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

Will Cuba Follow the Southeast Asia Model?

Decision to restore ties between US and Cuba has some debating whether it will lead to enhancement or regression of democracy for Communist island nation More

Kenyan Designer Finds Her Niche in Fashion Industry

‘Made in China’ fabrics underlie her success More

Report: CIA, Israel's Mossad Killed Senior Hezbollah Commander

The Washington Post story says Imad Mughniyah was killed instantly by a bomb "triggered remotely" from Tel Aviv by Mossad agents 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.
Jefferson's Library Continues to Impress, 200 Years Lateri
X
Deborah Block
January 31, 2015 12:12 AM
Two hundred years after the U.S. Congress purchased a huge collection of books belonging to former President Thomas Jefferson, it remains one of America’s greatest literal treasures and has become the centerpiece of Washington’s Library of Congress. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Jefferson's Library Continues to Impress, 200 Years Later

Two hundred years after the U.S. Congress purchased a huge collection of books belonging to former President Thomas Jefferson, it remains one of America’s greatest literal treasures and has become the centerpiece of Washington’s Library of Congress. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Threat of Creeping Lava Has Hawaiians on Edge

Residents of the small town of Pahoa on the Big Island of Hawaii face an advancing threat from the Kilauea volcano. Local residents are keeping a watchful eye on creeping lava. Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Pro-Kremlin Youth Group Creatively Promotes 'Patriotic' Propaganda

As Russia's President Vladimir Putin faces international pressure over Ukraine and a failing economy, unofficial domestic groups are rallying to his support. One such youth organization, CET, or Network, uses creative multimedia to appeal to Russia's urban youth with patriotic propaganda. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Filmmakers Produce Hand-Painted Documentary on Van Gogh

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Issues or Ethnicity? Question Divides Nigeria

As Nigeria goes to the polls next month, many expect the two top presidential contenders to gain much of their support from constituencies organized along ethnic or religious lines. But are faith and regional blocs really what political power in Nigeria is about? Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid