Lebanon is one of the most diverse nations in the Middle East. The country is home to many religious communities and serves as an experiment in Middle East pluralism. In part because of Lebanon’s pluralistic makeup, it has been in a near-constant state of conflict for decades. Frequent meddling by and skirmishes with Israel and Syria have left some Lebanese desperate for a sense of security and stability, which Hezbollah has readily been able to provide.
New America Fellow Nir Rosen has reported extensively on Hizb Allah, or the Party of God, which he has long argued (both here on TWN and elsewhere) has a political agenda with greater legitimacy than the US and its regional allies credit and a currency that they all must come to terms with in order to advance any meaningful political progress in the region. Hezbollah formed as a militia in South Lebanon in 1982 in response to Israel’s military presence in Lebanon. They have steadily increased in popularity and influence, particularly after the 2006 war with Israel, and Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s young leader, was found to be the most popular in the Arab world by the 2008 Annual Arab Public Opinion Poll.
This morning at 9:30am, New America will be hosting a briefing on Lebanon to provide further detail on the current political and security situation as well as their implications for the country and the region at large. The briefing will be chaired by Steven Clemons, featuring New America Senior Fellows Daniel Levy and Flynt Leverett, Al Arabiyah Bureau Chief Hisham Melhem, and Nir Rosen and Daily Star Editor Rami Khouri via conference call LIVE FROM BEIRUT. Walk ins are welcome or you can watch a live webcast online here.
For some more details on the past week’s events, the Wall Street Journal provides some useful background:
Hezbollah began a two-track campaign Sunday: negotiating a political deal as it withdrew its militants from the capital and ceded positions to the Lebanese army, while battling the militia of a U.S. ally in the pine-covered hills east of Beirut.
By seizing Beirut and then handing it over to the army — which all sides in Lebanon considered to be a neutral force — Hezbollah showed it had the upper hand, and effectively cornered the government with an ultimatum: accept our demands or face civil war.
Hezbollah’s swift takeover of Beirut, which happened in less than 48 hours last week, has stunned many Lebanese citizens as well as observers around the world and delivered a humiliating blow to the Washington-backed government here.
The fighting erupted after the Lebanese government announced it would shut down Hezbollah’s telecommunications network and remove one of its allies as the head of airport security. Saturday, the Lebanese army announced those decisions would be suspended, a precondition to a truce from Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah.
Mr. Nasrallah also has demanded that the government give in to the opposition’s terms and end the political deadlock that has gripped Lebanon for 18 months. Hezbollah withdrew from the government in December 2006, followed by all Shiites and a Christian party. Hezbollah says it should be given enough seats in the legislature to guarantee it veto power if it is to return with the other opposition parties and resume government business.
Prime Minister Fuad Siniora said his cabinet would meet soon to decide on the matters.
— TWN Staff