Fidaa Itani

The last foxes in Lebanon

No one can ever really tell what Nabih Berri and Walid Jumblatt will do next, even when things look so bad they could be forced to fly the coop.

The last two foxes in Lebanese politics (NOW)

Some people think that the day will come when Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri will leave the country in secret to escape the madness surrounding him on all sides. It is conceivable that that moment would be accompanied by Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt departing for the United States, even if he is forced to become a garbage collector in New York, as he said on television in 2004.


Druze leader Jumblatt has been successful for the most part in persuading Syria’s Druze community not to enter a conflict with the opposition and drown in Syrian blood. Likewise, Shiite leader Berri has succeeded in escaping the quandary of taking a clear stance on what is going on in Syria; he has allowed his support base to participate in the fighting but has not directly encouraged them to take up arms. He has also refrained from recklessly investing in sectarian tension like his fellow Shiite, and fait-accompli ally, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah.


Today, though, all these two old men have left is each other, despite the long years in which they tried to court various controlling parties. In the 80s they fought each other in a long battle for control of Beirut. In the 90s they competed to win Syria’s favor in Lebanon, receive support from Damascus, and gain a more important military role for their sects in the war in Lebanon, and of course in the political scene that followed. The two men who entered the war as youths and left as middle-aged commanders with large shares in the Lebanese political system were never in any doubt over their positions; each one of them understands the nature of the country and sees where it is going. They both know that they are in the same boat.


Each of the two men is surrounded by political madness. It is not strange that at one stage or another they were the spearheads of the two teams involved in the political struggle that erupted in Lebanon in 2004 — when UN Resolution 1559 came into effect and calls were made, following the US invasion of Iraq, for Syrian forces to leave the country and for the surrender of non-state arms. At the time, Berri worked to form the March 8 alliance while Jumblatt led the March 14 alliance. They stood on either side of the conflict, but the only thing really in conflict between them was the stances they had taken.


However, after the beginning of the Arab revolutions, the balance changed somewhat. Berri moved towards cautious observation and Jumblatt supported the changes, at first, with some reservation. He began to move towards the center, in keeping with his complex system of interests, which begins with his foreign relations and his position in the country with the security risks it entails. His meeting with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice just a few years prior left him in a state of shock when she told him that the US only wanted to “change Assad’s behavior.” As for Berri, for a very long time indeed, he has not made any wrong steps in his relationship with his political ally, the Syrian regime. The Amal Movement leader hasn’t made many statements on his view of what is going on with Lebanon’s neighbor, leaving members of his political party to speak here and there without becoming personally involved.


Both Berri and Jumblatt know that their country is too small to bear intervening in a conflict like the one going on in Syria. Seen as the last two foxes in Lebanese politics, the two men have tended to ally themselves with anyone who can stand in the middle over the last three years, notwithstanding a strong desire from Jumblatt to see the Syrian revolution claim victory. That said, he is surely aware that matters are no longer as simple as they were in March 2011. As for Berri, he is truly worried about the way things are going in Syria and the knock-on effects on Lebanon.


For the most part, the two men are in agreement today. They know that becoming embroiled in the fighting in Syria is the worst thing that could happen to Lebanon, especially via the army and the official intelligence services. While one of them may not be saying anything about the matter, the other has taken it upon himself to do so — each of them is following his own style.


The Taif Accord has been rendered obsolete by local and international political developments, the Doha Agreement has proven ineffective, and Christians have lost all sources of power, becoming no more than clients of one Lebanese party or the other. Both men know full well that appointing a new president “no matter what the cost” is an adventure that could prove fatal, and that “the strong Christian president” is a dream that could cause the country’s destruction.


The two foxes are old men now. They realize that the person who incessantly hunts them is still pushing them towards the trap in which they will supposedly be killed and skinned. These two old foxes of Lebanese politics know that the person pushing them could be an ally or an opponent, but so far they still know where to go. They are looking around themselves at the political madness stretching from Tehran to Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and Palestine, and waiting for the day when a great many IEDs will explode in Lebanon, hailing a return to political assassination in the land of the cedars.


Fidaa Itani tweets @fidaaitani


The last two foxes in Lebanese politics (NOW)

Both men know full well that appointing a new president 'no matter what the cost' is an adventure that could prove fatal, and that 'the strong Christian president' is a dream that could cause the country’s destruction."