jour, the francophone Lebanese newspaper, has followed the month-long situation-into-situation epopée. Not that they are having a field day but they have found the link between all this month’s events, which is much more than what the international newspapers have reported. The latter are more interested in analyzing the Saudi Crown Prince and questioning his image and extent of his actions.

That said, Lebanon has this chance of breaking all the chains. It is the most extreme view possible in today’s Middle East but it is the one credible longterm possibility for the Lebanese State. Do the Lebanese want a legitimate government? Yes. That is what unifies the entire society. Do they want a legitimate State? Yes. They also want the democratic laws, which theoretically already exist but are always prone to sectarian interpretation. Lebanon is theoretically a democratic State, even with its weird unique sectarian system, which is under fire from the Middle Eastern international community minus one state but also from the Lebanese civil society. The former wants a Muslim Arab-or-Iranian model and the latter would like a more democratic-without-sectarian-action regime because experience has shown the system is broken. Lebanese social media is extremely funny and enriching: every joke speaks a truth and the Lebanese know their country. So they have a choice: they can continue this suffocating trend or they can continue to break out. The movement already started with women’s marches, “U Stink” and Beirut My City. Despite roadblocks, it’s off to a good start. The fight this month has continued. Lebanese women have spoken about sexual violence amongst other women’s issues. However, it must continue, they must push on.

Lebanon could very well make a stance and push out all influences: Arab or Iranian. It doesn’t help if one government official decides to quit because the other side doesn’t change its ways. The government must move forward and become that independent entity it says it is already. The country must move forward in a small but drastic dramatic way: either reform the system (and this time implement those reforms) or involve the entire Lebanese civil society to brainstorm on how to transform the system. The State is off to a brillant start: earlier in 2017, the government approved a plan, which calls for the inclusion of the Lebanese diaspora in the democratic process (voting, elections, and referendums). Maybe that’s why Saudi Arabia isn’t too happy. Hezbollah probably isn’t happy either. But, conflict or no conflict, they need to remember that they cannot just meddle in and mess around with Lebanon. Unfortunately politicians never learn when it comes to foreign and geopolitical interests. That conflict, which analysts say will happen, is already categorized as the most polemic, most destructive for the Middle East. By whose hand? Saudi Arabia and Iran, the usual culprits…

 

 

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