ABWA Official Website – A Middle Eastern country on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, Lebanon has a history of several thousand years of civilization. Lebanon, which was part of the Levant in the past, became an independent country after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Many ethnic groups live in Lebanon. Most of the population of this country are Muslims, of which about 30% are Shiites.
Lebanon is the northern neighbor of occupied Palestine, and it has suffered a lot of human and economic damage in numerous cases of Zionist aggression. Hezbollah, a Shiite political and military group in Lebanon, was established in 1982 with the support of the Islamic Republic of Iran to confront the Zionist regime. In support of the Syrian government, Hezbollah has fought against Takfiri forces. This movement is also active in cultural, social, and political affairs.
In this regard, the ABNA news agency interviewed Dr. Mohammad Mahdi Shariatmadar. In addition to being a member of ABNA News Agency’s Policy Council, he is a writer, researcher, political analyst, senior expert on West Asian issues, former cultural attaché of Iran in Lebanon, advisor to the Secretary General of the AhlulBayt (a.s.) World Assembly, and Director General of Arab-African Affairs of the Assembly.
ABNA – Our interview topic is Lebanon's situation in various fields. First, please describe the general situation in Lebanon.
Shariatmadar – Currently, Lebanon is experiencing a halt in the country’s political process. After the end of Michel Aoun’s presidency, there has not been a consensus to elect a new president, and as a result, the government cannot hold a meeting and make an important decision. The current government continues its life only to advance the country’s daily affairs. The House of Representatives does not convene its meetings and cannot make a decision. Because the bills must be suggested by the government to the parliament and the parliament should review them.
On the other hand, people are suffering from severe economic problems. Lebanon is located in an area that is considered the epicenter of the crisis, and external and internal security threats, including the Zionist regime and the remnants of ISIS, make Lebanon a chaotic state. Of course, efforts are underway to overcome this standoff and renew the process of political life and the activities of the country’s constitutional institutions, and I hope they will be fruitful.
ABNA – Why Lebanese parties and groups do not have a consensus to elect the president?
Shariatmadar – This issue is technically problematic and is mostly intra-Christian. The president of Lebanon is a Christian, and in the election of the president, the Christian groups must propose their option and agree on it so that the process of his election is carried out with the majority of the votes of the parliament members. Although the president is essentially Christian, and Christians usually propose their option, this choice also requires collective consensus.
Democracy in Lebanon is essentially consensual, and no democratic process can take place until an agreement is reached. On the other hand, Lebanon is a multi-religious and multi-cultural country, and all mechanisms are formed based on religious sectarianism. That is, according to the law, the president must be a Christian, the prime minister must be a Sunni, and the speaker of the parliament must be a Shiite. This process of division of positions and responsibilities is true for ministers, officials, general managers, and at all levels among the different sects of Lebanon.
Lebanese society has learned that it must always move at a balance point. Because if the balance is lost, society will be drawn to tension, conflict, and even civil war. As it has suffered civil wars throughout its history. Therefore, reaching the balance point and maintaining it requires public agreement. That is, if the Christians agree on the president - which is not the case yet - the issue will require the agreement of other parties, groups, and sects as well.
Currently, some Christians are interested in someone like an army commander being the president of the country. Gebran Gerge Bassil, a member of the Free Patriotic Movement wants to become president himself, or someone he endorses. A group of Christians, along with Hezbollah and the Resistance forces, want Suleiman Frangieh to become the president. But there is still no consensus on the final candidate. Therefore, we see a crisis in Lebanon that needs time to resolve. But unfortunately, there is not much time. Because at the end of May and the beginning of June, the term of the current president of the Central Bank will end.
Considering the impasse in the three branches of the country (legislature, executive, and judiciary), severe economic problems that the people are suffering from, as well as the gap in the country’s monetary and currency management, which casts a shadow overall financial, economic and livelihood of the people – which all are caused by the mismanagement of the central bank; in the absence of management, these problems will intensify.
ABNA – Considering the ceremonial position of the presidency, why it is important to elect the president in the country?
