The gloves finally came off last week the moment GCC nations officially deemed Hizbollah a terrorist organisation. “Terrorist” is clearly a loaded term and I’m not going to argue the wisdom of the announcement. But bottom line, even if one could contend that the Iranian-backed militant organisation is a bona fide political entity and a partner in the country’s admittedly incompetent, and impotent, government, there is no denying that Lebanon is once again paying for the party’s hubris.
I will leave the political implications of all this to my colleague Michael Young, who writes so eloquently in this paper, but economically Hizbollah has thwarted practically every effort to sustain even the crudest economic cycle. I say “crude” because it would be ingenuous of me to suggest that if Hizbollah did not exist or did not wield such extraordinary power, underpinned by the veiled threat of violence, that Lebanon would have necessarily realised its vast potential.
Our political class is too corrupt, inept and self-interested, but without the Party of God’s onerous suffocating presence, we might have evolved beyond the make-hay-while-the-sun-shines, short-termist approach to economic growth that has defined us for the past 25 years. Now even that has gone and, as I pointed out last week, Lebanon has no one to sell to. The GCC was our bread and butter. Lebanon was its home from home.
One might have some sympathy if Hizbollah had always played with a straight bat, but sadly the party has an extensive rap sheet. It did cover itself in glory in May 2000, when its fighters finally forced the last Israeli soldier out of Lebanon, but instead of swapping the Kalashnikov for mainstream politics, it cynically maintained a martial posture, claiming it had to liberate the Shebaa Farms, a slither of land occupied by Israel that may have been Lebanese, it may have been Syrian. We still don’t know.
From that moment on it was clear that the party’s raison d’être was to act as an adjunct to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, disguised as the National Resistance to all unlawful occupation. All very well, you might argue apart from the fact that one sensed that successive governments, much less the Lebanese people, never really had much of a say in the matter. Lebanon may have prospered in the years after the main Israeli withdrawal, but foreign investors were always aware of the party’s armed presence when considering putting money in Lebanon.
Hizbollah showed its true colours in 2005 when the Cedar Revolution forced the government in Damascus to withdraw its troops and security apparatus. Amid the joy, Hizbollah made it clear whose side it was on, creating the pro-Syrian March 8 bloc to stand in opposition to the pro-independence, pro-democracy, pro-business, March 14 alliance.
One year later, the party stumbled into a catastrophic month-long war with Israel that cost over 1,000 dead, 1 million homeless and $6 billion of material damage. Hizbollah claimed a dubious “Divine Victory”, but many Lebanese objected to the fact that a political party had effectively dictated foreign policy, taking the country into a war it didn’t ask for.
Months after the ceasefire, Hizbollah led the March 8 bloc into an 18-month protest in the middle of Beirut that effectively ripped out the economic heart of the Beirut Central District, an event from which the area has never recovered. And it is the most recent, and arguably most dangerous decision, entering the Syrian civil war on the side of the regime of Bashar Al Assad in late 2011 (most likely at the request of Iran) that has caused the rift with the GCC. Hizbollah members have been implicated in the murder of the former prime minster Rafik Hariri, MP Basil Fuleihan and 20 other innocents on February 14, 2005, while on May 8, 2008, the party staged an attempted coup, effectively taking over Beirut and turning its once sacred weapons on its own people. Since then it has never thought twice about deploying its members onto the streets of the capital when a bit of intimidation of political aggravation has been required.
The party would claim that it is noble and pure and seeking to rid the region from unwelcome entities, while tending to the needs of its constituents. But its record shows that all it has done is create conflict and stymie prosperity at every turn.
And it’s getting rather tiring.
Michael Karam is a freelance writer who lives between Beirut and Brighton.
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