BEIRUT: In the wake of the Taif accord, Lebanese were of the belief that Syria, under the rule of the late Hafez Assad, would support the country in its quest to maintain parity in power sharing and mend the bridges between Muslims and Christians following a bloody civil war.
That, however, was far from the case, with Syria implementing a policy advancing its own interests, irrespective of the damage done to its neighbor.
By instilling fear in the minds of Lebanese, pitting people against each other, quashing the country's defensive capabilities and dictating its foreign policy, Assad succeeded in introducing leaders whose desire for self-advancement superseded their will to advance their own country.
This policy also entailed the isolation of Lebanon from its Arab neighbors, while continuing to manipulate Arab states including Saudi Arabia into believing that they had a say in the country.
Moreover, Assad's Syria sought to convince the international community, particularly the U.S, that Lebanon is unfit to rule itself, and that it needs the former’s constant supervision.
The appointment of Rafiq Hariri, holder of the Saudi nationality, to head Lebanon’s government in 1992 gives credence to this argument, as his focus was confined to rebuilding Lebanon’s infrastructure and restoring its economy while casting aside the need to establish a firm and independent foreign policy.
Hariri’s selection further appeased the Lebanese Sunni population, who felt that they became on par with their Shiite counterparts, represented by both Hezbollah and the Amal Movement.
This relationship then transcended into a partnership between both Shiite parties and Hariri, who was once viewed as Syria's foreign minister given his close relationship with Damascus, who shared Lebanon’s spoils with Tehran, Hezbollah's main sponsor.
In spite of this productive relationship, Hariri was considered a threat to President Bashar Assad’s Syria, given his popularity within Lebanon and beyond.
The former premier was assassinated and a Cedar Revolution, comprised of a Sunni, Christian and Druze alliance succeeded in ousting Syrian forces from Lebanon.
The revolution failed to accomplish its long-term objectives, however, after being faced with a counter bilateral Shiite alliance, bringing together the Amal Movement and Hezbollah.
The Cedar revolution came at a time when Damascus and Tehran’s allies sought to maintain their grip on the country, hindering the revolution's progress amid weak international support for Lebanon, the Arab Spring and its brutal civil wars, the rise of radical Islam and weak internal Sunni leadership, as well as Christian divisions.
These developments prevented Prime Minister Saad Hariri from following in his father's footsteps to restore the balance between Lebanese Sunnis and Shiites.
Albeit minimally, Hariri, with the help of his new allies, Hezbollah and the Free Patriotic Movement, will now try to consolidate a sense of domestic stability and balance.
This hinges on the help and cooperation of France’s Emanuel Macron and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, as well as the United States leading the charge of an international effort to maintain a true policy of dissociation, as stated following the International Support Group for Lebanon (ISG) meeting in Paris last month.
The Gulf Kingdom is also expected to call upon Hariri to downplay concerns over new measures targeting Lebanon as long as the ISG’s policy is abided by.
His failure to do so, however, for lack of trying or otherwise, will be met with an even harder stance by Saudi Arabia and its crown prince, who will resort to punishing Lebanon through various means including slapping economic sanctions, expelling Lebanese nationals working in the Kingdom or even severing all ties with its once considered ally.
Will such a scenario unfold and how would it impact Lebanon? and will the Shiite continue to maintain their grip on the country? and how will the Lebanese who remain divided between those loyal to Saudi Arabia and those who owe allegiance to Iran ultimately react?
A version of this article appeared in Annahar's Arabic print issue on December 27, 2017. The article was adapted into English by Georgi Azar.
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