Shariatmadar – Although Lebanon’s political system is parliamentary, the position of the presidency, contrary to what is thought, is not ceremonial. The president, as he holds the office of president, is always considered a symbol of the presence of Christians in Lebanese society, and considering the support of the Christian community to the Lebanese president at the international level, the presidency is considered an important position.
On the other hand, the president always has a role in choosing the military forces, and the army commander, agreeing on the selection of the prime minister, introducing him to the parliament, and even the members of the cabinet and ministers, and usually, balancing power in the Lebanese cabinet is done by the president and the ministers he has chosen.
This is in addition to the fact that the president is considered the head of the country and a symbol of the country’s national authority and sovereignty. Therefore, contrary to the fact that in parliamentary systems, the presidential position is ceremonial and does not have any authority, this is not the case in Lebanon. Basically, even in the determination of an unimportant position, everything must be agreed upon by all the parties and sects. Because if all parties do not agree, they can disrupt the game. Therefore, every position, no matter how small and unimportant, becomes important in crucial moments due to the need for consensus and the necessity of general agreement.
ABNA – In your opinion, is the cause of Lebanon's current problems internal or external?
Shariatmadar – I think both are the same. Because each of the internal groups is connected to an external power. Basically, politics in Lebanese society is not possible without communication with the outside world. For example, Syria has always played an essential role in this country, and regional powers such as Saudi Arabia and extra-regional powers such as France and the United States play a serious role in Lebanon’s political arena. The presence of the Zionist regime in the region has always cast a shadow on the politics and affairs of this country. The positions of Resistance in Lebanon are against the Zionist regime. But inside Lebanon, there are groups that are against the Resistance. They either side with the Zionist regime, or by claiming that “we don’t have a problem! So why should we start a war? We should allow peace to be established!” etc., they oppose the Resistance in different ways. Therefore, the Resistance has challenges inside Lebanon with some internal groups.
Therefore, the differentiation of internal forces on the one hand, and regional and extra-regional powers on the other hand, in Lebanon, and their effect is almost impossible and even unusual. From my point of view, these two can be related to each other, and undoubtedly, if an agreement is not reached between the regional and extra-regional powers, we will witness the continuation of the challenge and crisis in Lebanon.
ABNA – What is the status of intra-parliamentary groups?
Shariatmadar – 128 seats in the parliament are shared between different ethnic groups and sects in Lebanon. Muslims, including Shiites, Sunnis, Druzes, and Alevis, have seats in the parliament. Among the Christians, the majority is with the Maronites. There are 18 Christian groups in Lebanon, including small and large groups, which have representatives in the parliament. Also, there are political factions between ethnic groups. For instance, the Free Patriotic Movement parties led by Gebran Gerge Bassil or Michel Aoun, the Lebanese Forces party led by Samir Geagea, the Al Marada Movement party led by Suleiman Frangieh and the Kataeb Party led by Samy Gemayel from Maronites, are active in the political arena of Lebanon.
In Lebanon, there are religious and political differences. It is natural that in order to achieve the necessary quorum to establish a matter, the Lebanese Parliament needs a general agreement. In some cases, a quorum of fifty percent plus one vote is required, while in some cases, two-thirds of the representatives’ votes are required for a quorum.
On the other hand, in Lebanese society, each of the important ethnic groups has the privilege of “one-third of guarantee” or “one-third of Dangling”. That is, that group can have one-third that prevents the implementation of the two-thirds majority and considers its presence as a guarantee and shuts down the plan of the other party. All these mechanisms and tensions make the Lebanese Parliament a stage and a mirror that fully reflects the problems inside Lebanese society.
This is the current situation of the Lebanese Parliament. Of course, elections must be held. But since the position of the president and the government has not yet been determined, the elections cannot be held. If the election problem is resolved, an agreement should be made about the election law. Because throughout its history, Lebanon has had several election laws, none of which invalidate the other. Rather, when there is a need to hold elections, political groups agree on a certain law by merging several laws or modifying a certain law, and then, elections are held.
