Lebanon needs a new crop of Sunni leaders

There was a time when I considered Beirut as my second home. It was one of my favorite vacation destinations, and I was more than happy to invest heavily in a place I believed had enormous potential. But that was before it evolved into an Iranian satellite hiding behind the facade of a confessional democracy.

Looking at the mess poor Lebanon is in today, I can only cherish wonderful memories and pray for a solution capable of smashing Hezbollah’s suffocating chains. However, I am seriously disappointed to note that the opposition, in particular the Sunni parties, appear to have given up the struggle.

There used to be a fine balance between the political influence of Sunnis and Shiites, who together make up an estimated 52 percent of the country’s 6.9 million population. The precise statistics are unknown. There has been no census since 1932 because the issue is thought to be too sensitive, yet for sure Shiite militias, with the cooperation of certain Christian and Druze capitulators, have seized the upper hand.

Unfortunately, the current Sunni leadership has been so intimidated by Hezbollah — Iran’s armed proxy that has been branded as terrorist by the US and the world — that its role in maintaining Lebanon’s security and economic growth, as well as defending the interests of this core Lebanese community, has been diminished. Decision-making has been replaced by “if you can’t beat them, join them” acquiescence.

Sunni leaders, among others, lack the courage to rock the boat — they are afraid to upset the status quo. They pretend to resist Hassan Nasrallah’s diktats and often attempt to temporarily block parliamentary measures they disagree with, before caving in to the demands of Hezbollah and its political ally, Nabih Berri’s Amal Movement.

Following 29 months of arm-twisting, during which time the country stagnated, in 2016 Hezbollah succeeded in anointing Michel Aoun as president and accepted Saad Hariri’s prime ministerial bid, only to throw boulders in the way of him forming a government. Not content with choosing the president, Hezbollah also muscled in on the province of the PM: The Cabinet portfolio.

Last year, Hariri described himself as “the father of Sunnis” in Lebanon, but whether or not he deserves that title is up for discussion. His late father, Rafik Hariri, who was assassinated by Hezbollah thugs according to the findings of a UN Special Tribunal, was a widely respected and revered prime minister. He negotiated the Taif Agreement that effectively ended the crippling 17-year-long civil war that robbed the lives of more than 120,000 Lebanese citizens. And, as soon as peace and stability reigned, he set about rejuvenating areas of the capital, restoring Downtown Beirut to its former glory, and invigorating the economy by attracting foreign investment. I knew him well. He had a giant personality and personal strength to match. I am sorry to say the same cannot be said for his son.

Saad Hariri has recently blessed Hezbollah’s “right” to keep its weapons. Admittedly he does not have much choice, but why publicly announce that a terror group is free to maintain a private arsenal? Corruption is rife on his watch and the debt-laden economy is tanking. An austerity budget is being implemented, involving cuts to benefits, public services and wages. That was greeted with protests from various sectors last month and, once people feel the pain, there will likely be many more.

Druze leader Walid Jumblatt thinks of himself as a kingmaker and punches above his weight. He is a survivor who changes sides according to the wind. When recently asked about his relationship with Hezbollah, he said: “We view them as an essential power in Lebanon, a political and military power.” Like almost all Lebanese leaders, regardless of sect, Jumblatt refrains from open criticism of Hezbollah.

Lebanon is in dire straits and all it needs now to push it under the ground is for renewed sectarian divisions to erupt. Last week, a terrorist previously imprisoned for links with Daesh bombed a government building in Tripoli, killing two police officers and two soldiers. Around the same time, families from Tripoli whose children had been arrested during protests in Danniyeh some years ago and still await trial took to the streets demanding judicial proceedings.

Out of nowhere, Jumblatt came out with a provocative statement defending Lebanese Sunnis, which was not required. No one was attacking Sunnis or conflating them with terrorists, but he gave the impression that the Sunni community needed him to come to its defense. In reality, there have been no issues between Sunnis and any of the other groups that make up Lebanon’s complex sectarian quilt, yet he took the opportunity to raise tensions where none exist.

“Enough with spreading the theories of spite and hatred against the Sunnis,” he tweeted. “Terrorism has neither religion nor an identity and should be combated through lifting oppression off the detainees by putting them on trial and doing them justice.”

In my view, the absence of strong leadership makes Sunnis easy prey. I would, therefore, urge the Lebanese to dislodge the failed old guard. They should be retired and replaced with leaders who put the country before their own benefit: Leaders like former prime ministers Riad Al-Solh, Saeb Salam and Rafik Hariri — men whose loyalty to their country was absolute and who stood in defense of Sunnis, Christians, Shiites and all who are proud to call themselves Lebanese.


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