During the past week, demonstrations in Lebanon over uncollected garbage have descended into violent clashes between protesters and police. Masses of demonstrators have swelled in the streets of Beirut in a movement now being deemed the “You Stink!” movement.
With these developments suddenly taking place in Lebanon and, with taking the Syrian crisis into context and the Iranian nuclear deal in the background, it is reasonable to question whether or not these protests are a legitimate expression of discontent with an inefficient government or whether it is the product of a Western-backed color revolution aimed at destabilizing Lebanon – particularly Hezbollah – and further weakening the “Shiite Arch of Influence.”
When attempting to analyze events in Lebanon, like much of the Middle East, very little could be considered simple. Lebanon has been racked with economic depression, cultural tensions, color revolutions, civil war and civil war brinkmanship, and terrorism for decades. It has also been the target of outside forces for many years.
The issue of trash pickup – the issue around which the protests began – was entirely a legitimate issue. Squabbling within the Lebanese government has resulted in gridlock on issues such as the disposal of garbage and the economic crisis has brought funding of garbage disposal into question. Likewise, when the government brought up the idea of the privatization of trash disposal services, Lebanese erupted in anger understanding that privatization would mean higher prices, poorer service, and even less accountability.
Already suffering from the effects of the world economic depression, Lebanon’s main source of national income – tourism and banking – have seen drastic reductions due to the crisis in Syria and the spillover of fighting across the border. An increase of Syrian refugees alongside Palestinian refugees already inside the country’s borders have also taxed the social fabric and the social safety net system in Lebanon. As Andrew Korybko points out in his article “Lebanon’s Future Is On The Line, And It Directly Affects Syria,” Lebanon’s high debt-to-GDP ratio is one of the world’s highest standing at 143% and the unemployment rate among young people in Lebanon stands officially at 34%.
The economic crisis has become so strained that Prime Minister Tammam Salam recently announced that the government might not be able to pay salaries to workers as early as next month.
Lebanon is also in the middle of an acute political crisis, having been without a President since May 2014, after the previous Presidential term ended. In addition, Prime Minister Salam has hinted that he will resign if political gridlock continues. This resignation would only add to the tensions in Lebanon since the Prime Minister appoints the President. Salam’s resignation would throw Lebanon into a Constitutional crisis on top of the protests, terrorism, and economic hardship.
As Korybko writes, the political situation as it currently stands in Lebanon suggests that one of two men – Michael Aoun and Samir Geagea – have the potential to be president. Both men seem to represent the main “trans-religious political coalitions.”
Aoun is allied with Hezbollah while Geagea is tied to a former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, a Lebanese-Saudi billionaire. Wikileaks cables released coming from the Saudi Foreign Ministry suggests that Hariri still maintains connections and contacts with Saudi intelligence and the Saudi royal family. The connections are deep enough that Hariri once thought it a reasonable proposition to ask the Saudis to fund his political party.
Hints Of A Color Revolution
As mentioned, the protests that originally took place in Lebanon were surrounding an entirely legitimate issue – the lack of effective implementation of a trash pickup plan and the potential for privatization. However, those protests have now turned violent with the original issue having taken a backseat to issues such as that of “government corruption.”
This type of focus is one hallmark of the color revolution, i.e. that legitimate issues are subsumed by shadowy ideals that have no concrete demands to back them up. Government corruption is generally the go-to ideal since everyone hates government corruption and since the likelihood of stopping it is so low. Once the standing government is brought down, a perceived change in the power structure tends to alleviate social protest.
The lack of concrete demands is also a hallmark of the color revolution. After all, the goal of the color revolution is regime change, social tension, and distraction, not real progress. A lack of demands precludes the ability of the masses to actually bring about positive tangible change. It does, however, allow for a steam valve of public anger.
During those times when the ultimate goal of the color revolution is regime change, the results are unfortunately that the individuals whom the backers of the color revolution desire to assume power are able to do just that.
It is also important to point out the marketing capabilities behind the hordes of people in the streets of Beirut. A seeming coalition of individual citizens and opposing organizations are all assembled – we are told organically – under one name for the purposes of achieving their as yet unstated goals. The “You Stink!” movement now joins a number of other movements who were “branded” with a catchy name to popularize itself as a political force just as Americans saw the Occupy Movement, Ukrainians saw the Euromaidan Movement, Pora Movement, and the Orange Revolution. In Serbia, it was Otpor! In Lebanon, it was the Cedar Revolution.
These slogans and symbols are the product of mass marketers employed by State Departments and intelligence agencies for the sole purpose of destabilizing and/or overthrowing a democratically elected or unfavorable (to the oligarchy)government
The YouStink! Movemement is also known as a “youth movement.” While it is must granted that most social protest movements tend to be driven by younger people, it is also true that movements that represent populist sentiment tend to be more diverse in terms of age and support. That question aside, however, color revolutions generally rely on “swarming adolescents” and “hordes of youth” in the streets using the energy anger, and pent up aggression of young people out of work and devoid of hope with which to provoke violent actions between police and protesters and to create more tension on the political and social scene.
This is precisely the population from which the overwhelming majority of the YouStink! Movement is drawn.
