Monday, May 12, 2008

Nasrallah has a chance to write his own legacy

Nasrallah has a chance to write his own legacy
By The Daily Star

Some are condemning what Hizbullah did this week as a coup d'etat, while others are defending it as a counter-putsch. That debate will not end soon, but there is no doubting that Lebanon's political status quo has been radically altered in a very few days. It is too early to predict where this will lead the country, but whereas the seat of actual Lebanese power has long been in doubt, for now at least it has a clear address: that of Hizbullah's secretary general, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah. He may continue to shun any official position, but barring an unforeseen turn of events, the leader of the Lebanese resistance has just acquired a hitherto unprecedented amount of national political responsibility.

Hizbullah's track record on previous occasions of ascendancy bodes well for this instance: After the resistance movement forced Israel to pull its occupation forces from most of the South in 2000, it granted far more lenient treatment to Lebanese who had collaborated with the enemy than most established armies ordinarily do. This time, though, Nasrallah has made himself responsible for agendas of incalculably greater breadth. Due largely to the political squabbles that have paralyzed Lebanon since 2005, urgent matters have been left waiting. If Nasrallah's gambit this week was aimed at ending those squabbles rather than responding with just another tit-for-tat escalation, it is now his job to make possible the resolution of several quandaries. The economy is adrift, the vagueness of the national defense strategy that worked so well in the 1990s has become a liability, the existing electoral law is fatally flawed, and deep mistrust marks both political and sectarian boundaries. In addition, depending on how the consequences of this week's events play out, the Lebanese could find themselves besieged like the Palestinians after they elected Hamas in January 2006. Above all else, there is a need to engage in real dialogue, not the profitless trade of empty slogans.

Nasrallah's task now is to create an inclusive environment conducive to the answering of these and other challenges. He and his party cannot be expected to come up with all of the solutions, and nor should they want to: If they cannot draw other players - and not just their closest allies - into the process, Nasrallah runs the risk of being cast as a dictator by default. Hizbullah and its partners have frequently argued that their counterparts in the March 14 Forces coalition were not interested in true partnership, only in dictating terms. Now Nasrallah has to prove that his side is ready, willing and able to live up to its own expectations, and speed is of the essence: After 15 years of civil war, 15 of diluted sovereignty, and three of limbo, the Lebanese deserve at last to have a level of politics commensurate with their talents and energies. If Nasrallah is the man who makes this happen, history will judge his actions to have been a revolution, not a coup, and a long-overdue one at that.

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