A clear example of this situation and the need for an agreement is the holding of more than 10 sessions in recent months to elect the president. At one point, these sessions were held every Thursday, which has recently been halted. Because Nabih Berri stated, “I will not hold a new meeting to elect the president until there is a negotiation and an agreement.” The parliament holds about 10 or more sessions to elect the president, but it doesn’t come to fruition. Therefore, what is seen in the political scene of Lebanon is reflected in the parliament too. Lebanon needs to form constitutional structures in order to hold elections. In the case of elections, such a situation will be provided. Because the next parliament will be a reflection of the current situation of Lebanese society.
ABNA – What is your opinion about the state of Mr. Najib Mikati's government? How does he run the country?
Shariatmadar – Najib Mikati was elected as the prime minister based on an agreement between all parties and factions. It is not the first time that he is elected, and he was elected once before this time. The claim that he is the preferred prime minister of the Resistance Front faction or Hezbollah, or some other parties, is not correct. In any case, when the election is done based on agreement, each of the groups and factions needs to back down a little from their positions. In any case, when a person is chosen based on consensus and agreement, each of the groups and factions needs to compromise a little from their positions. Therefore, although the previous administration of Najib Mikati was not a very favorable experience for the pro-Resistance groups, he was someone who could be agreed upon. You know that two or three people were proposed before Mikati and even Hassan Diab became the prime minister for a short time. But finally, an agreement was reached about Najib Mikati.
At present, the Mikati administration is a government for current affairs, to the extent that only the salaries and wages of the employees are paid, and the normal affairs of the ministries continue. But during his term, no decision is made, no bill is given to the parliament, no project is implemented, and basically cabinet sessions are not held, or rarely held, and in the past year maybe the cabinet sessions were not more than one or two sessions.
Regarding the country’s economic situation, I must say that Lebanon’s economy is unproductive and dependent on foreign countries. In the Lebanese economy, industrial activities are minimal, and 85% of industries are as small as workshops, 10 percent of industries are semi-medium, and only five percent of industries are significant. But by “significant” I don’t mean important and mother industries like steel and cement, but industries with about five million dollars in capital. On the other hand, many industries are facing problems and most of them have been shut down.
In Lebanon, agriculture is limited to a few specific products, which has been in trouble in recent years due to various problems; in particular, the closure of the Syrian road as a passage for the export of Lebanese goods, especially fruit, to Syria, Jordan, Iraq, and the Persian Gulf countries. Therefore, the agricultural products of Lebanon, such as apples, bananas, etc., have faced a decrease. For example, a gardener cannot sell his apple crop in one year and his banana crop in another year. This situation reduces the price of the product because there are no conversion industries in Lebanon to convert the products into compote, jam, and concentrate. Therefore, some fruit products are wasted.
It should also be mentioned that in the past years, due to political and security issues in Lebanon, tourism and foreign tourists have decreased drastically.
Also, due to the crisis in the neighboring country of Syria, the transit of goods has been closed for years. Previously, Syrian goods were exported to other countries through Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea, and the transit income was significant, which has now reached zero. Also, banking, aviation, and issues related to the service sector have all faced major problems. Even political money has been minimized! All parties and groups had foreign sponsors and the financial resources injected by them created financial circulation in the domestic market of Lebanon and caused the market to prosper. Previously, many regional and extra-regional countries used to give financial aid to Lebanese parties, the government, and the army, and this aid has been reduced to a minimum.
Widespread financial corruption runs rampant in Lebanon, and the outflow of capital from the country and the currency crisis of the past few years have added to the problem. People’s deposits in banks are inaccessible, and each person can only withdraw about $500 a month, or the bank’s customers withdraw dollars at the official or semi-official lira price. The price of the dollar was 1,500 liras, which has now reached 100,000 liras or more.
Financial corruption and currency problems have seriously stopped the economic process and people’s trade and have cast a shadow on people’s livelihoods. The lack of electricity and fuel, the lack of food, and the emptying of stores are other problems in Lebanon. Because goods are imported from abroad, which requires currency. While there is no currency, or the prices are too high. The increase in prices and inflation has reached such a level that not only poor families, but also relatively well-off families in Lebanon have poured dirt on their balconies and are planting potatoes, tomatoes, and cucumbers. There is a fuel crisis in Lebanon, and in some cities and villages they have returned to firewood, and in the south of Lebanon, people use firewood to cook food.
