From the time that the Syrian uprising began in March 2011, the regional dimension of the revolt against the regime of President Bashar Assad has been striving to take over its local Syrian dynamics. Not surprisingly, imperial and regional actors--those that are willing to be involved, including the United States, United Nations, Arab League, Turkey as well as the anti-US camp such as Russia and China--have engaged hesitantly. The mercurial entanglement of each party, each with particular interests and reservations, has confirmed the idea that Syria is wider than it appears on the map. Iran, Lebanon, Iraq and Palestine and the controversies that they are immersed in appear as an immediate extension of Syria and the Syrian issue.
On the one hand, the uprising has magnified Syrian local space; it cohered Syrians, giving citizens a sense of "Syrianness" based on a common resistance against a corrupt dictatorial regime. On the other hand, local Syrian political dynamics gradually turned out to be a derivative of larger regional and international dynamics and actors. The rhetoric and actions of the internal and external Syrian oppositions have been operating within these dual and competing structures.
As has been the case for decades, Lebanon is viewed as a "fragile space" that the Syrian uprising could flow into in a "spillover effect". Mainstream western and local actors that consider Lebanon a mosaic of races and religions forever in hostility with each other have opted for an elite-dominated sectarian political system. Yet this has only exacerbated the country's social and economic polarization--thus the fragility. Syrian tutelage and active involvement in Lebanese affairs over the last 30 years have contributed to this fragile Lebanese space, which has become a surfing arena for a number of external actors.
In the eyes of western imperial powers and Lebanese elites, the most alarming aspect of the Syrian uprising's overflow into Lebanon revolves around Hizballah and related sectarian issues in the country. As a Lebanese journalist elaborates in an article in al-Akhbar, Lebanese society and its political actors have split over supporting the anti-Assad uprising or the Assad regime. While Hizballah, some Christian parties and a section of the Druze political grouping have taken sides with Assad, some Sunni political actors, some Christian politicians and some Druze support the Syrian uprising. While in recent months Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah has become less outspoken in support of the Assad regime, the strategic and political affinity between the two seems to be intact for the moment. Michel Aoun's anti-Assad speech placing Rafic Hariri and Samir Qassir among Syrian anti-Assad martyrs is one example of the thinking of the anti-Assad faction in Lebanese politics.
The demonstrations in favor of the Syrian uprising by Lebanese Sunni groups in Tripoli and clashes between Shiite and Sunni groups have since summer 2011 increased fears of a violent escalation of Shiite-Sunni tensions in the county. More violent incidents have crystallized these tensions since then. The killing of two members of the anti-Assad March 14 political alliance, Sunni sheikhs Ahmad Abdul Wahed and Mohamad Hussein Merheb, by the Lebanese army on May 20 in Akkar, northern Lebanon was one such incident and led to violent clashes in Beirut. The response was not delayed: 11 Lebanese Shiites were kidnapped by the Syrian armed resistance on May 22 and taken hostage in northern Syria.
The reconfiguration of the various parties in Lebanon and the resulting sectarian manifestations are taking place in relation to the political transition that Syrian politics and society have been experiencing over the last 15 months. Presumably, Lebanese space will maintain its fragility as long as elite-dominated sectarian politics, culture and society (as well as its economic and social institutions) are not restored by a Lebanese "spring".-Published 31/5/2012 © bitterlemons-international.org