By Abdulrahman al-Rashed
16 February 2014
Like all Lebanese sects, the Sunnis are in a state of disagreement over their identity ever since the assassination of Rafiq Hariri, the prominent Sunni leader. Ever since his death in 2005, Lebanon’s Sunnis became a major party in the country’s struggle, particularly against the Shiite Hezbollah which is accused of the assassination of Hariri and most assassinations since then. The tensions within the Sunni community increased after Hezbollah rushed to the aid of its ally, the Assad regime, which is besieged by the Syrian popular revolution that it considers part of the Sunni-Shiite struggle in the region.
Rafiq Hariri’s son and Future Movement leader Saad Hariri broke what has become a trend and said that Sunnis in Lebanon do not want to be involved in Syria’s war and its sectarian struggles.
He voiced his support for the Lebanese political system of confessionalism whereby the president must always be a Maronite Christian. Ignoring Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, he called on all Shiite leaders to stand against involving Lebanese Shiites in the Syrian war. Most importantly, he limited the Sunni-Shiite struggle to the armed extremists – namely al-Qaeda and Hezbollah.
It’s no surprise that the Syrian war extended to Beirut where extremists are fighting, Jabhat al-Nusra versus Hezbollah for example. The wall of the Iranian embassy was destroyed in an attack last year, a number of cars exploded in Beirut’s southern suburbs and checkpoints at entry points to those areas. Also, the hunt is on to sniff out booby-trapped cars heading from Sunni cities.
Poking the Wasp’s Nest
Hariri knows that after Hezbollah poked the nest of Sunni wasps in Syria, those wasps will come to haunt the organization whose stronghold is in southern Beirut. Before the war between the extremist Sunnis and Shiites worsened, he decided to adopt an approach that distances Lebanon’s Sunnis from the battle in Syria that is attracting more and more youths to fight over identity every day.
His message is more to the Sunnis than it is to the Shiites since the Shiite decision is still in Hezbollah’s hands. Therefore, there’s no real value in appealing to helpless Shiite leaders.
Lebanon’s Sunnis usually brag that they are a sect with no militia. This is no longer a source of pride ever since extremist groups infiltrated northern Lebanese cities that are predominantly Sunni. What facilitated al-Qaeda’s infiltration of these areas is the fertility of Sunni soil for calls of vengeance against Hezbollah? Many Sunnis are angry at Hezbollah’s domination over Lebanon and its involvement in the war against the Sunni majority’s revolution in Syria. This makes Lebanese Sunnis susceptible to al-Qaeda’s calls for vengeance against Hezbollah.
Hariri must be worried that the sons of the Sunni sect are being dragged towards religious extremism and terrorism. The danger is compounded by the fact that thousands of brainwashed terrorists are arriving from Europe, the U.S. and Central Asia to fight in Syria. In addition to that, there are also Arab fighters. If Lebanese Sunni youths shift towards extremism, they will also fight Hariri and the other Sunni leaders just as they fought their co-religionists in the liberated areas of Syria. That is the worst case scenario. In the case of a victory, Hariri is formulating an early analysis of the Syrian struggle’s repercussions in Lebanon. The first of these repercussions is that Hezbollah will become an orphan when it loses its main ally after the fall of the Assad regime and the terrible war there will consume all of Hezbollah’s capabilities. All this means is that Hezbollah’s future will be worse than its present.
Hariri, who emerged victorious recently in the battle to form a cabinet as he assigned his men the three most important ministerial posts, will consider himself a victor if Assad falls in Syria and Hezbollah becomes weak in Lebanon. It is a dream he never expected after nine years of fear and after living in hiding since the assassination of his father. But it is too early to talk about victories and celebrations because we live in a region marred by fluctuation.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.