News / Middle East

Analysis: With Assad Future in Question, Lebanon on Edge

Hezbollah supporters wave flags and pictures of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah during a rally marking the sixth anniversary of the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war, in Beirut, July 18, 2012.Hezbollah supporters wave flags and pictures of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah during a rally marking the sixth anniversary of the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war, in Beirut, July 18, 2012.
x
Hezbollah supporters wave flags and pictures of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah during a rally marking the sixth anniversary of the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war, in Beirut, July 18, 2012.
Hezbollah supporters wave flags and pictures of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah during a rally marking the sixth anniversary of the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war, in Beirut, July 18, 2012.
Jeff Neumann
BEIRUT – As Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's grip on power becomes increasingly tenuous, a sense of unease is growing among some of his staunchest regional allies. And even though they have dwindled in number since the start of the anti-government uprising in Syria 16 months ago, some are still betting on his survival.

In Lebanon, regime loyalists are digging in and if Assad were to fall, the political landscape here could be altered dramatically.

Hours after a suspected bomb attack purportedly killed four of Assad's top security officials, including his brother-in-law, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said in a televised speech marking the 2006 war with Israel, "These martyr leaders were comrades-in-arms on the path of the conflict with the Israeli enemy." He added, "We are confident that the Arab Syrian Army, which managed to overcome the unbearable, has enough resolve to be able to go on and crush the hopes of the enemies."

Other officials also rushed to reaffirm their ties to the regime in Syria, including both the Lebanese president and speaker of parliament. However, some members of the political opposition publicly praised the bomb attack.

Assad’s long reach

Lebanon is governed by a ruling coalition called the March 8 Alliance. It is a Hezbollah-led multi-confessional patchwork of Christians, Sunni and Shia Muslims, seemingly held together by one common thread – loyalty to Damascus. The group’s name is a reference to a large-scale protest in March 2005 called by Hezbollah to counter the "Cedar Revolution," which eventually forced the withdrawal from Lebanon of Syrian army troops following their three-decade-long occupation of the country.

Lebanese and Syrian citizens celebrate reports of the deaths of members of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's inner cirle at a rally in Tripoli, northern Lebanon, July 18, 2012.Lebanese and Syrian citizens celebrate reports of the deaths of members of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's inner cirle at a rally in Tripoli, northern Lebanon, July 18, 2012.
x
Lebanese and Syrian citizens celebrate reports of the deaths of members of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's inner cirle at a rally in Tripoli, northern Lebanon, July 18, 2012.
Lebanese and Syrian citizens celebrate reports of the deaths of members of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's inner cirle at a rally in Tripoli, northern Lebanon, July 18, 2012.
After forcing the downfall of the anti-Syrian government coalition early last year, the March 8 Alliance has steadily consolidated its power. The strengthening of historical ties with its neighbor is a major platform for the alliance, with some March 8 politicians going so far as calling for a restoration of Greater Syria, the Ottoman-era designation that regarded Lebanon as an official part of Syria. The Lebanese branch of Assad's Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party holds two seats in parliament here.

On a smaller scale, there are less visible Damascus allies in Lebanon who will likely suffer in the event of a Syrian regime collapse. The Syria Socialist National Party (SSNP), for instance, stands to lose a great deal of its influence in west Beirut. In the Hamra and Manara neighborhoods of the capital, where the SSNP is strongest and where it maintains its headquarters, many small business owners complain of a mafia-style protection racket run by the party. Damascus offers material support to the party and losing its benefactor could effectively cripple the SSNP.

Bashar the “savior”

When questioned about the attack on Assad's inner circle, a young Syrian from Aleppo named Khaled replied, "Assef Shawkat?", referring to Assad's brother-in-law who reportedly was among those killed in the Damascus blast. "We only need Bashar, he is our savior and he will win this war." Khaled has been in Lebanon for the past four years working as a day laborer. He spends his free time with SSNP members. "My brothers here make me feel as if I am home."

Sporadic outbreaks of Syria-related violence have killed dozens in Lebanon's cities in recent months. And shortly after news broke of the purported assassinations in Damascus, Sunni neighborhoods in the northern city of Tripoli erupted with six hours of celebratory gunfire. An Alawite militiaman in Tripoli reached by phone that night said his neighborhood was under siege and that his family was terrified, adding that his Sunni neighbors "act like animals."

Changes loom

However grim the future might look for Lebanon, Paul Salem, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, said another war here is not necessarily on the horizon.

"Lebanon won't collapse," Salem said, adding, "we have a political system in place, and we have had our civil war. Everyone is going to great lengths to avoid another war here." But the ground is being set for a change of course in politics. "There will be an obvious weakening of, and perhaps splintering, of the March 8 Alliance. The bloc could be completely dismantled when Assad falls," he added.

Salem says the opposition and its allies, led by former prime minister Saad Hariri's Future Movement, will ultimately benefit from a collapse of the Assad regime. But with Hariri in self-imposed exile and no clear leadership, the opposition remains weak. Even the question of who will lead the opposition is out of Lebanese hands, according to Salem. "Sadly, this is a Saudi call to make."

The direct effects of the war in Syria are now hitting closer to home in an increasingly divided Lebanon. The United Nations says some 30,000 refugees have poured into county fleeing the violence in Syria in the past two days leaving many here wondering just how much longer Assad's grip on power will last.

You May Like

UN Watchdog Urges Israel to Probe Possible Gaza War Crimes

More than 2,100 Palestinians, most of them civilians, were killed in a 51-day war in Gaza, along with 67 Israeli soldiers and six civilians in Israel More

New Kenyan 'Thin SIMs' Poised to Transform African Mobile Money

Equity's new technology is approved in African nation for one-year trial, though industry leader Safaricom says thin SIMs could lead to data theft and fraud More

Solar's Future Looks Brighter

New technology and dropping prices are contributing to a surge in solar power More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Tamika from: USA
July 22, 2012 1:18 PM
George... no need to look at Gaza... or Lebanon... to see the disgrace in clear terms... look at Jordan... listen to what the "king" of jordan has said.... "Jordan will continue providing aid to our Arab Syrian brothers and sisters who have sought refuge in the kingdom. However, Jordan will kill all its Arab brothers and sisters if they cross the border...." now, isn't that reassuring...????


by: George Flanigan from: UK
July 21, 2012 1:34 PM
if you really want to learn the future of Arabs... look at Gaza... Hamas... Look at Lebanon - Hizbulla... look and see the grotesque suppression, the racist ideology, the brutal conduct toward minorities and gays... and don't tell me that "if only Israel could have done this or the US could have done that..." the Arabs will have been pacified... and eager to live in peace... don't give me that...

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid