Thursday, December 07, 2006

The crux of the matter

Amid all this talk of civil war, I think a small historical comparison is needed. Since Lebanon’s independence in 1943, the country undergoes civil strife every 15 years on average. (1958 then the 1975-90 war and now 2006)

According to most political scholars two factors are detrimental in the start of civil war: A local one and an international one; a sharp internal division and a similar international rift, which supports the internal one. This was true in 58, in 78 and to a certain degree true today.

In 75, the war ended 15 years later with 150000 dead, 300000 injured and one million displaced (numbers that every Lebanese should learn by heart, especially these days) while in 58 it only took a few months to restore calm.

Several factors caused this difference, among them: Palestinian militancy was much greater in 75 than in 58 and international interventions (US in 58 and Syrian in 76). However, one of the most important factors was the role played by the army.

In the first days of the 58’s conflict the army intervened forcefully and strived to stop the small skirmishes that were blossoming everywhere. But when the President asked the army to side with one of the two parties involved in the conflict the army general refused and confined his brigades to their barracks, waiting until the two warring camps battled it out. A few weeks later the shooting subsided, as the two parties understood that there can be no winners, they backed down and a political solution was reached.

In 75 the same small skirmishes started and the army intervened, but slowly the level of violence increased and the army sided with one of the two parties. This immediately resulted in a split in the army along sectarian lines, which lead to an even higher level of violence, as each side were supported by several well trained and armed army brigades.

Finally if worse come to worse in the upcoming days, the army should not and I stress should NOT side with any faction, it must remain neutral. The army should keep subduing fights, maintaining the peace and protecting governmental buildings (the Presidential Palace, Saray and Parliament). Once the situation escalates beyond the army’s capabilities to handle, it should be confined in the barracks to wait it out.

The crux of the matter is the army, once it crumbles and split than all hope of a fast return to stability will evaporate. And Lebanon will once again face a long plunge into a never ending civil war…
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