Why Lebanon hasn't slipped into civil war
Rival factions have worked hard to defuse points of conflict.
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Lebanon is full of paradoxes. On Feb. 14, Beirut hosted two huge public gatherings, organized by diametrically opposed forces. In the morning there was a large, open-air commemoration of the third anniversary of Hariri's killing, and in the afternoon Hizbullah hosted an equally large, mainly indoor, funeral for its key military operative, Imad Mughniyeh, killed in Syria two days earlier. Despite the potential for clashes that day, there were none.Skip to next paragraph
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But we should also note that inside Lebanon, Hizbullah and many other factions have all worked hard together to defuse potential points of conflict. They did this in late January after clashes between Lebanese Army troops and Shiite groups protesting price hikes. And they did it again this week, after turf clashes erupted between Shiites and Sunnis in southwest Beirut.
In the West, Hizbullah is known mainly for its acts of anti-Israeli and anti-Western violence. But in Lebanon, it's a full part of the political game, having run – and won – in parliamentary elections since 1992. (Also significant: Much of its political weight comes from its alliance with the Free Patriotic Movement, whose members are nearly all Christians.)
So here is the biggest paradox of all. Lebanon is mired in a tough constitutional crisis. Parliament hasn't had a quorum for months, and there has been no president since November. Violent incidents of mysterious origin keep occurring. But still the country hasn't plunged into civil war.
Again, why? For a number of reasons: memories of how bad the last civil war was; a lessening of the power of ideology and the rise of new, sect-crossing economic concerns; the absence of the Syrian troops who were once a lightning rod; and the persistent efforts to contain and defuse tensions that many Lebanese leaders themselves have undertaken.
Can these factors continue to keep Lebanon safe from civil war? Let's hope so.