Lebanon: mixing the young generation

Interference in Lebanon is rife, but the country’s internal politics are often misunderstood or igno

Last week the English-language Daily Star reported that Hezbollah was organising "jihadi tours" to the south of the country. On the trip, Lebanese of all religions were taken to the sites of key battles and the rather surreal border crossing with Israel at Fatima's Gate, before meeting some of the largely elusive Hezbollah fighters themselves.

Tim Llewellyn commented at the launch of Spirit of the Phoenix, his new book about Lebanon, that parallel trips are being organised whereby Lebanese Shias visit Christian areas of the north.

While regional interference in Lebanon is rife, the country's internal politics are often misunderstood and ignored. This is partly due to the large disagreement within the country about what it actually means to be Lebanese, and whether the country is the Switzerland or the mini-Balkans of the Middle East.

This absence of an agreed common identity, enshrined by the 1943 National Pact that codified the politics of Lebanon's confessional system, could be challenged by a process of greater interaction between the country's various communities.

In essence, this means the Lebanese getting to know Lebanon, in contrast to the current state of affairs whereby confessional green zones -- ranging from the southern suburbs to Mount Lebanon and the Chouf and on to Palestinian refugee camps -- are largely avoided by Lebanese from different backgrounds.

In particular, this mixing of a young generation, not bloodied by the country's 15-year civil war, could provide a source of stability that ultimately could make the country less permeable to the politics of more powerful regional states.

Such permeability makes Lebanon extremely attractive as a location for proxy warfare. Alliances crystallised on the departure of the Syrians in 2005 into a conflict between a pro-western alliance and a pro-Iranian alliance.

Upping the game

The current quiet in Lebanon is partly explained by the tortuous and bloody road to a government of national unity in 2009 where, despite the two alliances believing in substantially different things, they have managed to come together for the sake of the country (a bit like a more extreme form of the British Lib Dem-Conservative coalition).

Such a fine balance is forever being challenged by the gradually raised stakes against Iran.

On Monday the Lebanese prime minister, Saad Hariri, was in Washington, where President Barack Obama brought up concerns over reports of Syrian Scuds being transferred to Hezbollah. It would seem that another story of intelligence concerning "mysterious weapons" has placed a roadblock in the way of a US-Syrian rapprochement and therefore regional progress.

Lebanon's potential as a battlefield for the wars of others has been heightened by its position on the UN Security Council. As the net tightens on the Iranians, with the Russians and Chinese seemingly being brought round to sanctions, Lebanon's vote in any upcoming resolution will come into sharp focus.

A week before meeting Obama, Hariri was in Damascus consolidating his relationship with President Bashar al-Assad, whose country still casts a large shadow over Lebanon. Hariri's natural political stance would be to look west not east. Yet with millions of dollars in US aid on the line, he is likely to tread carefully at the UN.

Otherwise, the latest attempts of the Lebanese to live united in peace may quickly descend into the violent factionalism of regional conflict, a curse that has all too often blighted the country's modern history.

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There's just one future for the left: Jeremy Corbyn

Labour's new leader is redefining Labour for the 21st century, argues Liam Young. 

The politics of the resurgent left comes down to one simple maxim: people are sick and tired of establishment politics. When one makes this statement it is usually met with some form of disapproval. But it is important to realise that there are two different types of people that you have this conversation with.

First there are the people I surround myself with in a professional environment: political types. Then there are the people I surround myself with socially: normal people.

Unsurprisingly the second category is larger than the first and it is also more important. We may sit on high horses on Twitter or Facebook and across a multitude of different media outlets saying what we think and how important what we think is, but in reality few outside of the bubble could care less.

People who support Jeremy Corbyn share articles that support Jeremy Corbyn - such as my own. People who want to discredit Jeremy Corbyn share articles that discredit Jeremy Corbyn - like none of my own. It is entirely unsurprising right? But outside of this bubble rests the future of the left. Normal people who talk about politics for perhaps five minutes a day are the people we need to be talking to, and I genuinely believe that Labour is starting to do just that.

People know that our economy is rigged and it is not just the "croissant eating London cosmopolitans" who know this. It is the self-employed tradesman who has zero protection should he have to take time off work if he becomes ill. It is the small business owner who sees multi-national corporations get away with paying a tiny fraction of the tax he or she has to pay. And yes, it is the single mother on benefits who is lambasted in the street without any consideration for the reasons she is in the position she is in. And it is the refugee being forced to work for less than the minimum wage by an exploitative employer who keeps them in line with the fear of deportation. 

The odds are stacked against all normal people, whether on a zero hours contract or working sixty hours a week. Labour has to make the argument from the left that is inclusive of all. It certainly isn’t an easy task. But we start by acknowledging the fact that most people do not want to talk left or right – most people do not even know what this actually means. Real people want to talk about values and principles: they want to see a vision for the future that works for them and their family. People do not want to talk about the politics that we have established today. They do not want personality politics, sharp suits or revelations on the front of newspapers. This may excite the bubble but people with busy lives outside of politics are thoroughly turned off by it. They want solid policy recommendations that they believe will make their lives better.

People have had enough of the same old, of the system working against them and then being told that it is within their interest to simply go along with it.  It is our human nature to seek to improve, to develop. At the last election Labour failed to offer a vision of future to the electorate and there was no blueprint that helped people to understand what they could achieve under a Labour government. In the states, Bernie Sanders is right to say that we need a political revolution. Here at home we've certainly had a small one of our own, embodying the disenchantment with our established political discourse. The same-old will win us nothing and that is why I am firmly behind Jeremy Corbyn’s vision of a new politics – the future of the left rests within it. 

Liam Young is a commentator for the IndependentNew Statesman, Mirror and others.