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Lebanese question

Updated November 13, 2017

A NEW crisis appears to be brewing in the Middle East, this time threatening the fragile stability of Lebanon.

It all started with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri’s shock resignation on Nov 4 announced from the Saudi capital Riyadh.

This was, of course, only one of the many startling events that would take place in Riyadh that night; a missile reportedly fired by Yemen’s Houthi militia was also shot down over the Saudi capital’s airport, while in perhaps the biggest story coming out of the kingdom, several top royals and tycoons were rounded up on the orders of the young crown prince as part of an ‘anti-corruption’ purge.

While the situation in Saudi Arabia is extremely fluid, perhaps the most immediate issue the world should be worried about is Lebanon; from the looks of it, the small Levantine country may be headed for another war.

Recently, the Saudi foreign minister said that if Hezbollah remains part of the Lebanese government, Riyadh would consider this “an act of war”.

The armed Shia group has ministers in the Lebanese government and its political wing is one of the main power players in Beirut.

Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah, on the other hand, said on Friday that the Saudis have declared war on Lebanon by “detaining” Mr Hariri. In such a combustible situation — with volatile statements coming from all sides — the possibility of a fresh armed conflict breaking out in Lebanon is not remote.

It should be remembered that Lebanon witnessed a brutal civil war from 1975 to 1990.

The hostilities involving different religions, sects and nations only ended after a peace deal was hammered out in the Saudi hill station of Taif. In Lebanon — due to its sectarian power-sharing system designed by former colonial master France — power is parcelled out among the nation’s numerous sects.

The country’s confessional system is perhaps unique in the world, with high public offices reserved on a sectarian basis.

Despite the delicate balance, Lebanon has been relatively stable since 1990, apart from the Hezbollah-Israel war of 2006.

It has also largely managed to shield itself from much of the Syrian conflict.

However, with the Saudi-Iran confrontation reaching alarming proportions, Lebanon may once again become a proxy battlefield for world and regional powers.

All efforts must be made to avoid a new conflagration. Perhaps if Mr Hariri were to return to Lebanon and clarify matters, temperatures could come down significantly.

Published in Dawn, November 13th, 2017