For months, political officials and pundits predicted that the release of the first official round of indictments in the UN Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) on June 30 would provoke sectarian outrage and lead the country into crisis. The tribunal released indictments and warrants for suspects in the assassination of Lebanon's former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in 2005. Yet despite this chatter, the general population appears uninterested in the outcome of the indictment.
Why has there been such a limited reaction? The primary reason is that the Lebanese were prepared for the outcome, and the tribunal has not introduced anything politically new.
Lebanon’s two main political factions, the March 8 Alliance and March 14 Alliance, exchanged harsh words in the months leading up to the indictment over what the newly formed government’s position should be in relation to the tribunal. In short, Hezbollah’s camp argued that the tribunal is a conspiracy against the organization, while Hariri’s camp claimed the accusations are nothing but a plot to hinder the accuracy of the tribunal’s investigation and the justice process.
For the Lebanese people, however, this kind of political squabbling has been commonplace for years. The government was dysfunctional for months prior to the indictment, so the public does not think anything has changed.
Additionally, Lebanon Prime Minister Najib Makati’s new government is supporting the tribunal’s process so far, but Hezbollah continues to indicate that none of its members will stand trial. The four accused are Mustapha Badreddine and Salim Ayyash, both prominent Hezbollah officials, as well Hussein Anaissy and Assad Sabra, other members of the organization. The public has long been prepared for Hezbollah to be indicted. Furthermore, Hezbollah’s stance against the tribunal is not a recent development. The organization believes the tribunal is a plot by the U.S. and Israel to weaken its position in the country and in the region. Hezbollah has asserted this recurring argument against various issues, therefore the Lebanese public saw nothing new in this case.
Finally, the public is aware that the first round of indictments is not the end of the line. More names will be released in a second round of indictments towards the end of the month. Rumor has it that further indictments could possibly contain names of more Hezbollah party members, other Lebanese officials, and of individuals affiliated outside of Lebanon, such as Syria. The Lebanese are prepared for the trial to be a long and extended affair, and as the events can easily change, the tribunal could be ongoing for many years before anything is concluded.
Tensions at this point could only escalate if the rival camps are able to successfully stir emotions and public anger. Both political camps are aware that the findings could be used as huge political leverage under future or different political circumstances. But, the bottom line is that most of Lebanon is uninterested in the process or just plain over it. If any type of confrontational outbreak will occur, it will not be any time in the near future.
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