Hezbollah’s Predicament

Berri thinks Hezbollah goes too far in accommodating the FPM and it interests. He also thinks Aoun demands and expects too much, relying on what he knows to be his special standing with Hezbollah. (Photo: Marwan Tahtah)
Published Monday, July 9, 2012
Eyes have been turning to Hezbollah. This time, it is not about a problem with Israel that could threaten stability in Lebanon. The talk today is of a political explosion within the country’s governing majority coalition, involving Hezbollah’s two principal allies, the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and the Amal Movement.

The problem is not with what could be described as Hezbollah’s role as the coalition’s “leading” party. It relates to the FPM and General Michel Aoun’s view of the party as guarantor of coalition’s ability to work together. To put it more clearly, when the FPM or Aoun come to an understanding with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri or Amal, they expect Hezbollah to underwrite that understanding, and to not merely stand by when it is violated. The essence of the Aounists’ current grievance against Hezbollah, therefore, is that it must not act as an onlooker.
Berri does not behave as though he is under any real obligation to Hezbollah’s allies. Had it been left to him, he would have woven a different web of alliances, in which Aoun would have had his proper place. Berri thinks Hezbollah goes too far in accommodating the FPM and it interests. He also thinks Aoun demands and expects too much, relying on what he knows to be his special standing with Hezbollah. Senior aides of the Speaker accuse Aoun of wanting to share running the legislature with him, or of wanting everyone to do his bidding.

Both arguments conceal the underlying reality, which is that from the outset there was never any love lost between the FMP and Amal. This is not just about personal relationships, which can be worked on. It is about a fundamental difference.

What Aoun sees as a program of reform entails countering the policies under which the country has been run since the end of the civil war. He sees Berri as no less to blame than the late Rafik al-Hariri or Walid Jumblatt for the continuing structural deterioration of the state.

Berri feels strongly that Aoun does not fit well with the country’s post-Taif political structure. His appraisal of the General in this regard seems similar to that of the Hariris, senior and junior, and Jumblatt.
So what should Hezbollah do?

Neither the two rival parties nor the general public should have high expectations. This doesn’t mean that Hezbollah isn’t worried about what is going on, or hasn’t been consulting and putting out feelers while trying to arrive at the most accurate assessment of the situation. The party has been busy formulating proposals and ideas for restoring cohesion between the members of the March 8 coalition. But limitations are imposed by the strategic context which governs the party’s domestic policies. Its room for maneuver is restricted.
All Hezbollah can do at present is manage a process of dispute-resolution which appears outwardly to be between its two allies, but is in fact between itself and each of them. This is because Hezbollah’s dealings with both has been based on completely avoiding any public airing of its criticisms of them, and any questioning of the mindset by which relations between the partners are managed.

To this can be added another problem which concerns the party internally. This relates to its mechanisms for following up the crisis and the individuals who manage it. One novel feature of the latest crisis has been the personal criticism which the leaders of all three groups – Hezbollah, Amal and the FPM – have heard about the delegates of the other groups, who are the ones responsible for managing relations within the coalition. The language and behavior from some of the delegates has indeed been highly-strung.

It should be said frankly here that Hezbollah’s representatives are the ones who have the least personal say in how the various aspects of these issues are tackled, and who act the most in line with their party leadership’s recommendations or directives. That has to do with the nature of the party and the way it makes and implements decisions. But that does not negate the need for a debate within the party about the way it approaches domestic affairs, drawing on the experience of the past seven years. This is made the more urgent by the fact that the country is facing fresh waves of crisis which will draw the party even deeper into every aspect of the domestic game.

If this sounds vague, the Aounists’ grievance against Hezbollah can be summed up in one question: Are you willing to be a partner in a comprehensive process of domestic reform, even if that leads to you clashing with your Shia allies in Amal?

Berri’s grievance, meanwhile, can be summed up in an indirect question: How much does Hezbollah expect me to put up with?

How will Hezbollah respond? Can it give up on both partners and turn its back on this recurrent problem? Of course not. Can it champion one against the other? Of course not. Does it have something to give each side which could keep both happy? Of course not.

So what is the solution? Sometimes the answer is to ask more questions. In Hezbollah’s current predicament, divine assistance may be needed to overcome this crisis.

God help Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah.

Ibrahim al-Amine is editor-in-chief of al-Akhbar.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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