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Thursday, May 15, 2008

New Civil War and Old Conflicts in Lebanon

Fighting has largely ended between predominantly Sunni supporters of the government and the Shiite opposition group Hezbollah. Last week, the Iranian and Syrian-backed Hezbollah turned against its own people to wrest more political power from the western oriented government. During their violent occupations and armed clashes, the Hezbollah militia brought much of Lebanon's capital, Beirut, and surrounding areas under its control. Its forces controlled most of western Beirut and blockaded the city's port and airport. At least 80 people have been killed and over 200 have been wounded in the recent fighting, which is the country's worst civil crisis since the end of the 1975-1990 civil war. After six days of clashes between Hezbollah fighters and pro-government gunmen, the previously neutral Lebanese army stepped up patrols to restore order.

The strife erupted after the government, under the US-backed Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, sacked the pro-Shiite head of security at Beirut airport and announced it was taking action against Hezbollah’s private telephone network on May 8. The government declared Hezbollah’s military communications network as a threat to Lebanon’s sovereignty. Hezbollah’s leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, labelled the government’s decisions a “declaration of war”, as the phone network was an essential part of Hezbollah’s weapon campaign. The actions of Lebanon's Shiite militant Hezbollah movement against the Lebanese government tend to be understood as a confirmation of who has the power in the state. The government's decision to withdraw the measures against Hezbollah marks a significant short-term victory for the Shiites.

What are the reasons for the crisis? Over the past three years, there have been continuous political problems between the government and Hezbollah. The situation worsened after the assassination of Rafik Hariri in 2005, and the following Cedar Revolution that lasted until 1976 and ultimately ended the Syrian military occupation of Lebanon. Further assassinations of members of the parliament and public officials spilled over into violence in the streets of Beirut. The wider political divisions and ongoing unstable situation has forced the Lebanese Parliament to postpone a vote to pick a new president. Lebanon has been without a president since Emile Lahoud gave up the post last November. In Lebanon, there is an agreement that the president must be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister is a Sunni Muslim, and the speaker of the National Assembly is a Shiite Muslim. The Christian group makes up about 39% of the total population and are mainly Maronite Catholic and Greek Orthodox. The biggest religious group is Muslim, which accounts for almost 60% of the population (Shiite, Sunni, Druze).

1 comment:

steve said...

Hi Moritz,
interesting post! keep on working!