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From The Socialist newspaper, 29 November 2006

Lebanon

Gemayel killing fuels political tensions

UNIDENTIFIED GUNMEN assassinated Pierre Gemayel, Lebanon's industry minister and leader of the reactionary right-wing Kataeb (Phalange) party on 22 November. Six gunshots killed Gemayel, massively ratcheting up fears of sharp polarisation between Lebanon's many different ethnic and religious communities.

Kevin Simpson

People remember with dread the recent invasion by the Israeli regime and Lebanon's 15-year civil war which only ended in 1990. People's fears also partly come from the 30-year presence of Syrian troops (ended earlier this year) and from Lebanon's long history of political assassinations.

Socialists condemn the use of assassinations as a tactic to bring about fundamental political change. Politicians who are killed can be replaced by others carrying out the same repressive measures. In Lebanon, such tactics are used to whip up sectarian tensions and fears of civil war.

Right-wing politicians immediately blamed the Syrian regime for the assassination, implying that Hezbollah, the main component of the opposition to the government stood to gain by it as they want to overthrow the pro-western Siniora government.

Syria

Government member Saad Hariri, son of assassinated former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, commented: "We believe the hands of Syria are all over the place". President Bush also condemned Syria and Iran for interfering in Lebanon.

But a CWI member living in Beirut explains: "People I have spoken to don't believe these claims and think it unlikely that the Syrian government or Hezbollah were involved. They feel the assassination will be used by the government to rebuild its shattered support and try to undermine the opposition, which is supported by most of the population now.

"This is true particularly for Shias, but also Druze, Sunni Muslims and Christians. The opposition made up of Hezbollah, the Free Patriotic Movement and others called for mass demonstrations starting on 23 November. Two million were expected to march calling for new democratic parliamentary elections. This assassination represents an attempt to undercut those protests".

The government made this a day of national mourning and the whole Lebanese population was called upon to attend Gemayel's funeral.

Hypocrisy

MOST OF Gemayel's obituaries portrayed him as a democrat and fighter for Lebanon's unity. What stomach-turning, hypocritical distortion! Pierre Gemayel was part of one of Lebanon's political dynasties. His grandfather set up the Kataeb (Phalange party - mainly comprising Lebanese Christians) after attending the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games and being inspired by the Nazi Party and Hitler's fascist regime.

The Phalange, armed and trained by the right-wing Israeli government, carried out the Sabra and Shatila massacre in September 1982 under the Israeli generals' noses. Over 3,000 Palestinians were butchered by this paramilitary outfit.

The assassination has magnified the mood of crisis stalking Lebanon's government. The main party in the coalition government, the March 14th grouping, takes its name from the mass movement which demanded Syrian troops withdraw from Lebanon. However, this movement's self-appointed leaders, mainly from Lebanon's political elite, manipulated the support for Syrian withdrawal to gain political power.

Worse still for most Lebanese, these politicians aligned the government much more closely with Western imperialist powers. Many of these politicians are corrupt, right-wing ex-militia and members of the political elite, posturing as "democratic" politicians.

However, the devastating Israeli invasion, the destruction of Lebanon that tore apart the lives of thousands of Lebanese families, had huge political consequences. The March 14th cabinet members and their allies completely lost credibility by doing absolutely nothing during the month-long war.

Most Lebanese consider them as complicit in what was seen as a Western imperialist-supported invasion of their country. While Hezbollah were part of the government, after the war, they increasingly opposed the March 14th movement.

In marked contrast to the government, Hezbollah stopped the invasion in its tracks and inflicted a defeat on the Israeli regime. Most of the population saw this as Lebanon's legitimate national resistance organisation. After the war, Hezbollah moved swiftly to begin reconstruction and offered all families whose houses were destroyed $10,000 while senior government ministers sat on their fat, corrupt hands.

Hezbollah was first formed in 1982 after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Originally Hezbollah's support came from the poor Shia working class while its ideology was based on Islamic teachings of Iran's Ayatollah Khomeni. Since then, Hezbollah has adopted a more populist approach portraying itself as a defender of all sections of Lebanon's population.

