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US-backed parties have infiltrated Lebanon’s protests, pushing the country toward war amid economic collapse

By joining the roadblocks around Beirut, protesters allowed themselves to be used by US-allied parties playing a dangerous game that has the potential to explode into open warfare

by Rania Khalek

Part 4 - Cooperation and integration versus the West’s recipe for fragmentation

The Lebanese economy is facing imminent collapse. Unemployment is spreading, prices are spiking and the street price of the Lebanese lira continues to devalue. There is little that can be done to avoid the collapse, which has been thirty years in the making.

The implosion of the Lebanese economy is spilling over into Syria, which was already teetering on the edge of economic collapse due to eight years of war, government mismanagement and US sanctions designed to collapse the country. Syria was relying on Lebanon as its access point to purchase goods for imports. Now that too is gone. Lebanon’s economic crisis is also affecting Syrian elites who placed their money in Lebanese banks during the war and cannot access it now due to the collapse of the banking sector.

One solution being floated for Lebanon’s economic woes is greater cooperation and economic integration with Syria. Syria, unlike Lebanon, has the capacity to produce with thousands of factories and a labor force. Lebanon produces nothing but has the ability to market and distribute without being hindered by international sanctions. Unfortunately none of this is on the reform agenda of the protests.

Iraq, too, could be a market for Lebanese dairy and agricultural products, which would transit through Syria if the Americans ever unblocked the Tanf crossing between Syria and Iraq. Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, has mentioned this in his speeches. The solution for Lebanon and its neighbors is cooperation and integration, not further fragmentation as is promoted by the West.

One figure involved in the protest who is pushing the idea of regional economic integration with Syria is Charbel Nahas, secretary general of the political party Citizens In A State (CIAS). While CIAS refrains from identifying itself as left or right, it is clear from its platform that the party has a leftist progressive bent. CIAS has influenced some of the protest discourse but not when it comes to Syria, which is viewed negatively by the dominant forces on the ground in the protests.

The Lebanese Communist Party, for its part, is advocating nationalization of the banks and the cancelation of the public debt as well as other debts, though this too is not a part of the mainstream discourse.

Meanwhile, the US has been scheming to exploit Lebanon’s economic desperation against Hezbollah.

After Hariri’s resignation, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), a pro-Israel think tank, hosted a panel discussion on the protests sweeping Lebanon. The event was moderated by WINEP fellow Hanin Ghaddar, a native of Lebanon who has devoted her career to lobbying against Hezbollah. She was elated by Hariri’s resignation.

Among the panelists was Makram Rabah, a lecturer at the American University of Beirut and consultant with Quantum Communications, a marketing firm that played a crucial role in the so-called Cedar Revolution in 2005 that ousted the Syrian army from Lebanon and birthed the pro-American anti-Hezbollah March 14 coalition.

While not denying anything printed about him in this article, Rabah responded by calling this report a “toilet paper article” while branding a critic as “the ugly face of a gang of wannabe intellectuals” and a “fascist.

At the WINEP panel, Rabah was joined by Lokman Slim, who runs Hayya Bina, a Western-backed NGO that has partnered with an array of US government-funded entities, including the National Democratic Institute, a subsidiary of the National Endowment for Democracy and partner of the US Institute for Peace, which were both founded under Reagan to push regime change in adversary countries under the cover of “democracy promotion.” 

The USG has been working quietly with Slim for some time” according to Wikileaks cables, which also showcased Hayya Bina’s close coordination with the US embassy.

Through Hayya Bina, Slim runs the website Shiawatch.org, which supposedly monitors the malign activities of Shia groups the US doesn’t like. It’s difficult to imagine Western support for a website called JewWatch, but anti-Shia bigotry has been normalized by Western governments as a tool against Iran.

The WINEP panelists emphasized the need for the US to harness the protests against Hezbollah.

Mike Pompeo expressed his support for the protests, claiming that protesters “want Hezbollah and Iran out of their country.” Hezbollah is Lebanese, so Pompeo’s declaration was essentially a call for expelling Lebanese people the US does not like from their native country.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also threw his support behind the protests, framing them as a movement against Hezbollah.

Statements like these encapsulated the danger the protests pose against an imminent economic collapse. So far, American involvement has been minimal and the protests have remained focused on the organic concerns of ordinary Lebanese citizens. But if the US chooses to escalate its involvement, the situation could take a nasty turn.

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