Sunday,17 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1265, (8 - 14 October 2015)
Sunday,17 December, 2017
Issue 1265, (8 - 14 October 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Moscow’s divisive plans

Russia’s intervention in Syria has added a new twist to Lebanon’s fractious politics, writes Hassan Al-Qishawi from Beirut

Al-Ahram Weekly

The Russian military presence in Syria is fuelling conflicting passions in Syria, with the allies of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad rejoicing and his foes either furious or stumped for words.

As if the crisis in Yemen was not enough, a country whose Shiite-Sunni conflict has brought the Lebanese to the edges of their seats, or off them altogether, now Syria is shooting sparks into powder kegs next door.

The Shia group Hezbollah cheered the Russian intervention, with reports claiming that it will send more fighters into Syria to help the regime regain areas in the north now that the Russians are providing de factoair cover.

Michel Aoun, the former army general who has his eyes on the Lebanese presidency, may also be celebrating the boost Russia is giving to his Hezbollah allies.

But the Christian community, or at least part of it, is far from pleased with Moscow’s recent moves. Lebanese Forces Party leader Samir Jaja said that the Russians are “playing with fire” in their intervention in Syria.

Sunnis who belong to Future Current are also upset, as they cannot condone any assistance to the Syrian regime, which they blame for major misdeeds, not least the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Al-Hariri.

Leftist politicians, including Sunnis and Christians, are measuring their words. They do not want to go against Moscow, but they are finding the Russian intervention in Syria questionable to say the least.

However, some pan-Arab groups, leftists and Baathists mostly, have deemed the Russian deployment commendable, noting that the alliance between Damascus and Moscow is a longstanding one.

But it will be hard for this sentiment to survive the growing evidence that the Russians are not fighting the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria, but rather punishing Al-Assad’s opponents.

Only the Sunni Islamists in Lebanon have not minced their words, terming the Russian intervention an act of “occupation” and vowing to resist it.

Lebanon’s top Sunni religious authority, the Higher Islamic Council, criticised the Russian intervention in Syria and voiced indignation over the Russian Orthodox Church’s description of the intervention as part of a “holy war.”

As if this were not enough to throw Lebanon’s political scene into convulsions, Saudi Arabia and Iran traded insults over the recent pilgrimage stampede, sending the Sunni-Shiite animosity to an even higher pitch.

To compensate for the above, Lebanon is exercising a level of self-restraint on an unprecedented scale, with officials from the country’s two main blocks, the 14 May and 8 May Alliances, led respectively by the Sunnis and Shiites, engaging in various forms of damage control.

One man that should take credit for the country’s ability to bury its disputes at a time of instability is Nehad Al-Mashnouq, the interior minister, who, although a key figure in Future Current, has managed to get all factions committed to maintaining tight security across the country.

Not even the 5 October attack on a Hezbollah bus in Shtawrah managed to shake the peace. And the sectarian tensions have been buried for a while as the Lebanese try to tackle more urgent matters, such as garbage and electricity.

A session of a parliamentary committee on energy held on 5 October may offer an insight into the turbulent emotions lying just beneath the surface. A dispute over energy policy escalated into a brawl, with MPs from rival factions hurling plastic bottles and insults at each other across the parliamentary tables.

But the country as a whole is holding its breath and trying to act as normally as it can. The Lebanese, who went through a 15-year civil war last time they lost their nerve, are not going to rush into anything foolish. They may be worried and angry, thrilled and joyous, or simply depressed. But they are doing all they can to keep their country together.

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