Across the Bay

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The Islamic Revolution in Lebanon

One of the many problematic assumptions about Hezbollah that we often hear is that they have given up on their project to create a Khomeinist state in Lebanon. The "proof" we're offered is their supposed "tolerance" of skimpily dressed women and of Lebanon's open social life, and thus they do not seek to impose their own ideology on the rest of Lebanon.

Others will add that Hezbollah recognizes that the project of a Khomeinist state is not easily achieved in Lebanon due to its pluralist nature, and so it must be a "long-term" one (leaving aside the fact that this only confirms the endurance of the project!). Needless to say, proponents of this view completely ignore the velayat e-faqih (rule of the jurisprudent) and its consequences.

The problem with this view is that it reduces the project to a matter of strict Islamic mores. This view, therefore, completely misses the point. What if establishing the Khomeinist state is not to be primarily defined by strict Islamist ethics (at least, as they say, "at this stage")? What if what's actually being sought after is a cloning of the structures of the Islamic Revolution regime in Iran (namely the Pasdaran and the supreme guide), and the complete destruction or mutilation of the structures of the Lebanese system?

We are often told that Hezbollah seeks to "reform" the Lebanese system to improve the share of the Lebanese Shiites. Emile Hokayem of the Stimson Center has argued persuasively that this is a myth (as has Michael Young in various op-eds in The Daily Star). Pluralism in the Shiite community and the extension of state authority into (Shiite) Hezbollah-controlled areas are hardly in Hezbollah's interests. In fact, the prevention of that development in the Shiite community is precisely Hezbollah's tool to promote its project.

Hezbollah strives for one thing and one thing only: maintaining its armed status and parallel existence both within and above the system. Think Iran's Pasdaran. In other words, Hezbollah has not joined the political process in order to integrate in it, but rather, to use it to protect its anomalous existence outside it. Under the Syrian occupation, Hezbollah was able to solidify this status, and it used its weapons as a means of intimidation. They and the Syrians then imposed an entire socio-political culture (based on intimidation) to support it. This is now no more.

Here's where we started seeing glimpses of what the project aims to achieve. Tactically, Hezbollah might set minimum goals, all of which however are part of the strategic vision. Existing in a normal political process is not in Hezbollah's interests, and Syria's no longer there to forcibly bend the system to Hezbollah's needs. Therefore, it has sought to completely mutilate the system. If the parliamentary configuration is not to its liking, then Hezbollah will shut down parliamentary life altogether. There goes the major Lebanese institution. What do we have in its place? A "Shura" council of sorts, where Hasan Nasrallah enjoys the status of the "supreme guide" who will have the final say on all decisions.

If that doesn't work, start a war, as Hezbollah also controls (and seeks to maintain and enshrine) the exclusivity to decide war and peace (a collective decision).

What about the executive? Hezbollah seeks to gain veto power in the cabinet, in order to transfer that same order to the executive branch. It will also seek to enshrine its right to continue a parallel armed existence in the ministerial statement of such a cabinet. Even when Hezbollah, under duress, agreed to a government plan that called for a state monopoly over arms and state control over all Lebanese territory, it now seeks to eliminate that agreement (as Emile Lahoud tried to do at the last Arab summit in Riyadh), which was enshrined in international law in UNSC Resolution 1701 (which recalls the earlier UNSCR 1559).

But then, what is the reference for political life in Lebanon? Surely the constitution. Wrong. The reference, as Hezbollah's Mohammad Raad declared yesterday, is the document that Hezbollah drafted with Gen. Michel Aoun. Hezbollah only abides by its own laws. Or, if you prefer, as Hasan Nasrallah put it, it abides by "religious laws" (which, as his deputy Naim Qasim explains, means the velayat e-faqih). But hey, remember, they don't really want to implement that in Lebanon!

Raad declared that only a president who abides by Hezbollah's constitution would be deemed legitimate (by Hezbollah, not parliament!). But it is parliament that elects presidents in Lebanon. Not anymore, Hezbollah and Aoun have declared. If Hezbollah doesn't control all three institutions, then it will make sure to destroy the country until it does. There's no such thing as an electoral cycle or peaceful rotation of power. And meanwhile, they will propose every possible alternative to Lebanese institutions that would set the precedent for the latter's demise and the introduction of Hezbollah law. But hey, they're "integrating" into the political process!

Recently, people jumped up and down that Jumblat "made an opening" to Hezbollah. Apparently they didn't read what Jumblat actually said. Jumblat said that only the state will protect Lebanon, and the state alone will protect Hezbollah, once it's agreed that they would integrate their militia into the Army, thereby abandoning their parallel existence and autonomous decision making. He added that that would happen once we agree to where we left off in the national dialog sessions. And where did we leave off? When we were discussing the status of Hezbollah's arms. It was at that time that Hezbollah decided to launch a coup by initiating a war with Israel, then turning its tactics inwards.

Very clearly, Hezbollah and Syria's orphans in Lebanon were not pleased with that statement. The pro-Hezbollah and pro-Syrian rag al-Diyar put it best, decrying precisely this part in Jumblatt's statement and saying that instead he should have said that the state and Hezbollah would both, in parallel, protect Lebanon (not the "state"). This is verbatim Hezbollah's vision, as evidenced by one of Nasrallah's rabid speeches where he said: "The Resistance will always stand by the Lebanese army, with our weapons, men and blood ... to defend Lebanon." (Emphasis mine.)

The word "by" here is of essence. In Arabic it's "ila janib", which literally means "next to." I.e., Hezbollah will always be "next to," or, "parallel to" the state.

Where does this come from? The Islamic Revolution in Iran. More precisely, from Hezbollah's midwife, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or the Pasdaran.

The status of the Pasdaran in Iran is pretty much what Hezbollah aspires to achieve in Lebanon, with Nasrallah assuming the role of the supreme guide (see also this old post by Abu Kais). Mind you, that Iran too has a parliament, a presidency, and a cabinet. This is the system Hezbollah is after, and it is very much the Khomeinist state. It would also be the end of the Lebanese state. Perhaps, we'll become like Cyprus.