Lebanon ‘hurtling towards implosion’ with ‘real risk’ it could spiral into bloodshed and become new Syria, expert warns
LEBANON is “hurtling towards implosion” with a “real risk” it could spiral into conflict and become the new Syria, an expert has warned.
The country has been gripped by unrest since a massive explosion killed 158 people in Beirut last week.
The deadly blast was caused when a fire ignited 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, which had been stored without adequate safety measures in the port for seven years.
Many in Lebanon blame what they call the incompetence and corruption of political elites for the disaster.
Anti-government protesters torched buildings and fought running battles with riot cops over the weekend as thousands took to the streets demanding “revolution”.
The country was already in the grip of an economic crisis, with widespread demonstrations earlier this year amid 30 per cent unemployment.
But last week’s catastrophe reignited demands for the government to fall – with one expert warning the crisis could see Lebanon plunged into civil war if it’s allowed to escalate.
Julien Barnes-Dacey is director of the Middle East and North Africa programme at the European Council on Foreign Relations.
'HURTLING TOWARDS IMPLOSION'
He told Sun Online: “Lebanon is hurtling towards political and economic implosion and that could have serious consequences.
“I think there’s a real risk that the country’s continued political and economic implosion could push the country back towards not just instability but some form of conflict.”
He added: “The outlook is really worrying.
“My hope is that the Lebanese and international partners won’t let the state implode and wider instability break out – but it’s certainly a very real risk.”
Lebanon was torn apart by a brutal 15-year civil war between 1975 and 1990 which saw a 120,000 killed.
The country’s political parties are still largely split down sectarian lines, and many top politicians and party leaders are former militia commanders from the conflict.
They currently share power under a complex system that sees everything from top governmental posts to civil service jobs divvied up among the factions.
Barnes-Dacey explains: “The power sharing agreement isn’t just political – it’s a way to distribute the fruits of the economy.
“It’s a highly corrupt and broken system that plays to the favour of the elites.”
Lebanon’s entire government today resigned ahead of early elections in a bid to appease rioters.
But many protesters want more than a snap vote – they want to tear down the entire system, which they see as rotten.
However, there’s a danger this could see the country spiral back into conflict, as Sunni, Shia and Christian groups “mobilise to protect their interests”, Barnes-Dacey warns.
And in a worst case scenario, the country could end up in a bitter sectarian civil war, like the one that has devastated neighbouring Syria.
There, as in Lebanon, foreign powers back different parties and militias, and this support helped fuel the slaughter as cash and arms poured into the country.
Lebanon is a melting pot of external meddling."
Barnes-Dacey says: “There’s a similarity between Lebanon and Syria in the extent of international meddling.
“Lebanon is a melting pot of external meddling. It always has been.
“Obviously you have the Iranian influence over Hezbollah.
“In the past you had significant Arab Gulf support for the Sunni parties, although they have withdrawn some of their funding for Lebanon in recent years because of the dominance of Hezbollah.
“There’s also a US dynamic here – the Trump Administration’s regional priority is diluting Iranian influence and it sees Lebanon as a central battleground for that struggle.”
Many in Lebanon are wary of slipping into a devastating war like Syria and even the rival factions are keen to avoid it, he says.
But if the status quo is destroyed they could still end up fighting it out for their slice of power – unless “certain decisions are made quickly”, he adds.
Barnes-Dacey explains: “The country is effectively bankrupt and in urgent need of international support.
“That’s dependent on the elite implementing measures that would damage their own interests.
“Then there’s the political restructuring that’s needed to address the governance breakdown that lies at the root of everything.
“These are big challenges that directly challenge some pretty entrenched interests and what we’ve seen over the last six months is a real unwillingness from the establishment to budge on these issues.”
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