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The Syrian War Takes Root in Lebanon

Following the funeral for Lebanon’s assassinated security chief, various Lebanese political factions and militias have been fighting each other on the streets of Beirut and Tripoli. The fighters are divided on roughly the same lines as in Syria’s civil war: supporters and opponents of Butcher Assad.

The FT reports:

The Lebanese army vowed to take “decisive measures” in response to clashes in Beirut on Monday amid growing concern about the ability of the country’s Sunni leaders to control anger sparked by the assassination of a top intelligence chief. . .

As many as six people were reported to have died in the northern city of Tripoli alone. Two heavily armed neighbourhoods on opposite sides of Lebanon’s sectarian and political dividing lines have sporadically clashed in that city for years but tensions have increased since the Syrian uprising began.

These divisions are part of the same complex, rooted in colonial times, when France carved an independent Lebanon out of Ottoman Syria as a home for pro-French Maronite Christians. In recent times, the Assad clan’s dominance in Syria has reinforced the power of the Shiite Hezbollah movement in southern Lebanon and Beirut.

Modern Lebanon is “a fragile contraption,” Hussein Agha and Robert Malley write in an article for the NY Review of Books. It “is pulled in competing directions: some [Lebanese] would look to a new Sunni-dominated Syria with envy, perhaps a yearning to join. Others would look to it with fright and despair.”

Lebanon will not escape the fight against Assad. The Syria war is already changing political arrangements in Lebanon, with protestors attacking Prime Minister Mikati (a Sunni) for being a Hezbollah lackey. At the same time, Hezbollah has never been forced to balance its priorities so precariously: between ruling Lebanon, supporting Butcher Assad, and continuing the policies that have made it popular among Lebanon’s Shiites and lower classes, Hezbollah is stretched.

As in Syria, this political turmoil won’t be peaceful; the street, not the ballot box, is the battleground, and the Kalashnikov the weapon of choice.

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