06/09/2020, 16.06
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Economic crisis, Covid-19 and confessional divisions threaten Lebanese unity

by Fady Noun

June 6 demonstration in Beirut underline the profound political and religious rifts of the country. The President of the Republic recalls the civil war. Only the presence of the army averted the escalation. Adyan Foundation: "The weakening of state power increases the chances" of reigniting conflict.

Beirut (AsiaNews) - What happened on Saturday 6 June in Lebanon is a stark warning, says the President of the Republic Michel Aoun. "Attacking a religious symbol, whatever the Lebanese community it belongs to, means attacking the Lebanese family as a whole," he said, addressing at the same time an appeal to the "wise men who lived through the events of 1975-76".

And the head of state always launches the warning, with a view to national unity. “It is certainly not through insults, much less aggression that we will be able to live in a dignified way. Nobody can do it to the detriment of others, neither through the use of force, nor with violence. Our strength lies in our national unity."

But what happened on June 6th? Originally, the call for demonstrations launched by various civil society associations had been registered, to revive the protest movement that had emerged in October 2019 and that had led to the fall of the Saad Hariri government. Due to the joint effects of inertia, the new coronavirus pandemic and following the formation of a new government made up of technocrats, this revolt stopped spontaneously on its own.

However, far from the unitary slogans of October 17 on the day of demonstrations of June 6, a wind of internal discord seems to have blown, combined with conflicts of a confessional nature, first of all between Christians and Shiite Muslims, then between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, confirming that the hostilities and reciprocal spites that brooded in the undergrowth of consciences still remain unchanged and unresolved.

Without the presence of the army, stationed in significant numbers in various sectors of Beirut since the early hours of the morning, the inter-confessional conflict could have led to an enormous bloodshed. It was mainly military reinforcements and the arrival of armored vehicles that prevented direct contact between the armed civilians of the two neighborhoods of Barbour and Tarik Jadidé, in the Muslim majority sector of the capital. In any case, the clashes that followed have caused dozens of injuries, both among the ranks of Muslims and among the army troops.

The head of state signaled in his appeal for calm that the attacks on "religious symbols" exacerbated the passions of the crowd. In fact, a series of insulting slogans launched by Shiite protesters against Aisha, the bride of the prophet of Islam, considered the "mother of believers" and revered by the Sunni community, have trended on social networks.

In addition, it should be noted here the appearance of a new slogan launched by some activists: that of the application of United Nations Resolution 1559 of 2004, which calls for the dissolution of all Lebanese militias, and which has contributed to exacerbating the political climate, becoming the detonator of violence. In fact, demanding the application of resolution 1559 means demanding the dismantling of the armed faction of Hezbollah, whose military power and decision-making autonomy has created a state within the state. Its presence, and its multifaceted action, has over time weakened the central government on a political, economic and diplomatic level.

Was it appropriate to leave this theme of vindication among many others to avoid dividing the protest from the outset? Some contest this stance, while others rejoice, claim to have broken a "taboo". Whatever the cause, this theme served - and was foreseeable - to show the deep fractures that continue to connature not only the political life of the country, but its own social fabric. A fracture that can be considered as one of the particular cases of the division between Sunnis and Shiites that has healed throughout the Arab world, from Syria to Yemen.

“We have narrowly avoided catastrophe" assures Massoud Achkar, one of the "wise men who lived the events of the years 1975-76" indicated by the President of the Republic. And it is this politician who comes to add, at the end of the alarmist comments that characterized the day of June 6: "What is missing is a true reconciliation between the Lebanese, at the end of the civil war (1975-1990). Or, in other words, that this fundamental memory work did not take place. In its place there was an amnesty full of doubts, a sort of voluntary amnesia, and in the end the various leaders of the war of the various communities in government of the country emerged. "

Surrounded by an oligarchy just as colorful as they are from a confessional point of view, these war leaders continue to govern and plunder the country, always refractory to the needs of a profound reform that would end up depriving them of their privileges and their profits. All this despite the enormous efforts made by the new government led by Hassane Diab.

Did they understand the "warning signal" the head of state is talking about? To the appeals for calm launched from all sides, Fr. Fadi Daou of the Adyan foundation yesterday added "recommendations for the preservation of civil liberties and peace".

In a note, he began by denouncing "the accumulation of political and financial corruption for which the entire political class is responsible" together with the "degradation of the living conditions of the Lebanese, who every day are getting closer to poverty, hunger, unemployment, with numerous institutions and companies that falter and close their doors ". And he also speaks of the excruciating temptation of young people to abandon their country.

Addressing the population, the army and other constituent bodies of the state from time to time, Fr. Daou has highlighted some of the links in the causal chain that prevents the emergence of a strong and civilian Lebanese state. Actively engaged in civil society, Fr. Fadi Daou perspicaciously notes that "the weakening of state power increases the chances of a civil war". The founder of Adyan, whose audience continues to grow in Lebanon, asked the media at the same time "not to transmit false news and not to foment sectarian distinctions or to promote speeches that encourage hatred, because all mistakes can contribute to trigger a devastating war.

Finally, he asked religious leaders "to openly delegitimize those who exploit religion or faiths to offend the religious symbols of others, invoke discrimination and appear to be the seeds of discord between people" and "not to cover any person involved in corruption ".

While waiting for these recommendations to be followed, one thing is certain: in some fringes of the population and in certain neighborhoods of Beirut, the civil war is still smoldering today and even the slightest spark could set fire to dust. This is even more true in a historical moment in which the country falters under the weight of the economic crisis and the new coronavirus pandemic. Right now Lebanon is advancing on a path bordered by cliffs.

* In the photo, the city center in Beirut on 6 June, surrounded by a cloud of tear gas. Once again. Credit: João Sousa

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