Lebanon: “An American-Iranian negotiation is happening behind the scenes”

Interview conducted by Pierre Barbancey, published in “L’Humanité” on Wednesday August 12, 2020 on this link.

Translated by mmfidawla

What meaning do you give to the resignation of the government of Hassan Diab on Monday evening ?

Charbel Nahas From the start, this government was just an illusion. A mask behind which hide three of the six leaders who had the conviction to be able to stand in the face of what they considered a conspiracy. They are President Aoun, the head of Hezbollah Hassan Nasrallah and the Speaker of Parliament, Nabih Berri. The other three (Saad Hariri, former prime minister, Samir Geagea of the Lebanese Forces and the Druze leader Walid Joumblatt – Editor’s note) pretended to be revolutionaries.

The whole socio-political system, the whole regime has collapsed. The latter’s objective was to buy time, by betting on a minimum arrangement between the United States and Iran, with a role of intermediary for France. We can see that this regime is not capable of making a decision. Everyone plays their role of sectarian leader with their external allegiances. The explosion of the port accentuates the social and economic tragedy that the country is going through. And demonstrates that this system is structurally incapable of responding to these realities.  Even more seriously, the power in place today accommodates its position in relation to external actors. There are those for neutrality, those for resistance, those who want to turn to the east – Iran and China -, others to the Western temple… The threat of a slide towards civil war is real.

A vacuum is created by the resignation of the government. Is Parliament taking over the reins ?

Charbel Nahas There is no real Parliament. There is a cooperative, a band of six chiefs who each conceives of politics as being the defense of the interests of his sect and manages to create this illusion. When they have to be democrats, they hold elections, form governments. But, in reality, they have organized a regime that has existed for thirty years, and which constantly strives to adjust its positions in relation to the evolution of regional and international power relations. Each of them thus preserves his home ground and maintains connections with various players: the United States, France, China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, etc.

If the six leaders agree, parliamentarians will follow and vote what they want. It is the same for elections which are organized when the expected result of the ballot suits them. Today, they do not consider it because of the recent upheavals. Aoun and Hariri, for example, who are ranking very low in the polls, do not want elections. It seems to be totally illusory to believe that there could be any elections.

Does not this attitude open the door to foreign interventions as illustrated by the visit of Emmanuel Macron, in connection with Riyadh and Washington?

Charbel Nahas During his visit to Beirut on August 6, Macron gave a formal token to Hezbollah by inviting the head of their parliamentary group to the embassy. Hezbollah hence saw it as a sign of recognition and proof is that the United States was hiding behind Macron. On the other hand, he laid down political conditions for this aid, linked to the demilitarization of Beirut, the role of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon. It is therefore an American-Iranian negotiation to which the local actors lend themselves, without worrying for a single moment about the possible internal implosion that might result from it if an agreement is not reached quickly. In the meantime, the country is heading towards civil war.

What is the possible way out ?

Charbel Nahas There must be something other than these two options which seem to be emerging and over which no Lebanese has a hold: an external arrangement which would probably be translated in a sort of a façade military government or a burst that could affect the Lebanese army. We are trying to bring out a radical and structured alternative. We are talking with retired generals to have a voice that stops a possible engagement of the army in a security arrangement. Because it is made up of recruits from the various sectarian leaders and might, if that was instrumentalized, find itself in a position of explosion.