The value of the national currency of Lebanon has decreased by 60 to 70 times. In Iran, we saw a decrease in the value of the currency. But it wasn’t much, and internal capabilities could meet most of our needs. While in Lebanon, everything is imported. In other words, in Lebanon, all products, from wheat and fuel to medicine, etc., depend on the dollar. Lebanon has a debt of between 80 and 100 billion dollars. If we divide the total debt of Lebanon by the country’s population of 4 million people, every Lebanese baby is born with a debt of 30 to 40 thousand dollars.
In addition to the problems that have been mentioned, the suspension of foreign economic aid has caused Lebanese society to face a tremendous crisis in the economy, and until the political problem is solved and there is no procedure to fight corruption, Lebanon’s problems will continue. Of course, fighting corruption is very difficult. Because the people in power are mainly the leaders and those involved in corruption, and each of them owns a part of the economy such as electricity, gas, etc. Recently, the Resistance movement and Hezbollah have taken measures to fight corruption through their representatives in the parliament. But it seems that there is a long way to reach the desired result.
ABNA – Please explain the position of Hezbollah in Lebanese society.
Shariatmadar – The Islamic Resistance in Lebanon, or Hezbollah, has been able to change the political equation, not only within Lebanon but also in the region. From the point of view of the United States, the balance of power in the region has been based on the absolute superiority of the Zionist regime. In all the so-called wars between the Arabs and Israel, the Zionist regime proved its military superiority and defeated the Arab Armies or rather a coalition of Arab armies; that is, the armies of Syria, Iraq, and Egypt.
The Islamic Resistance of Lebanon was the initiator and founder of the path that for the first time was able to force the Zionist regime to accept defeat in military confrontations. So that in the liberation of Lebanon in 2000, we saw the superiority of Hezbollah. At that time, most of Lebanon was occupied by the Zionist regime; the border strip and many villages in southern Lebanon were occupied by the Zionist regime for more than 20 years; or a strip in southern Lebanon was assigned to a buffer military force between Lebanon and occupied Palestine to protect the interests and security of the Zionist regime from possible attacks by Lebanese and Palestinian fighters from Lebanese soil. In 2000, with Hezbollah’s resistance, for the first time the Zionist regime was forced to retreat, and in the 33-Day War (2006 Lebanon War), the Zionist regime tasted defeat for the first time.
Also, Lebanese Hezbollah played a crucial role in the fight against Takfiris inside Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq and changed the power equation in the region against Israeli and American projects. The project of the United States was to create instability and insecurity in the region through ISIS so that the countries of the region would be broken up and rearranged, and somehow a second Sykes-Picot would be implemented in the region. But the Resistance in the region, most of which was on the shoulders of Hezbollah, defeated this plan. This is while the Resistance does not use military force inside Lebanon. Because it considers itself one of the political forces of Lebanon and believes in coexistence with other political forces and creating harmony and balance in Lebanese society.
As a political party, today the Lebanese Hezbollah is an influential force in the political arena of Lebanon, and it can be said that in Lebanon no action is taken without Hezbollah’s approval. Hezbollah may not be able to implement all its plans and projects, but no project or policy that Hezbollah opposes can be implemented in the country. Today, the agreement and unity that exists between Hezbollah and the Amal movements in the political scene, parliament, municipal elections, and at the level of political discourse and social action, is one of the achievements of Sayed Hassan Nasrallah’s extraordinary management. These factors have caused, perhaps for the first time in history, today the Shiites in Lebanon have achieved the authority we are witnessing. When I talk about Shiites, I don’t mean just a religious movement. Today, Shia is the standard bearer of resistance in the region against the Zionist regime, American projects, and Takfiris. Although Hezbollah is mainly composed of Shiite forces, its members are not exclusively Shiites, but groups of Sunnis and Christians are members of the “Saraya al-Muqawimah” or resistance battalions, which Hezbollah has set up.
