Lebanon: Hezbollah routs pro-US Siniora government forces

LEBANON HAS been wracked by a week of armed clashes between supporters of the Western backed Fouad Siniora government and the Hezbollah-led opposition. More than 80 people are reported dead. Hezbollah fighters soon routed the pro-government forces, seizing control of Muslim areas of Beirut.

The days of fierce fighting brought back memories of the horrors of the long 1975-90 civil war, which also involved Syria and Israel.

Lebanon has been politically paralysed for 18 months, unable to elect a new president (for 6 months) because of a deadlock between government and opposition forces. The situation also has a regional and international dimension: the Lebanese government parties, led by Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, are backed by the Western powers and Saudi Arabia. The opposition, led by Hezbollah, is backed by Syria and Iran.

Syria dominated Lebanon until 2005 when the assassination of former PM Rafik Hariri triggered mass protests in Lebanon for Syrian troops to leave. This movement was seized upon by the Bush administration who saw an opportunity for reasserting its influence over Lebanon.

The recent conflict began after the government moved to shut down Hezbollah’s telecoms network and to sack the chief of security at Beirut’s airport for allegedly acting on behalf of Hezbollah.

Meanwhile, preparations for a general strike, called by the General Trade Union, and prepared for over one month, went ahead. The General Trade Union, brings together all Lebanon’s unions. However, it is relatively weak, as the unions only organise around 7% of the Lebanese working class. The strike was called over popular demands: for wage increases and against rising prices.

Saudi Arabia, a supporter of the Lebanese government, accused Iran of supporting a “coup” by Hezbollah. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad replied: “Iran is not the only country interfering”.

Smarting after the quick setbacks inflicted on its Lebanese allies, the US sent a guided missile destroyer, the USS Cole, back to the Eastern Mediterranean. President George Bush said he would offer to “strengthen” Lebanon’s army so it can disarm Hezbollah.

Arab League mediators announced a tentative deal between the government and Hezbollah on 15 May to end the conflict. Soon after, Hezbollah roadblocks were removed and Beirut airport was reopened.

The events over the last week show that each and every political party in Lebanon is organised for war. All the political parties use religious sectarianism as a base of support.

A CWI member in Beirut writes:

“The need for a working class party that unites all workers against the ruling class grows everyday. The angry mood over high living costs and huge levels of poverty, while the rich elite get richer, shows the class basis on which a mass working class party can be built. But, as the events of the last few days show, a new working class party needs to adopt bold socialist policies that can break workers and youth from the sectarian based political parties.

“Similarly, the unions need to be developed into fighting, independent mass class organisations, if they are not to be swamped by sectarian and right wing political forces, as we witnessed on 7 May.”

For a day-by-day account of the recent conflict by a CWI member in Beirut see www.socialistworld.net