Revealed: Why Hariri going won’t stop the Lebanese protests – and how Iran could now be in peril

By KJ Sankara

THE resignation of Saad Hariri has done little to quell the vigour of Lebanese protestors.

Concerns over austerity and corruption in Lebanon’s political hierarchy continue.

We talked exclusively to Neda Bolourchi, a Middle East professor at Rutgers University-New Brunswick.

She told The Hawthorne Effect: “At this point, we can’t say that Hariri’s resignation will have any short or long-term impact.

“These type of resignations are aimed at mollifying protestors. In the past, such a resignation may have had an impact but protestors and citizens are much savvier and smarter than this now.

“People understand that Hariri and others like him represent the system against which they are fighting but are not the system itself.

“Thus, Hariri’s resignation is nothing but a momentary, symbolic but joyous moment. “

The PM’s resignation was just one of the movement’s demands – and President Michel Aoun has pledged a three-point plan to accept them all.

However, the deep-lying problems in the Lebanese political system are unlikely to be ignored – even if Aoun succeeds.

Hezbollah – so often seen as a popular Shi’a movement backed by Iran – hasn’t escaped protestors’ vitriol.

But Ms Bolouchi suggests that they aren’t necessarily the next political victim, either.

She added: “The issue of Hezbollah is mixed. What we see for the first time is the Shi’a standing up against their own to protest poor governance, corruption, and economic polices.

“The very issues that Hezbollah had campaigned on outside of defense, made its name on – the delivery of social services, the development of the south, the ability to cut through the red tape of capital cronyism – is what the Shi’a of Lebanon have stood up to say is not being delivered on.

“But, notice that this criticism of Hezbollah is limited; the criticism is about local governance issues. It is not anti-Hezbollah qua anti-Hezbollah in the big picture sense.”

Lebanese protestors have been demonstrating since 17 October

Iran will be keeping a watchful eye on the protests, naturally – the ‘Shi’a resistance’ axis of itself, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq is under strain.

If any one of their three crucial ruling allies are uprooted, the Iranian people themselves may sense an opportunity to seek popular reform.

And the US may be happy to help.

She added: “Iran of course watches what happens in the rest of the Middle East with keen appreciation on how it might impact its own populace, its governmental viability, and the extent to which it might weaken Iran itself.

“And, thus, in the past, you saw quickly, for instance, the government change its position on the Arab Spring. 

“Because the protests we see now are large, ongoing, and in both Iraq and Lebanon, countries where Iran supports groups like Hezbollah and the Shia PMUs, Iran is taking particular note, as it should.

“Iran sees these protests for what they are – protests against governments and factions its supports.

“Yes, the protests are about the lack of services, elitism, corruption, neo-liberal policies, and more.

“But, there is clearly – like the Iraqi national elections last year – a significant call for Iran to stop meddling, to stop using the country as leverage in its battle with the US, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the other members of the Arab Quartet.

“Iraqis in particular do not want Iran or its proxies to continue siphoning resources or further entrenching their institutions. Iraqis are protesting – among other things – against the Iranian governance system, theocracy, clerical rule, and sectarianism.

Anti-austerity demands have been integral to the protests

“Iran is costing Iraq on macro and micro levels, on a daily basis and in the long-term – with or without the help to defeat ISIS.

“This is why Iranian officials have been involved in the attempt to contain these protests, particularly in Iraq. Soleimani in Baghdad for instance, reportedly twice.

“And, with his presence came severe government action against Iraqis.”

With protests also raging in Iraq, some analysts have suggested that the Arab Spring has been revived.

While this may give hope of pro-democracy reforms, the political and social chaos also opens up channels for foreign intervention.

Ms Bolourchi said: “There is always the chance that enemies will take the opportunity presented by chaos because chaos is nothing short of the biggest opportunity to the tactical and strategic.

“Chaos is their friend where the risks are high but also the dividends are biggest. 

“The US is definitely watching with noted interest. The UK is watching of course as well but there is less media reporting on that. “

Read and watch more of Neda Bolourchi:

https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/iransource/hello-world-tehran-has-a-few-things-to-say/

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