The economic policies of successive governments in Lebanon have focused on developing the centers at the expense of the peripheries, therefore weakening the central authority’s presence and strengthening the role that sectarian parties play in regions like Akkar, the South, and the Hermel. The latest events show, once again, how these conditions create pockets of poverty and misery prone to sectarian mobilization in times of crisis.
Benefiting from the high rate of unemployment in the mostly Sunni north, the Sunni Future Movement has managed to lure young men to the capital with the promise of work for security companies. I would not trust al-Manar’s reporting on this, but there are other sources. Ras Beirut residents have also witnessed how a large building on Sidani Street, between Shamali Stores and the ex-location of the Ministry of Economy, turned over the past few months into housing for young men from the north. This building was one of the flash points during the recent clashes around Hamra.
In a similar vein, Shiite Hizballah feeds on the economic situation to draw swathes of historically marginalized Shiites into its folds. It is no secret either that the party rides the bandwagon of labor demands to serve its own ends, often at the expense of sabotaging a good cause, as it did with the demonstration of May 7th.
When Hizballah first entered parliamentary politics in the 1990’s, some believed they had found an alley in the fight against the sectarian system and a champion for the Shia. Indeed, economic redistribution and the abolishment of political sectarianism were focal points in the party’s electoral program of 1996.
Hizballah, however, has done nothing by way of achieving these goals, for despite the rhetoric of “justice and equality,” the party is just as invested in the sectarian, clientelist system as the others. In his press conference of May 8th, Hassan Nasrallah “places the dots on the letters” regarding this point:
We do not propose any change in the makeup of the Lebanese system, in the makeup of authority, and some people accuse us because of this position. We are with the Taef agreement and with the implementation of the Taef agreement (…) If there is a general Lebanese will towards modification [of the political system], in the end this belongs to a general Lebanese will. But we, as a group, do we have propositions for adjustment or want to impose adjustments [to the political system] on the Lebanese? No. Thus, we do not have any suggestion whatsoever for change in the positions of authority, not with regards to the position of president, prime minister, or any other positions.
نحن بالنسبة لنا لا نطرح اي تغيير في تركيبة النظام في لبنان، في تركيبة السلطة، وبعض الناس بيتهمونا لان نحن موقفنا هيك، ونحن مع اتفاق الطائف، تنفيذ اتفاق الطائف (…) اذا في ارادة لبنانية عامة بدها تعدل، بالنهاية هيدا صار تابع لارادة لبنانية عامة. لكن نحن كفريق انو عنا طرح تعديل وبدنا نفرض تعديلات علی اللبنانيين، لا. بالتالي نحن ما عنا اي تغيير او طرح يرتبط بمواقع السلطة علی الاطلاق، لا برئاسة الجمهورية، ولا برئاسة الحكومة ولا ببقية المواقع
Myth has it that Nasrallah is a clear and honest man. That, then, should put any doubts to rest.