Despite tensions Lebanon remains at peace. Political uncertainty at home and unwanted regional and international intervention have as yet failed to ignite the supposed tinderbox that is Lebanon. Is this because Lebanon may, in fact, not be the tinderbox every one assumes it is?
Many of the factors that drove the country to war in 1975/76 are still apparent in 2008. Economic disparities have not been reduced, in fact, they may be more pronounced than ever before. Political inequalities between the different sects continues to be enshrined in a constitution that has become impractical and outdated in the modern Lebanese context. The Israeli-Palestinian/Arab conflict still exacerbates regional tensions and as the events of July 2006 remind us has the ability to spill-over into Lebanon in a profoundly destructive manner. However, regardless of these continuing problems events of recent days suggests that today, politics in Lebanon is very different from that which existed in the 1970s, in a very encouraging way.
Evidence of the power of negotiation and consensus amongst the different elements in Lebanese society provide some basis for optimism that peace and stability will prevail. Recent statements as reported in the Daliy Star on Feb 15 suggest that such optimism may not be misconceived:
Hariri’s son Saad, MP and leader of the majority in Parliament, in addressing the opposition appealed to the instincts of his wiser colleagues and supporters, promising that “our hand is extended and will remain extended, no matter what the difficulties… The leader of Hizbullah, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, spoke shortly thereafter at the funeral of another slain Lebanese, resistance icon Imad Mughniyeh. Addressing another large crowd in Rweiss, Nasrallah responded by saying that “when we see that the extended hand is sincere, it will only be met by an extended hand… (http://www.dailystar.com.lb/article.asp?edition_id=1&article_id=88975&categ_id=17).
Signals are that Lebanon’s political leaders and people alike have much more invested in peace than a resumption of conflict, the memory of the pain, suffering and devastation wrought by fifteen years of civil war certainly play some part in the hesitancy of all actors to inflame the current situation. However, there is one other factor at work that deserves some commentary.
A sense of what it really means to be Lebanese may actually exist today in a way that it has never done so before. For a large proportion of the population Lebanese identity may have a salience like never before. The assassination of Rafik Hariri, and the events precipitated by that event, served to initiate the bridging of the sectarian divide. It was almost a founding myth, and in time may in fact become the moment that Lebanon as a nation was “imagined”. The July 2006 war continued this process of constructing a common Lebanese identity out of shared adversity, and a common enemy, and also in time may become a moment remembered for its importance to what it means to be Lebanese.
While Lebanese identity has not as yet subsumed sectarian or regional allegiances there has been a significant move in the direction of cross-sectarian political affiliations and the formation of a Lebanese identity that has some capacity to transcend the narrow sectarianism that has been institutionalised in the consociational system. The political tensions and uncertainty over the few months, in particular, demonstrate the positive elements of Lebanese politics and that the future may be far more encouraging for Lebanon than is often represented.