After Beirut Violence, Is Lebanon Headed for Collapse?

The relative stability inside Lebanon has transformed overnight as a result of the country’s divisions over ever-worsening Syria. Two Sunni clerics, Sheikh Ahmad Abdul-Wahed and Sheikh Muhammad Hussein Al-Mereb, were shot and killed on Sunday after clashes between Lebanese soldiers, and pro and anti-Syrian groups. Later into the night, Beirut’s district of Tariq al-Jadideh was engulfed in rage as clashes between Sunni and pro-Syrian regime factions set the streets on fire with flames, guns, and RPGs, resulting in the death of two people and more than a dozen wounded. 

The cause of the violence is the spillover effect from the turmoil in Syria. The Syrian crisis will most likely spark further violence in Lebanon, and worse, a possible collapse of the government.

Lebanese society remains heavily divided over how to deal with the Syrian situation. Lebanon’s sectarian sentiments are spreading into armed clashes throughout the country, heavily weighing on Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s fragile government. Despite much talk and speculation over the past year, Lebanon has until now  managed to largely stay out of the  neighboring conflict. As the crisis in Syria continues, however, Lebanon may no longer be able to stay out of the trouble.Pressure is mounting on the current infantile government, which has suffered from instability and internal strife since it was formed about a year ago. 

Sunday’s eruption of violence demonstrates the increasing concern of Lebanon's Sunni and Shia political factions. Although Hezbollah remained distant from the events, the violence demonstrates Sunni communities' rising frustrations with  growing Shia political influence. They see the Shia as dominating decision making in the government and choices regarding Lebanon’s security. On a regional and international level, the Syrian regime is seeking declared support from its Lebanese political allies, while opposing players have also opted to support their political factions with both moral and financial support.

These unfortunate events provide another crucial challenge for the divided government. However, Lebanon is still far off from heading into mass conflict, despite rumors it is on the brink of another civil war. While the outbreak of violence in Tripoli, northern Lebanon, and now Beirut has sparked much concern, the reality is that this situation is quite typical for the country. There will most likely be further episodes of sectarian clashes to come, but at this time, there is no reasonable cause for concern over the collapsing state security in Lebanon’s foreseeable future.

Violence in Lebanon does not benefit anyone, it only  undermines Lebanon’s fragility and enduring struggle for peace and stability. Prime Minister Mikati’s government has continued to remain neutral on Syria for understandable reasons, but he may not be able to avoid taking an official position for much longer.