Friday, December 30, 2011

Sunnis, Shia, and Saad

It will soon be a year since Hezbollah and its allies brought down the government of Saad Hariri, through fair means and foul. But no one walked the former prime minister to Lebanon’s door and told him to get lost. That decision he appears to have implemented freely.

Last April, Hariri left Beirut, allegedly for security reasons. Yet even those in his circle no longer employ that lame excuse when justifying why Hariri has been gone for so long. Explanations abound and some may be true: Hariri’s patronage power is not what it was because of cash flow problems; the former prime minister’s Saudi patrons do not want him in Lebanon while the situation in Syria festers, to avoid his being dragged into the conflict, and they with him; or, more prosaically, Hariri prefers to be outside Lebanon while Najib Mikati is prime minister, to return in strength if the government falls.    

Whatever the answer, or combination of answers, there is a far more serious problem that Hariri, and Hariri alone, must address: A good chance exists, if the vacuum in the Sunni community persists, that extremist elements will emerge to seize the communal initiative. Already, in Saida a hitherto unknown cleric, Ahmad Assir, is bringing in the crowds with worrisome anti-Shia rhetoric, and will almost certainly have to be reckoned with in future elections.

That may not bother the Saudis, but it really should bother Hariri. Any form of religious fanaticism challenges the vision that he and his father purported to champion--that of a free-wheeling Lebanon, open in all directions, pluralistic, tolerant, and stable. The principal beef leveled by the Future Movement against Hezbollah, and a legitimate one, is that the party has in one way or another undermined all those qualities depending on the circumstances.

What are Saad Hariri’s options? He surely recognizes that his absence is harmful to his political prospects. If the Saudis are behind his decision to stay away, then he has to choose between being a Lebanese politician and a Saudi ally. If Hariri opts for the first choice he may lose in the short term; but he has enough political capital in his community to then impose his choices on the Saudi sponsors.

In the end, Hariri was elected by Lebanese in 2005 and 2009. There are those who paid a price for their allegiance during the unsettled period in between. The former prime minister owes something to his political base, and that obligation cannot be repaid from afar.

Then there is the patronage pretext. The Future Movement’s finances have been under stress in the last year and more. Projects that were to be financed by Hariri money have been on hold, and the former prime minister’s political debts are said to be substantial. Saad Hariri will not soon be dining in soup kitchens, but personal wealth and political money are not the same thing, even if they do overlap.

Then there is the question of what Hariri’s cash flow problems tell us about Saudi attitudes toward him. There was much idle speculation in the past that the Saudis had turned against the former prime minister, only for them to award him a lucrative contract soon thereafter. The relationship is doubtless a complex one, rendered more complex by the changes in the kingdom resulting from succession questions. If so, Hariri may be right not to rock the boat, but that calculation is made on Saudi, not Lebanese, time.

His supporters in Lebanon would again reply that the last they heard, and voted, Hariri was Lebanese. Patronage goes a long way in our political system, but given the polarization in the country, Hariri can offer something else that is compelling, by way of ideas. That he has limited financial reserves to toss around may not be so damaging if he recasts his role, depicting himself as the head of an apprehensive Sunni community which he intends to guide through hard times.

For Hariri and his acolytes to contemplate such a project, they must break away from their focus on the shortcomings of Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s government, and clarify what they stand for, not against. Their being reactive has allowed Mikati to retain the upper hand, the dysfunctional nature of his cabinet notwithstanding. March 14 has offered no credible riposte to the fact that Mikati has delivered precisely where the previous majority said he could not deliver.

But one thing Mikati does not have is the political weight to reassert control over the menacing fringes of his community. Only Hariri can do that, and the effort requires him to be in Lebanon, working his networks carefully to compensate for the fact that many of the Islamists are funded by Gulf countries. The uprising in Syria has become sectarian, with ominous repercussions for the Lebanese communities, among them greater tension between Sunnis and Shia.

And that’s not all. If Hariri’s uneasy Christian partners see the Sunni community drifting toward the zealots, they will begin re-examining their political alliances. This may conceivably shatter the coalition Hariri spent years trying to build and hold together.

Hariri and his entourage insist the former prime minister is not down and out. Politically he has no reason to be, not least if the regime of Bashar Assad disintegrates in the coming months. But Hariri can’t afford to be Godot--someone many Lebanese will wait for, without assurances that he will reappear. Serious politics is about the here and now, not an indefinite future. Hariri must come home, whatever the cost, to help contain the sectarian antagonisms rising all around.

1 comment:

Martin Timothy said...

The Koran condemns "schismatics" in no uncertain terms, who are the ones going on with "Sunni" this or "Shia" that .. real Moslems cast truth at falsehood, according to the following stricture in the Koran.

In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
Cast truth against falsehood
The Koran: Chapter 21, verse 18

And despise schismatics, and false Moslems who fail to "cast truth" about equally .. 60,000 or so Jews failed to turn up for work at the WTC, 11 September 2001, whence allegedly hijacked aircraft, were flown into the World Trade Center in New York.

In an attack blamed on Arabs, which became the impetus for the current wars against all and sundry, in the name of the War on Terror .. Mossad agents filming the drama amid “evident Jewbilation,” and Put Options on airline stocks, that made hundreds of millions traced to Mossad HQ in Yisrael, says Jews did it. .. Cruise Missile at the Pentagon on 911 .. .. Guided Missile at the WTC in New York on 911.

I similarly castigate all Persian, Iranian, Middle Eastern, Indonesian, and the Atalanta and Chicago False Moslem congregations in the United States, as unbelievers of the worst kind, for similarly failing to "cast truth," in a matter of such vital importance as illegal war!

Agriculture, writing, and the domestication of animals, all originated in the Tigris Euphrates region called Iraq, the tribes that have been located there since the time of Adam, are the Sunni.

The Shia are every one else, the Sunni are often don’t do the manual chores, so they have been bringing in workers from other places for centuries, these workers do not usually attend Sunni mosques, which are most often built and maintained by a single extended family.

They usually attend to their religious affairs, in Mosques that are located in working class areas of the city, that have become known as Shia Mosques.

At no time has war or conflict between the two sectors of society, been permitted, either under secular law, or within the strictures of Islam, and all parties are aware, that murder is met with speedy and deadly retaliation, according to the instruction in the Koran.