Lebanon’s prime minister Najib Mikati yesterday appeared to call for something like a unity government, with further signs that the Syrian civil war next door could cause chaos in neighboring Lebanon.
The situation in Beruit remains tense— the latest episode involved the kidnapping Wednesday of over two dozen Syrians (and a Turkish and Saudi national) by the Meqdad clan (a Shi’a group from the Bekaa Valley, a Shi’a region in eastern Lebanon near Syria) in retaliation for the abduction of one of its kinsman in Damascus. Although the isolated kidnappings involve just a handful of Syrians, the incident has left Lebanon very much on guard.
The clan claimed that the kidnapped victims were members of the Free Syrian Army, the main opposition group to Syrian president Syrian president Bashar al-Assad in the ongoing civil war in Syria, a country that’s had an outsized influence on Lebanon for the past three decades.
The clan has released several hostages and has announced that it will not abduct any further victims, but the move was nonetheless troubling for a country that stands more to lose from the escalation of the Syrian civil war than any other country in the Middle East. It caused Air France and other airlines to divert flights from Beirut to other cities after reports of a blockage of the road from the airport to Beirut, and it’s been calamitous enough for Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait to urge their nationals to leave Lebanon.
Another group, the al-Mukhtar al-Thufki brigade, announced that it abducted 10 Free Syrian Army members in Beirut and the Bekaa Valley, and it will furthermore target anyone that is a Free Syrian Army supporter.
Lebanon, which endured a grueling sectarian civil war from the late 1970s through the entire 1980s, has done an admirable job of avoiding spillover from the Syrian chaos for the past year and a half — aside from some unrest in the largely Sunni city of Tripoli on Lebanon’s north coast earlier this year in May, Lebanon has avoided much of the bloodshed and chaos that has enveloped Syria in the past 18 months and Lebanon, despite current tensions, remains far from the hell of its civil war.
It remains to be seen if Mikati can form a new unity government to stand in the face of growing shockwaves from the Syrian war, given that Lebanon’s two main political blocs are defined on the basis of their pro-Syria and anti-Syria stances. A new general election in Lebanon is due in 2013.
Multi-volume books could be written that barely begin to reveal the intricacies of Lebanese politics — it’s safe to say that the confessional system, whereby each of Lebanon’s 18 religious groups are allocated power, is complex. Furthermore, the Syria axis defines Lebanese politics even more than the traditional left-right axis. Continue reading Lebanon remains tense after kidnappings, hopes to avoid Syrian chaos spillover