Nationalist, more than Islamic, language dominates Hezbollah leaders' speeches. Particularly during the war, Hezbollah formed an alliance with Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement (FPM - a populist organisation with support amongst the Christian population) and the Lebanese Communist Party. Hezbollah came out of the war massively strengthened with support across Lebanon's communities.

The March 14th cabinet members of the government tried to bolster their position after the war by campaigning for an international tribunal to investigate Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri's assassination in 2005. Hariri had become an opponent of the Syrian regime, calling for its troops to withdraw from the country.

A UN-sponsored investigation implicated members of the Syrian regime of involvement in this assassination. However, March 14th used this issue to claim that Hezbollah are willing agents of the Syrian regime and to divert public attention from rampant corruption in the political elite after millions of dollars of aid, supposed to rebuild peoples' shattered lives, disappeared.

Elections

HEZBOLLAH AND its allies such as the FPM demand new democratic elections. Parliamentary seats in Lebanon are, in effect, divided between different religious and ethnic communities, going to political parties led by mafia-style bosses who claim to represent particular communities and use their positions to hand out patronage.

However, Hezbollah and the FPM probably now supported by most of the population, have little parliamentary representation because of the undemocratic method of elections. To put pressure on the Prime Minister to call elections, six cabinet ministers linked to the opposition resigned from the government. Hezbollah called for mass anti-government demonstrations on 23 November.

March 14th leaders attack Hezbollah and the FPM for wanting to overthrow the country's government and democracy. However, Hezbollah's popular leader Nasrullah said the opposition had the power to take over the country if they wanted but they were fighting for democratic elections.

Nasrullah answered those who claim Hezbollah wants to increase sectarian polarisation by explaining that the opposition's differences with the government are political ones. It is likely that a majority of Shia, Druze, Sunni and Christian Lebanese now support their demands for democratic elections, an end to corruption and an end to the sectarian divide in Lebanon.

It is not likely that Assad's Syrian regime organised Gemayel's assassination. It is now being courted by western imperialist powers, including Bush, to help sort out the mess created by the occupation of Iraq. Syria recently re-forged diplomatic links with the Iraqi regime.

Such an attack would make no sense, especially as Assad's regime obviously hopes the Western imperialist powers will reopen economic and trading links with Syria and end the regime's pariah status in return for cooperation on Iraq.

Neither is it likely that Hezbollah could have carried out this attack. Given their massive support amongst the Lebanese population, this would be a suicidal mistake. Rogue elements in the Syrian regime may possibly have carried out this attack to sabotage Assad's closer relationship with western imperialist powers.

Who benefits?

HOWEVER, THE question is who will benefit from this assassination? The March 14th politicians and western governments launched a major propaganda campaign over Gemayel's death, whipping up fears that those responsible want to drive the country into civil war. This may temporarily increase support for the government.

Groups who want March 14th leaders to stay in power and to undercut the proposed mass demonstrations, groups from the shadowy fringes of Lebanon's state apparatus or the far right, possibly even the Israeli security services, could have carried out such an assassination. Conspiracy theories will fill the worlds' press over the next few weeks.

The reality is that Lebanon's people face an increasingly unstable situation with the potential for clashes to develop between different communities. If this instability worsens, a return to civil war cannot be ruled out, although it is not the most likely immediate eventuality.

Lebanon's working class is the only section of society with the potential strength to oppose the slide into conflict. However, to answer the lies, distortions and divisive actions of right-wing reactionary groups and sectarian forces, Lebanese workers, young people and all the oppressed need ideas which outline a different way of running society.

Capitalism encourages and uses sectarian division to maintain its grip over society. A democratically planned socialist economy and society would end mass poverty and unemployment, conditions under which sectarian ideas can breed. A socialist society could also guarantee the rights of all oppressed minorities, thus bringing genuine unity to society.

Recent developments emphasise the urgent need to build an independent working-class alternative which fights for these ideas within Lebanon and beyond.

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