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Lebanon: Managing the Gathering Storm

Published: Wed 7 Dec 2005 03:20 PM
Lebanon: Managing the Gathering Storm
Amman/Brussels: The international community must put aside its own agendas and take steps to sustain Lebanon’s fragile stability if the country is not to fall victim to deepening communal divisions or increased regional volatility.
Lebanon: Managing the Gathering Storm,* the latest report from the International Crisis Group, argues that Lebanon needs sustained calm and immunity from outside struggles so it can design and implement the economic, judicial and security reforms that will define its future. The focus of both domestic and international actors should be on strengthening Lebanon’s governing institutions to secure its democratic transition.
“It is crucial that Lebanon be as secluded as possible from international and regional conflicts that are turning this into a battle for Lebanon’s custody rather than a struggle to rebuild its state”, says Robert Malley, Crisis Group’s Middle East and North Africa Director. “Lebanon is already vulnerable to sectarian differences. If it also becomes the arena for regional and international struggles, it might not weather the storm”.
To minimise the risk of further instability, the Lebanese government should work with the UN to organise a third-country trial of suspects in the Hariri assassination, accelerate economic reform, fight corruption in public administration by empowering state watchdog institutions, and gradually begin the process of deconfessionalisation. While short-term efforts to disarm Hizbollah are likely to backfire in the absence of progress on the peace process, some steps could be taken to gradually integrate its military wing under national army control.
The Syrian government must cooperate with the UN investigation into the Hariri assassination and resist interference in Lebanese affairs, such as arming loyalist groups to threaten political foes; it must also establish normal diplomatic relations with Lebanon and ease passage at the border. The U.S. and EU should refrain from putting pressure on the Lebanese government to disarm Hizbollah and instead leave its status to another day and Lebanon’s own decision-making. And the UN should continue to support the Mehlis investigation, facilitating if requested a trial in a third-country.
“Lebanon has navigated Hariri’s assassination, a government crisis, elections and Syria’s withdrawal with surprising poise, but further shocks are inevitable”, says Nicholas Pelham, Crisis Group Senior Analyst. “Outside actors might be tempted to use this period as opportunity to further their competing agendas, but they do so at Lebanon’s peril”.

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