August is a hot summer month, and in some cases, a month of problems. August in Lebanon has been characterized by two problems, which reflect two aspects of the lives and concerns of the people there. The first was the clash that erupted suddenly, amidst rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns, between Hezbollah and the ‘Al-Ahbash’ group, supposedly one of their allies, as a result of a dispute over parking. The second problem is the power shortages suffered by several regions of the country throughout the month, leading to protests, banditry, and clashes with security forces. This has resulted in injuries, and in some cases, has also taken on a sectarian dimension.
The first problem, which was downplayed by the conflicting sides as an isolated incident, despite the deaths, burning and destruction, has developed into a greater controversy with regards to the call launched by political forces to make Beirut a weapons free zone. Hezbollah has refused this [call], stating that their deputies and officials are the weapons of resistance across Lebanon. A Hezbollah member asked: “Do you want regions like the principality of Monaco, [designed] for tourism, summer activities, and gambling, and other [regions] for war?”
It has been acknowledged that the clash at Burj Abi Haidar, as indicated by the evidence, was the result of a personal dispute that got out of hand. Yet other aspects of the evidence, such as the sudden spread of dozens of gunmen, and the nature of the weapons used in the firefight, in the middle of a residential area at the centre of the capital, which has recently become popular with international tourists, strengthens the call for the disarmament of Beirut.
There is a well known fact which no one can deny, namely that the proliferation of weapons in the hands of unorganized, or even organized militia, ultimately creates a state of chaos. Some resort to arms to achieve personal goals, whilst others seek political and factional ones. There have been previous examples of this, the most notable of which was the descent of Hezbollah gunmen upon Beirut before the Doha agreement.
Therefore, no state that values its sovereignty with regards to both the outside world and its own citizens, would allow the presence of weapons in the hands of those that are neither security forces nor military personnel. This is an essential part of the social contract underlying the safety of society and the State, and to waive this contract opens the door for outside parties to intervene. More importantly, the State, despite its prestige and authority, appears weak in the eyes of citizens.
Lebanon is a special case, and all [Lebanese] political factions recognize this. Thus, even those who completely oppose the existence of weapons outside the hands of the state are satisfied with the disarmament of the capital alone, without talking about the rest of the country. This demand seems logical. Why should [rebel] groups and militias be armed with weapons in the heart of residential areas, and among civilians and ordinary people, except if such weapons were part of the internal political process? This is a fact of the matter that everyone knows, yet they avoid raising it for fear of [setting off] an explosion of problems.
The paradox is that while those concerned are busy talking about arms, the issue of electricity, which is a basic necessity affecting people’s lives and the local economy, is seen as a much lower priority in terms of national interests and the national agenda. It is used as a political tool by some against their opponents, but the solution is simply investment, money, stability, and a peaceful atmosphere in order to build power stations. Or perhaps the following slogan should be promoted: “Instead of buying weapons buy electricity!”
*Published by the London-based ASHARQ ALAWSAT on Aug. 31, 2010