Tipping Lebanon’s ‘delicate balance’ of power may lead to civil war

Protesters attempt to remove razor wires as policemen spray water to disperse them during a protest against a rubbish collection problem near the government palace in Beirut, Lebanon © Mohamed Azakir
While rubbish collections might seem a legitimate issue to protest, Beirut rallies could easily spin out of control into a civil war or be exploited by outside forces, given the social and political division in Lebanon, Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of the Pan-African News Wire told RT.

Water cannon, rubber bullets and tear gas were deployed by police in the Lebanese capital, Beirut, on Saturday as crowds gathered to protest against the government’s inability to deal with rubbish collection problems in the city. Around 30 people, including a police officer, were injured in clashes, while dozens of demonstrators have been reportedly detained.

READ MORE: Lebanon trash crisis: Over a dozen injured as police violently disperse protests in Beirut (VIDEO)

RT:Lebanon managed to survive the Arab Spring four years ago... How much pressure is the government under now?

Abayomi Azikiwe: Well as you have pointed out there is a political vacuum inside the country. The presidency has been vacant now for more than a year. They had the same government since 2009. There was supposed to be an election last year in 2014. However, because of the political division inside the country, the elections have been postponed for another two years to 2017.

This is all related to the ongoing war of regime change in neighboring Syria. You have political parties in Lebanon who support the opposition in Syria. You have other parties in Lebanon who support the Syrian government in Damascus.

So this internal conflict over the problems associated with public services has to be viewed within a broader regional context.

RT: If the government were to fall – what could happen to the country?

AA: It would lead to an even deeper political vacuum. Now we do not know what is really behind this current movement around garbage collections. We’ve seen in other countries where there have been legitimate grievances related to many regional, local and provincial issues.

However at the same time there could be other agendas involved in this whole process that are driving these demonstrations. And the fact that they are calling for immediate elections inside the country, when the country may not be prepared to hold these elections from a political standpoint, could prove to be problematic.

Lebanon is a very divided and sectarian state. The power is distributed among the top officials along religious lines and it is a very delicate balance that has prevailed in the country now for many years.

We can recall of course what happened in Lebanon in the 1970s and the 1980s and I do not think anyone internationally, or domestically or regionally would want to see anything even approaching the division that existed during the 1970s and the 1980s.

RT:Lebanon has been deeply affected by the war in Syria – taking in more than a million refugees. Is the economy able to cope with this?

AA: It is going to be very difficult and that is why they are having problems associated with garbage collections and other issues. Also we have to keep in mind that Hezbollah, the resistance movement there, is Shia, based in southern Lebanon, and they have generally supported the government of President Bashar Assad in Damascus. Nonetheless there are other parties there who do not support the Bashar Assad government. So this complicates the situation.

And in order for the country to remain stable it is very important that the war in Syria does not become a determining factor in the outcome of the current political crisis that is taking place right now in Lebanon. It may appear to be a domestic situation there, but it may easily deteriorate into a clash which may not necessarily be controllable by the existing government and the existing security forces inside the country.

RT:Islamic State terrorists are just over the border in Syria – will they be looking at the instability in Lebanon and hoping to gain a foothold in the country?

AA: I’m sure they will. They are not in political agreement with a number of the social and political forces inside Lebanon, particularly with Hezbollah. Hezbollah has taken an active role over the last four years in a struggle to defend the Syrian government. The Al-Nusra Front, ISIS, and Al-Qaeda and other elements like the Free Syrian Army which are backed by Saudi Arabia and by other countries in the Gulf, along with Turkey of course, are working very hard to bring down the Syrian government in Damascus.

So people really have to keep a close eye on what is going on. And these organizations, Sunni armed rebel organizations that have been operating in both Syria and Iraq, of course can, in a situation of instability, also intervene in Lebanon as well.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.