Lebanon, a month to the day after the assassination of Rafik al-Hariri, the country’s former prime minister. Opposition groups accused Syria of a hand in his murder and huge demonstrations led to the hasty departure of Syrian troops, ending their 29-year military presence.
With their withdrawal, Lebanon was on the road to independence. But although the pullout was long wished for, what remained was a country divided between the pro- and the anti-Syrians. More than a year on, the situation is no better.
Elections in May and June last year saw an anti-Syrian alliance win control of parliament. And, for the first time, the assembly included a member of Hezbollah. But it was split on a number of fundamental issues: the position of the pro-Syrian president Emile Lahoud and the disarmament of Hezbollah.
One side is made up of the March 14 coalition – the group led by Hariri’s son, its Druze allies headed by Walid Jumblatt and Christian Samir Geagea. They are calling for Lahoud’s departure.
Opposing them are Hassan Nasrallah’s Hezbollah and an unexpected ally: Michel Aoun was fiercely opposed to Syria’s military presence but surprised many by forming electoral coalitions last year with some of his erstwhile opponents, taking 21 seats.
If the governing parties have not been able to reach an agreement on the president and his eventual succesor, the problem of disarming Hezbollah is even more thorny.
The Shi’ite militia is omni-present in the south of Lebanon. Top of their agenda is their continuing fight against Israel and many analysts believe the current situation will only strengthen their support base.
The risk for Lebanon is whether Syria will take advantage of events to reassert itself within the country. The last thing Lebanon needs is to become, once again, the battleground for a conflict that goes way beyond its borders.