The Lebanese woke up on Saturday morning staring into a political abyss. No matter what political faction they support, people wondered: “What’s next?” There were no answers. Lebanon has teetered on the edge of civil conflict for more than a year. In the past few days, it might have tipped over.
On Friday, the Shiite militia Hizbollah dispatched hundreds of heavily armed fighters into West Beirut, and within 12 hours it altered Lebanon’s delicate political balance. Hizbollah and its allies quickly routed Sunni militiamen, took control of their political offices and shut down media outlets owned by the Sunni leader Saad Hariri. The pro-Western government of the Prime Minister Fouad Siniora appeared powerless, while the Lebanese army stood on the sidelines. By Friday night, Hizbollah had withdrawn most of its fighters from Beirut and turned over the offices of Hariri’s Future Movement to the army.
By demonstrating its military superiority and discipline, Hizbollah hoped to force the government to rescind an order declaring that Hizbollah’s private communications network is illegal and a “threat to state security”.
But by Saturday morning, while Beirut remained calm, fighting erupted in other parts of Lebanon. In the afternoon, a gunman believed to be a Shiite shop owner opened fire on a funeral procession in the Sunni neighbourhood of Tarik Jadideh, killing two people and injuring six. This is the danger of Hizbollah’s action: while its fighters might be highly disciplined, they cannot control their allies – or the Sunni-Shiite rift being fuelled by sectarian bloodletting in Iraq.