Lebanon News

Sectarian strife knocks on Lebanon’s door

(The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

The nationwide anti-government protest movement entered its third month Tuesday. However, the demand for a Cabinet made up of experts and the call for an end to corruption has been overshadowed by infiltrators attempting to incite sectarian strife.

This culminated Monday night when an inexplicable video surfaced of a Lebanese man using appalling language against Shiite religious figures and politicians.

Sectarian rhetoric has increased, and unknown sides are attempting to penetrate the uprising and divert attention from its main goals.

Yes, there are some who accuse foreign states of interfering and, yes, there are those who point the finger at the Shiite duopoly of Hezbollah and Amal.

Regardless of who is sending the infiltrators out onto the streets, this is a dangerous development, with strong similarities to pre-Civil War scenes.

Back in 1975, there were few incidents of violence during daylight hours. But when people finished work and headed home, the chaos and mayhem would begin.

The past few days in Lebanon have echoed those events.

U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon Jan Kubis, who has been highly vocal during the protests, blasted political leaders Tuesday, saying that they are partly responsible for the infiltrators.

“Manipulation and growing infiltration of protests by political activists, radicalization of parts of the [protest] movement, relentless attacks on the security forces [with] stones, incendiary devices and fuel, acts of vandalism, provocations with the aim to unleash sectarian strife - is this what you want, political leaders, for the people of #Lebanon?” he asked, via Twitter. “Because this is what you have given them, so far.” People like Kubis, who has also worked in Afghanistan, speak from experience.

The most troubling aspect of this recent sectarian violence is that political and religious leaders are largely unable to control those who seek to wreak havoc in “defense of their sect.”

On Monday night, a local Shiite mosque used its loudspeaker to call on the young men on the streets to immediately withdraw. These appeals mostly fell upon deaf ears. Even officials from Hezbollah and Amal were unable to convince the men to return to their homes. In many areas of Lebanon, political parties have more sway over their constituents than religious leaders.

One particular scene stood out Monday night. A group of young men began throwing Molotov cocktails, firecrackers and rocks at security forces. The Lebanese Army sprinted toward them. Then one man stood in front of the soldiers, waving a massive flag with “Oh, Hussein,” written across it. The soldiers came to an immediate halt and formed a line.

Tackling the man could have led to a religious flag falling on the ground. At such a sensitive time, such events have the potential to result in even more violence. But more violence may be precisely what those behind the infiltrators really want.

Politicians are always quick to condemn such incidents. But as long as they continue their mudslinging against one another, the infiltrators will have plenty to capitalize on.

The sectarian strife of the Civil War - which Lebanon is still paying the price for - is knocking on the country’s door once again. It is critical that protesters, the political elite and security forces do not allow it in.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 18, 2019, on page 2.

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