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Last Updated: Tuesday, 10 July 2007, 02:15 GMT 03:15 UK
One year on: Lebanon political paralysis
Martin Asser has returned to Lebanon, a year after covering the war between Hezbollah and Israel for the BBC News website. His series of articles examines how the country has fared since that conflict.

In his second report, he looks at a political crisis that is continuing to grip the nation.

A billboard of Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah and a model of a Katyusha rocket launcher in southern Lebanon
Hezbollah claims a "divine victory" in the war

Lebanon is much changed politically since it was thrust into the international spotlight with the capture of two Israeli soldiers by the Hezbollah movement one year ago.

After the collapse of the unity government, there is paralysis in legislature and deadlock over fundamental issues.

Israel's 34-day war in July and August 2006 to free its captured soldiers and destroy Hezbollah militarily ended in failure.

Lebanon was pummelled by Israeli air strikes, but on the ground fighters for Hezbollah held their own against their adversary - a more powerful conventional army.

The radical Shia Muslim group - which is supported by Syria and Iran - proclaimed it as a "divine victory".

But this "victory" has in some ways led to the disastrous political situation in which Lebanon finds itself now.

Tarnished reputation

The roots of the problem were clear at the time, namely that many in Lebanon did not welcome the fact of a non-state agency fighting its wars for them.

A funeral of a man who died in June's car bomb that  killed anti-Syrian MP Walid Eido
Lebanon has been rocked by a series of bomb attacks

That is not to say Hezbollah does not enjoy wide support from its own Shia constituency, concentrated in southern Lebanon and the southern suburbs of the capital, Beirut.

But in this country which is a melange of minority groups, support and sympathy outside Hezbollah's Shia core is much more patchy.

And, having previously enjoyed a reputation for magnanimity towards other communities, the party has now tried to press its pre-eminence in the political sphere as well as the military one, alienating some non-Shia groups.

Hezbollah's reputation for efficiency and financial probity - the honest disbursement of funds given by Iran - has also taken a bit of a battering, given the slow pace of repairing last year's bomb damage.

It basically boils down to whether as a Lebanese citizen you blame Hezbollah for bringing last year's destruction down on the country or whether you see it as a symbol of Arab resistance against Israeli aggression.

For many people, neither Hezbollah nor its opponents - known as the 14 March movement - are acting in the national interest.

Rather they are seen to be squabbling over power without regard to ordinary people who really just want life to get back to normal.

Divided population

The most obvious signs of strife at the moment are the opposition encampments which have occupied the centre of Beirut since their establishment in December.

For anti-Syrians, the very presence of the tent city, with its demand for the resignation of the elected government, is both offensive and intimidating.

Life in the city centre - for many a symbol of Lebanon's regeneration and sound economic future before the war - has been brought to a standstill.

One tourist hotel marooned in the middle of the camp has laid off some 60 of its 75 employees.

Inside the camps themselves morale is high, although only a few dozen of the thousands of original protesters are still in residence.

For these people, mainly poor southern Lebanese, the fact that the sophisticated elite of the capital cannot partake of meals or buy goods they could never dream of affording, is of little significance.

They also boast - contrary to popular portrayal - that theirs is a genuinely multi-faith movement, incorporating Christian followers of Michel Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement, as well as small Druze and Sunni Muslim parties.

The other visible change is the heavy security presence in the centre of Beirut, hoping to protect against further bomb attacks that have targeted a string of anti-Syrian figures.

Political posts

At the moment, all sides say they are committed to solving the stand-off peacefully.

Against the impressively well-organised Hezbollah, the anti-Syrian coalition enjoys the support of the US, the influential former colonial power France and Saudi Arabia.

The problem is that mutual suspicions are growing on each side.

One hears fears being voiced that Hezbollah wants to introduce a Shia theocratic state in Lebanon, which will ride roughshod over Christian and Sunni Muslim rights.

Those two groups currently hold the two most powerful offices of state under the current constitutional system which reflects a past era, when the Shia were not Lebanon's largest group.

Hezbollah supporters meanwhile accuse the anti-Syrians of all manner of treachery, such as being in the pay of a US and Israeli-led conspiracy to stifle Arab and Muslim independence.

They view moves to put pro-Syrian figures before an international tribunal for the murder of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri as part of that plot.

Also looming in the next few months is the election by parliament of a (Maronite Christian) president to replace the pro-Syrian Emile Lahoud whose term ends on 25 November.

A lot depends on the tactics each side adopts in the run-up to the presidential vote, which could potentially be a trigger for more violence.

A suitable candidate approved by both sides could help move towards a resolution of the stand-off. But the price of failure is high.

Read Martin Asser's first report:






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