After a show of force in this summer’s conflict with Israel, the Shiite militia Hezbollah is now trying to drive the Western-backed Lebanese government from power. Nearly a quarter of Lebanon’s population took to the streets of Beirut earlier today, while the beleaguered prime minister, Fouad Siniora, took shelter behind hundreds of troops and police.
Lebanon has been a mess for a long time. A 15-year civil war with more factions than you can count ended in 1991, leaving the Lebanese government a virtual puppet of Syria. Syria lost its power in the wake of huge protests following the revelation that Syria was involved in the February 2005 assassination of then-prime minister Rafik Hariri. Siniora took office immediately thereafter.
Trouble began brewing for Siniora’s government when Hezbollah single-handedly held its own against the Israeli Defense Forces this summer, earning massive popular support. With the assassination of a Christian anti-Syrian politician in late November, the situation in Lebanon started to look eerily like the one that immediately preceded Lebanon’s civil war.
The bloodbath in Iraq isn’t helping ease tensions between Lebanon’s Sunni Muslims, who generally support Siniora’s anti-Syrian government, and Shiites, who oppose it.
So perhaps Iraq is a role model after all—not for democracy, but for civil war.