“My people will remember me when their circumstances worsen… as the moon is sorely missed in a dark night.” (Abu Firas al-Hamdani)
The goals of those who plan political assassinations often exceed the mere removal of an obstacle standing in their way. These goals include important elements and considerations such as the timing of the crime, the cost, and their intended outcome.
There have been several terrible political assassinations in Lebanon after the outbreak of the Lebanese civil war, and although every assassination is a heinous crime, one should differentiate between the “assassination that includes a message,” the “vengeful and cruel assassination,” and the “strategic assassination.” The third, which is the most dangerous of all, aims to either sow seeds of discord or eradicate an active and powerful political powerbase from the scene.
The assassinations of Kamal Jumblatt in 1977, Rafiq Hariri in 2005, Pierre Amin Gemayel in 2006, and Wissam al-Hassan in 2012 are all assassinations of the third type, as they combine the sowing of the seeds to exterminate a political powerbase. The assassinations’ planners made sure that the timing was perfect, the cost acceptable and tragic political outcome was exactly the desired one.
Thus, it becomes incumbent on any party in Lebanon, as well as those Arab players interested in Lebanese politics, to show prudence and awareness. They need to understand the true background of Wissam al-Hassan’s assassination and look at its timing, as well as the tactics and strategy employed in executing it.
It is no coincidence that eliminating al-Hassan from the scene comes against the background of the deterioration of the Syrian situation, particularly, the declared involvement of Lebanese groups in the ongoing violence; whether fighting with the army of Bashar al-Assad’s regime, or being active for the relief and political support against the regime after deciding to side with the Syrian people against their murderers.
It is not surprising, either, that the crime took place during U.S. presidential elections’ countdown with all the surrounding complexity and caution considerations; including the obvious reluctance of Washington to drag itself into another Middle East quagmire during the election campaign.
Moreover, without rushing to blame any side, it is normal that Iran, which takes pride in “confronting” the West and Israel, should opt for “the best means of defense is the offence” strategy. This is exactly what it has been doing during the past years throughout the Middle East region beginning with Iraq and including Bahrain, Yemen, Sudan, Egypt, Gaza and finally in Lebanon and Syria. Is it logical for Iran to prefer fighting for its regional interest and “partitioning the Middle East cake” in the streets of Beirut, in the mountains of Yemen and on the ruins of Homs, Aleppo and Damascus... rather than having to fight within its territory?
Then, we have a very serious issue here which is sectarianism. The Syrian regime has been specifically keen to depict that its war against its own people as a war against religious extremism. Of course, the implicit intention is that it is fighting against “Sunni extremism,” noting that Damascus’ “non-Sunni” regional ally, i.e. Iran, has nothing to do with secularism or religious openness. Thus, who will decide who is more extremist … the supporters of the “Brotherhood” or “Salafist” Sunnis or the “Wilayat al-Faqih” (the Guardianship of the Jurist) Shiites?
Today, with the prolongation of the repressive massacres in Syria, all the walls have fallen and Syria is now perceived by many as a legal “land of jihad.” As for the fragments and “Jihadist” groups that are being chased in several places around the world, they have found what they view as a suitable destination for their Jihad and martyrdom objectives. Regardless their real size on the battlefield or their political weight within Syria, just mentioning these fragments and groups has become an “excuse” for the Damascus regime and its allies to continue the genocide, after overstating the Jihadist threat and marketing it.
Going back to Lebanon...
Since 2005, there two major loosely-knotted and broadly-based coalitions between political and sectarian blocs have existed; namely “March 14” and “March 8.” Both have been formed on the bases of the “least common denominator” and the “enemy’s enemy is my friend.” Past experiences have shown in recent years, the fragility of the two coalitions in terms of the lack of solid principles that are supposed to be the pillar of any serious political grouping. But there are two salient differences between the two coalitions’ circumstances:
The first is the presence of a financial and military “maestro” in the “March 8”, which is able to control, decide and mobilize the mass, while “March 14” lacks such a “maestro”.
The second is the disparity in the strength of the regional axes’ commitment in supporting the coalition that lies under their wings. “March 8” coalition enjoys direct and full financial, security and military sponsorship from its supporting regional powers, while “March 14” has never enjoyed that level of regional and international support.
Following MP Michel Aoun’s destroying the unity of the Christians and the diminishing importance of the Druze due to demographic realities, the battle for political ascendancy in Lebanon has been shaping up as a confrontation between “Political Sunnism” represented by the Future Movement, and the “Political Shiism” represented by Hezbollah and Amal. This, by no means, suggests there is no pluralism within the two major communities. Actually, there is pluralism, which is why the Future Movement has worked hard to weaken the bilateral Shiite dominance, and in return, this duo sought and still seeks to create its own allies within the Sunni scene.
However, the Shiite duo, owing to its weapons and strategic relationship with the Tehran -Damascus axis enjoys a great advantage on the security and military levels, in addition to what they call “clean money” that it receives to finance its public welfare projects that fortify the duo’s control over the destiny of the Shiite community. In contrast, the Future Movement – which is a novice in ideological politics – has almost exclusively enjoyed its position from the projects of public benefit, thanks to Hariri institutions.
However, while the Shiite duo has retained its security and service influence within its direct environment, new rich with political ambitions and connections personalities -- like PM Najib Mikati -- have emerged on the Sunni scene. These emerging personalities have been competing with Hariri in the field of public welfare projects, and their success, even if it proves only temporary, has pushed the Future Movement to address the Sunni masses in a sectarian language, portraying the Sunnis as a “targeted community” whose enemies are keen to marginalize.
Yesterday, Mikati threw down the gauntlet in the face of the Future Movement, announcing that he was withdrawing his prior decision to resign. Perhaps, what pushed him to issue this public challenge, were few things:
- First, the stance of foreign ambassadors who publically feared a vacuum in Lebanon in the absence of an accountable governmental administration; amid the complications of the Syrian crisis and the upcoming U.S. presidential elections.
- Second, the public challenge of Sheikh Mohammed Rashid Qabbani, the Grand Mufti of Lebanon -- now opposed to the Future Movement -- who plainly refused that a Sunni-led government is brought down by street actions. In this he has copied the stance of former Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir who had rejected the attempts to overthrow the Maronite president, Emile Lahoud, in 2005 in the streets. The Mufti regards this as a dangerous precedent that will adversely affect the Sunni prime minister’s situation in the Lebanese political hierarchy.
- Third, the Future Movement has been haste in accusing all those who have expressed their reservations against bringing down the Mikati government conspirators and “accomplices in the axis of Tehran-Damascus,” as well as parties to “The Alliance of Minorities”. Such haste accusation which allude to President Michel Suleiman and MP Walid Jumblatt, would weaken the “March 14” and lose it -- and lose the Future Movement, in particular -- compassion and support of a great number of Christians and Druze; which is something both “March 14” and the Future Movement can ill afford to lose.
- Fourth, the regional powers opposed to the axis of Tehran-Damascus, themselves, are fully aware of the seriousness of the timing of Wissam al-Hassan’s assassination, and therefore, they did not directly call to overthrow the government, especially that the security structure that is now governing the Lebanese status quo, will not be affected by changing the Prime Minister or the government.
Consequently, those who are speaking on behalf of the Sunni community in Lebanon must be keen on its unity and need to be wiser and more responsible.
Beware of turning what has become battle for the Sunni leadership into a battle against the Sunnis or a battle between the Sunnis themselves.
The writer is a columnist at the London-based Asharq al-Awsat, where this article was published on Oct. 29, 2012