HEZBOLLAH IN LEBANON, ISLAMISTS IN TUNISIA
The governments of both Tunisia and Lebanon have collapsed within the past week – for entirely different reasons. New governments are ahead for both countries, and those too may look quite different from each other. Hezbollah – supported by Iran – looms in Lebanon. The Islamists of the Nahda movement are in a good position to take power after years in exile or prison. Yet, Tunisia’s revolt is one against tyranny, while Lebanon’s battle against tyranny seems a losing one. Both countries represent important markers in the ongoing war for freedom in the Middle East.
On December 17, 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in front of a government building in the Tunisian city of Sidi Bouzid. A lady policeman had slapped him, confiscated his scales and knocked over his produce cart, allegedly because he lacked a permit. The fruit and vegetable cart was Bouazizi’s only source of income, and he had gone into debt to purchase the produce he had to sell. What’s more, permits are not required to sell on the street, according to Hamdi Lazhar, the head the local office for employment and independent work. Bouazizi’s siblings have accused the police of extortion. After he failed to find redress through the government, Bouazizi doused himself with paint thinner and lit himself on fire. He died of his severe burn injuries January 4, 2011.
Bouazizi’s self-immolation sparked protests that raged across Tunisia, toppling the corrupt government of Zine el-Abedine Ben Ali last Friday after 23 years in power. Ben Ali was secular, but had little concern for true freedom. The end of his corrupt regime has left the door open for his Islamic opposition to take over, but the populace is not interested in more tyranny. Elections are to take place in less than 60 days, and even now the protests continue against oppressive remnants of Ben Ali’s government.
Hamadi Jebali, spokesperson of the Nahda movement, the strongest opponent of Ben Ali’s secular regime, has said that their government would not oppress people as the Islamists do in Egypt. They would allow far more religious freedom than was seen in Ben Ali’s government. Jebali said in an interview, “Secularism is a broad concept. There is the extremist model of French Laicism and the more open Anglo-Saxon model. If secularism means respecting liberties and human rights and people’s will, then secularism is fine.”
“But if secularism is based on oppression and despotism and excluding religion from all aspects of life including social and family life, this is not acceptable. This is a form of dictatorship,” he explained.
“The Islamic movement has made its principles clear,” added Jebali, who spent 16 years in Ben Ali’s prisons. “We are for a civil, free society where liberties are guaranteed for all. We are for pluralism, the respect of human rights and the respect of the people’s will.”
If this is true, there is a lot of hope for Tunisia. Tunisia, the land of ancient Carthage, a fertile country on the Mediterranean with good trade relations, has until recently been one of the relatively better-off nations in northern Africa. If the Nahda movement shows a different face once in power, however, or if a party less interested in freedom takes charge, the same problems that plague the Middle East will continue there.
Right now, riot police still battle demonstrators in the streets, beating them and using tear gas. Tunisia’s protests have sparked similar popular uprisings across northern Africa, where more desperate young men keep setting themselves on fire.
In the meanwhile, the government of Lebanon collapsed last week. While Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri met with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office, Hezbollah’s ministers in the nation’s unity government resigned. Hezbollah leader Sheikh Nasrallah in a speech on Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV Sunday night declared that those cabinet ministers walked out to save Lebanon from its own democratically-elected government.
In reality, Nasrallah has been working to impede a tribunal’s investigation into the February 2005 car bombing assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri has continued to support the tribunal in its investigation of his father’s slaying, and so lost Hezbollah’s hairy support of his government. Hezbollah has called the investigation “an Israeli plot” and has made a variety of efforts to impede justice, which does not speak well for the group’s innocence in the assassination of Rafik Hariri.
In spite of Hezbollah, an indictment in the case was filed on Tuesday, bringing the case to a pre-trial judge. Daniel A. Bellemare, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon prosecutor, said in a statement that “justice cannot be rushed” and said anyone named in the indictment is “presumed innocent.”
“The evidence must be credible and compelling. I have made it clear from the start that I would act independently and that I would be driven by the evidence alone. To those who did not expect or want this day to come, I would say that while justice may be slow, it is deliberate,” Bellmare said.
While the successful filing of the indictment is good news, the political situation in Lebanon is shaky. Hezbollah still holds an incredible amount of power in the country. Its allies have been allocated one-third of the cabinet seats, and its military power is greater than Lebanon’s own. The people of Lebanon are afraid of a return to the violence of 2008. Parents kept their children home from school this week, even if the schools remained open. Lebanon has taken a long time trying to recover from the civil war that ended in 1990, and still remains wounded from the destruction of 2006.
At the same time, Hezbollah has not taken complete control yet. Saad Hariri may still have another shot, depending on how the new government negotiations go. The Lebanese constitution requires that the nation’s president be a Maronite Christian, its prime minster a Sunni and the parliament speaker a Shiite. Hezbollah has a lot of power, but it is not all-powerful.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed the mind of many of the region’s leaders, saying: “All parties need to step up efforts to solve the government crisis, through democratic and pluralists methods. Parties need to hold common interests of Lebanon over any other concern, with a sense of responsibility.”
Tunisia and Lebanon, two notable countries at a critical point in their histories. Pray that God work in both places, and that He place in power the people that He wants to govern, for His purposes. Pray also, that He offer hope to these desperate young men who think that their best resort involves gasoline and a match.
• Tribunal Prosecutor: Indictment ‘Important Moment’ For Lebanon – CNN
• Tunisia’s Lessons For Washington – Jewish World Review
• Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi’s Self-Immolation Provoking Copycats Across North Africa – International Business Times
• New Tunisian Leaders Quit Former Ruling Party – The Guardian
• Experts: Unlike in Egypt, Tunisia Islamists No Threat to Democracy – Almasryalyoum
• What The Arab Papers Say – The Economist
• Lebanon’s Stability Is Gravely Threatened by Iran-Hezbollah Alliance – Fox News
• Tension in Beirut After Hariri Indictments – Khaleej Times
• Lebanon Cannot Be Allowed to Be Driven Back to Instability, Erdogan – Turkish Press
• Bouazizi Has Become a Tunisian Protest ‘Symbol’ – The National