Therefore, it can be said that the Islamic resistance force inside Lebanon, politically, and in the entire region, strategically, has been able to disrupt the political equations and balance of power desired by America, and today, the military superiority of the Zionist regime in the face of Hezbollah has become a myth. The Zionist regime failed not only in the face of Lebanese Hezbollah but also in the face of the Islamic Resistance of Palestine (Hamas) and the Islamic Jihad, in three or four wars. This means that today the Zionist regime is incapable of even confronting the Palestinian Islamic forces in the Gaza Strip, let alone maintaining military superiority and the balance of power in the entire region. Of course, Hezbollah participates in other fields, such as the defense of the Yemeni people and the Palestinian resistance front, and there is extraordinary solidarity and cooperation between Hezbollah and the Palestinian forces. Therefore, today Hezbollah has gone beyond being an internal political force in Lebanon, which is the most effective political force and has become an effective force in regional equations, and this is a good tiding.
After the victory of the Islamic Revolution and the 8-year imposed war (Iraq-Iran War), the Islamic Republic tried to take steps in three directions: 1. empowerment and creation of power; Today, the Islamic Republic of Iran has an extraordinary deterrent power. 2. creating a regional agreement, which today we call the Axis of Resistance, and in this axis, Hezbollah plays a significant role. 3. Confronting the threats that exist in the region against the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Axis of Resistance. The Islamic resistance of Lebanon has a very serious role in these three actions that the Islamic Republic took with full power and strengthened the authority and national security of the Islamic Republic and the people of Iran. Even in terms of protecting the interests and national security of the Islamic Republic of Iran, it can be said that the existence of the Axis of Resistance and the serious presence of Hezbollah in Lebanon, in addition to the regional role and the fight against the United States and the Zionist regime, is very important and effective for the national security of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
ABNA – In the current situation of Lebanon, where the people are struggling with many problems, what actions does Hezbollah take?
Shariatmadar – Hezbollah’s authority in Lebanon is owed to the support of various strata of the country, from all religious sects and ethnic groups. Part of Christians and Sunnis, and all Shiites support Hezbollah. Therefore, the economic pressure that the Lebanese people are suffering is undoubtedly unpleasant for Hezbollah, and the movement has made many efforts to reduce this pressure. In this regard, the Lebanese Hezbollah has done many things, for example providing fuel, helping the poor, and creating mechanisms to deliver goods at a low price, such as creating stores and giving special cards that give discounts to people, etc.
Of course, these discount cards are not only for Hezbollah and Shiite forces, but Christians can also use Hezbollah’s cards and aid. Hezbollah has provided a lot of aid to special centers, such as orphanages, charities, and hospitals, and has provided their needs, especially fuel. These aids are done with the aim of reducing the effects of economic pressure on the people. Even after the 33-day war (Lebanon War 2006), the quick action taken by Hezbollah to rebuild the damaged areas was the talk of the town. At that time, extraordinary management was done so that the reconstruction was done faster, and during the reconstruction, the families whose houses were destroyed were temporarily accommodated. These things were done as accurately and quickly as possible.
The Lebanese society appreciates the resistance. Lebanese society has experienced land and air attacks, bombing, and occupation of their land by the Zionist regime. At one point in time, Lebanon could not make the smallest decision against the interests of the Zionist regime, and even some internal forces were moving in this direction! These are recorded in the national memory of the Lebanese people. The Islamic Resistance in Lebanon has made the people of the country feel national pride for the first time and feel that there is a force supporting them against the enemy. Therefore, Lebanese society tolerates the existing problems to a large extent and does not sacrifice Resistance to solve the problems of the society. On the other hand, Resistance tries to solve or at least reduce these problems. In the political arena, Hezbollah plays a serious role in breaking out of the current deadlock. Therefore, it can be said that despite all the problems, the Lebanese society continues to seriously support Hezbollah.
ABNA – Thank you for your precious time.