It has also been the desire of “infiltrators” to cause the protest movement to move in a violent direction. These infiltrators have not, as yet, been positively identified. However, considering the sizeable network of Western NGOs and US “Aid” agencies at work inside Lebanon, it is reasonable to wonder whether or not the destabilizing and infiltrating forces are directly connected to the Western color revolution apparatus. As Foreign Policy documents,
The real challenge to the protest movement comes not from the government, but in organizing a common front that stretches across Lebanon’s religious and class divides. It’s already a struggle: Organizers blamed the clashes on “infiltrators” intent on disrupting the peaceful nature of the demonstration. You Stink’s Facebook page posted a video of hundreds of young men entering the protest en masse and referred to them as “hooligans” who purposefully incited violence against the security forces.
“They really wanted to damage the demonstration,” Thebian said of the protesters who clashed with police. “They want to move the demonstration into a sectarian conflict, which we totally refuse.”
Given the fact that the agitators are suspected of not only causing violence but also of attempting to cause sectarian conflict, it is also reasonable to wonder whether or not the intent for Lebanon is more than a mere color revolution but a descent into chaos and civil war in the same manner as Syria.
It is also important to point out that the You Stink! Movement is calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Salam, a demand that, if enacted, would through the country into the middle of a Constitutional crisis.
Why Would Foreign Elements Want To See A Color Revolution In Lebanon?
Many may be rightly confused with any suggestions that the West would like to see the government of Lebanon (separate from Hezbollah) destroyed or destabilized, especially when that government was largely placed in power by a Western-backed color revolution to begin with.
However, there are a number of ways in which the collapse of the fragile government and governing structure in Lebanon would not only benefit the West, but also hurt Assad in Syria.
Andrew Korybko describes the political governing structure of Lebanon in the following way:
The tiny Middle Eastern state of about four and a half million people is marked by a demographic and political complexity that could hinder a speedy resolution to the current crisis. It’s necessary to be aware of some of its specifics in order to better understand the origins of the current stalemate and where it might rapidly be headed.
Unilaterally sliced out of Syria during the early years of the French mandate, the territory of Lebanon hails what is generally recognized as the most diverse population in the Mideast. Eighteen religious groups are recognized in the country’s constitution, including Alawites, Druze, Maronite Catholics, Sunnis, and Shiites.
This eclecticism of religious communities is presided over by something referred to as the National Pact, an unwritten understanding that the President will always be Maronite, the Prime Minister will be Sunni, and the Speaker of Parliament will be Shiite, among other stipulations (and with a few historical exceptions).Complementary to this concept is the country’s unique political system called confessionalism, whereby Christians and Muslims share equal seats in the unicameral parliament, but each group’s respective composition is determined proportionally by sect. Originally meant to be a temporary solution when it was first enacted in the 1920s, it was later refined by the 1989 Taif Agreement that ended the lengthy civil war and has remained in place to this day.
With the governing foundations of the Lebanese state in such fragile shape, one can see just how easily Lebanon might fall into chaos if just the right amount of pressure is applied. But, again, the question is “why?”
First, causing chaos in Lebanon, if the chaos is great enough, will force Hezbollah to remove its forces fighting ISIS is Syria and bring them back to deal with the lack of social order at home. The removal of forces from Syria will greatly relieve pressure on terrorist forces and deprive Assad of a very important ally. The SAA would thus find it a greater challenge to defend the Lebanon-Syria border, possibly even creating a situation where ISIS/”rebel” forces would be able to push deep into Lebanon.
Likewise, if Hezbollah forces are withdrawn from Syria, the Beirut/Damascus highway is likely to become a target of Western-backed terrorist forces. If so, it would make one and eventually both of the “lifelines” to the Syrian capital significant targets with attempts being made to cut these highway routes. Already, the Latakia-Damascus highway, the second “lifeline” to the capital,” finds itself in danger from attacks coming from Western-backed terrorists.
Aside from Syria, the weakening of the political order in Lebanon would be problematic for Hezbollah in the short run and devastating in the long run. If Hezbollah is forced to concern itself only with the political situation in Lebanon, it’s own influence and ability to assist in fighting terrorism in Syria as well as on its own borders will be diminished, all leading to a net reduction in the fighting capability of the true anti-ISIS coalition. The result of drawing Hezbollah away from Syria and back into Lebanon will effectively isolate both Hezbollah and the SAA, weakening the resistance to Western-backed terrorism and also severing the Western end of the “Shi’ite Arch of Influence” from the central and Eastern ends (Syria and Iran).
The intention to destroy Hezbollah has been known since the early days of the destabilization and, indeed, as far back as 2006 when Seymour Hersh reported in his now famous article, “The Redirection,” that,
To undermine Iran, which is predominantly Shiite, the Bush Administration has decided, in effect, to reconfigure its priorities in the Middle East. In Lebanon, the Administration has cooperated with Saudi Arabia’s government, which is Sunni, in clandestine operations that are intended to weaken Hezbollah, the Shiite organization that is backed by Iran. The U.S. has also taken part in clandestine operations aimed at Iran and its ally Syria. A by-product of these activities has been the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups that espouse a militant vision of Islam and are hostile to America and sympathetic to Al Qaeda.
It remains to be seen how far the color revolution will go in Lebanon. The attempts to destabilize Iran in 2009 failed but the previous attempt in Lebanon in 2005 was successful. Only time will tell whether or not the West will succeed in bringing Lebanon into a state of chaos that resembles its neighbor to the East. For the sake of the Lebanese people and the people of the Middle East we must hope that rational actors will appear and put an end to the apparently Western-backed chaos taking place across the country. If not, then two of the three pieces will have been placed in the Middle East. Iran will be the last domino to fall before the final confrontation with Russia and China begin.