Fawaz Gerges writes:
Once again, Lebanon is on the brink of major social and political upheaval. Rumours of an impending armed clash between Hezbollah and the pro-western governing coalition have spread like wildfire among the Lebanese people, who are hoarding food and arms in anticipation of the worst.
On the surface of it, the current crisis revolves around a United Nations tribunal set up to investigate the 2005 assassination of prime minister Rafik Hariri in 2005. An indictment from the tribunal is imminent; there is increasing evidence that the tribunal will accuse members of Hezbollah, the Shia-dominated resistance movement, as having played a central role in the assassination. If true, this could provide the spark that ignites the next confrontation.
Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, has repeatedly dismissed the tribunal as an “American-Israeli” tool intended to incite sectarian strife in Lebanon. He has warned that the looming indictment will be an act of war against his group. He has demanded that the Lebanese government – led by Saad Hariri, the son of the late prime minister – distance itself from the UN tribunal and renounce it before the indictment is released.
On a deeper level, the standoff reflects a broader institutional crisis. Lebanon’s institutions are dysfunctional and defective; they have failed dismally to mediate conflict among rival groups, as well as to integrate rising social forces into the political process. The Hariri tribunal is a case in point. Lebanon’s three major institutions, the presidency, the cabinet and the parliament, are paralysed, unable to solve the impending crisis.