The resurgence of security incidents in Lebanon and rising sectarian tensions following the August 4 explosion in the Port of Beirut are raising fears of the worst, especially that they occurred at a time the state was disintegrating and religious dignitaries are making calls against sectarian discord. Some even go as far as expressing their fears of a resurgence of the Islamic State (IS) organization. How these incidents and resulting comments can be interpreted?
On Thursday, armed clashes broke out in Khaldeh, just south of Beirut, between residents of local Sunni Arab tribes and Hezbollah supporters over Ashoura banners, killing two people and wounding a dozen. (Ashoura is the most important Shiite ritual commemorating the death of Imam Hussein during the Karbala Battle in 680 AD.) A few days earlier in Kaftoun, a Christian village in the District of Koura where a majority of the population supports the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP), two municipal policemen and the mayor's son were killed in the middle of the night. As they stood guard to enforce the coronavirus-related curfew, they were attacked by armed men in a suspicious car, without license plates, who refused to stop at the checkpoint. One of the suspects arrested is a Palestinian refugee from the Beddawi Camp. Moreover, one cannot ignore the arrest on Wednesday in Gemmayzeh of an alleged Syrian jihadist, who, according to the authorities, "was preparing attacks against the police and the army in the area which was devastated by the double explosion of August 4."
The Danger Lurking in Lebanon
Shiite dignitaries reacted quickly. "The party behind the takfirist (Sunni jihadist) security chaos evolving from Kaftoun to Khaldeh is pushing the country into discord that no one will survive," said Sheikh Ali Yassin, president of the Forum of Tyre Ulema. "The responsibility lies with the politicians who support the gangs for personal political gain," the Shiite dignitary added. For his part, the Jaafarite mufti, Sheikh Ahmad Kabalan, warned of "the danger lurking in Lebanon" and said "the country "can no longer tolerate more political maneuvers from any party. Any delay in saving the country means a rise in protests, the dollar rate and prices, at the risk of causing discord and fatal disasters."
In Haret Hreik, in Beirut's southern suburbs, Ali Fadlallah, a cleric, called on the Lebanese "to avoid discord," and on the security and judicial authorities "to treat incidents seriously to prevent their recurrence." A similar warning was voiced by Mufti Hassan Charifeh who, following the Khaldeh incident, denounced "incendiary political statements that have a confessional or sectarian dimension." The warnings were also expressed by the secretary general of the Popular Nasserite Organization, Osama Saad. "Khaldeh's fighting is the result of sectarian mobilization orchestrated by the forces of the authorities to cover their inability to save the country," Saad said. As for the "Arab Clans of Khaldeh", they denounced "a shameless massacre" carried out by Hezbollah and called on the army and the judiciary to do their duty.
These calls came after Hezbollah's secretary general warned of a civil war during a speech on August 14. "In recent days, some have tried to provoke a civil war for political and personal reasons. The Lebanese must be careful. Any political conflict must have a limit: to avoid the overthrow of the state and a civil war," Nasrallah said after a number of parliamentarians resigned in the wake of the August 4 massive blast that devastated the Lebanese capital.
Divergent Political Readings
In this volatile situation, political readings are many, sometimes divergent. According to the director of the Levant Institute for Strategic Affairs, Sami Nader, these incidents are nothing but "manipulation." The pro-March 14 Coalition political analyst noted that the recent sectarian disturbances contradict with the image of a unified population taking to the streets since October 17. "Crowds have then consecrated the end of the war and overcome confessional differences," he said, recalling how the Shiite duo, Amal and Hezbollah, tried "to thwart the popular revolt with violence, by reviving the confessional aspect." Today, Nader said he cannot dismiss the hypothesis that "to escape the will to change, Hezbollah is brandishing the specter of a civil war, and a return of IS."
Karim el-Mufti see things differently. "The context of generalized disintegration, of rejection of the other, of falling into the abyss of chaos" were evoked by the professor-researcher and political scientist. "This chaos favors a return to violence ... This is a process of political and social fragmentation, and the disintegration of society, its banks, its schools, its hospitals...". "The political elites are out of breath and distraught. They are breaking up, like the Aounist family, the Hariri family and even the Shiite duo, Amal and Hezbollah," Mufti said, recalling the clash that pitted supporters of Amal movement against their Hezbollah allies in the village of Loubieh in southern Lebanon on August 21, killing one person and injuring 10 others.
Circles close to Hezbollah refuse to link outbreaks of violence. Kassem Kassir, a political analyst specializing in Islamist movements, explained that the Khaldeh incident was linked to information on the existence of terrorist cells. "These cells want to take advantage of political, partisan and sectarian conflicts," he said. On the other hand, he saw Khaldeh's incident as a Sunni-Shiite conflict over the hanging of a banner of Ashura and the photo of Salim Ayyash (the only person convicted by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri).The incident was the result of "Sunni disappointment with the STL's judgment, internal rifts within the community and calls for confrontation with Hezbollah." All this is taking place in a climate of "extreme political tensions" and "attempts by some parties to reignite discord." But, Kassir said, "no one has any interest in things getting out of hand."
The resurgence of security incidents in Lebanon and rising sectarian tensions following the August 4 explosion in the Port of Beirut are raising fears of the worst, especially that they occurred at a time the state was disintegrating and religious dignitaries are making calls against sectarian discord. Some even go as far as expressing their fears of a resurgence of the Islamic State (IS)...