- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 18, 2011

BEIRUT | As Lebanon waits for lawmakers to begin trying to form a new government, political gridlock and looming security threats are corroding the Lebanese economy and creating fear in the streets.

“They don’t mind sacrificing the public,” said Lebanese political analyst Hilal Khashan. “All public activity has come to a complete halt.”

Other analysts say that, without a government, Lebanon is in danger of slipping back into the sectarian violence that has long plagued the country.

Lebanese bankers say the political crisis already has damaged the economy and could result in higher rates of unemployment, as the cost of living continues to soar.

Lebanese people say they fear the political crisis will lead to violence on the streets. Last week, grenades reportedly were thrown into the office of the Free Patriotic Movement, a powerful, mostly Christian ally of the Shiite political party Hezbollah.

Lebanese soldiers man armored vehicles to keep order in Beirut as Hezbollah party supporters gather in the streets early Tuesday after a U.N. tribunal filed indictments in the assassination of a former prime minister. (Associated Press)
Lebanese soldiers man armored vehicles to keep order in Beirut as Hezbollah ... more >

Early Wednesday, several Beirut schools closed as sporadic protests were dispersed. By evening, political rivals of Hezbollah were denouncing the protests.

Hezbollah’s suspicious street action today has terrorized the people and places the country on the edge of tensions that we reject,” said Jamal al-Jarrah, a member of parliament, according to local news source Naharnet.

The Lebanese government collapsed last week after 11 ministers resigned in protest of the ruling party’s support of the international tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Ten of the ministers were from Hezbollah, which allied with nearly half the parliament.

Tribunal officials filed a confidential indictment Monday thought to name Hezbollah members in connection with the assassination.

Hezbollah, which has the strongest military in the country, repeatedly has criticized the tribunal and accused the U.S. and Israel of manufacturing the proceedings expressly to discredit the organization.

Formed in the 1980s in opposition to the Israeli occupation, Hezbollah is referred to as a terrorist organization by Israel and the U.S.

But in Lebanon, the organization is an influential political party backed by Iran and Syria.

In a speech Monday, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said his organization should be “thanked” for collapsing the government through legal means.

“We are not afraid of anyone’s speech or threat,” Mr. Nasrallah said on Al-Manar, Hezbollah’s television station. “We act according to our convictions.”

Many people here say the real security threat in Lebanon is economic. Locals watch violent protests over the cost of living in Tunisia, Algeria and discontent in Jordan and wonder whether Lebanon is next.

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