The Lebanese Army: Coming a long way and a long way left to go

In another of those instances of invaluable political lessons one learns along the way, there is one about the role of the army that I will never forget. The idea is that in so-called developed countries with long-established and solid democratic traditions, the national army’s main role is to protect a country from genuine local or foreign-based threats. In so-called developing countries, on the other hand, the army is also considered as an important tool to separate and protect the powerful and usually very wealthy ruling class from the average citizen, it is used to protect the country or rather the establishment from so-called threats, including lawful activities and movements by citizens against that very same establishment and what it represents.

Sadly, this simple and perhaps oversimplified political concept has had much resonance in the Middle East and may be applied to Lebanon as well. You can see it whenever you encounter a heavy and unjustified army presence in areas where there is no imminent threat to the country, in the countless army checkpoints used to protect local politicians from their own enemies, or a heavy ad hoc military presence when political ‘notables’ gather in private residences or public spaces…but who am I to say. And how could we forget seeing members of this very same army, along with other armed forces, attacking unarmed citizens protesting against the illegal extension of Lebanon’s Parliament earlier this year. Armed forces co-opted to protect the establishment from the very own citizens it should be protecting from this establishment instead…

For years, the Lebanese Army was marginalized, overlooked and demoralized. The Syrian presence brought a foreign enemy the army was meant to fight to its home turf, but with absolutely no power to fight it whatsoever. At the same time, Lebanon’s de facto Hezballah army protected the country from the other Israeli enemy in the south, but has yet to cede that military role to the national army.

Since the Syrian military withdrawal from Lebanon in 2005, the army has been slowly allowed to reinvent itself into becoming the truly unifying, strong, reliable and respected institution it has the potential to be to pull this country together. Nothing spoke to this potential as the 2007 battle of Nahr el Bared, while another possible victory in the making could be in the face of Sunni extremists in Saida. Yet many other examples – including its inability to bring an end to the on-and-off fighting in Tripoli, its modest presence in the south to protect Lebanon’s southern borders with Israel, and its inability to protect the North and the Bekaa from the frequent Syrian attacks since 2011- illustrate how the army has yet to be given the necessary tools and full-fledged political backing (i.e. the green light from all parties/confessions and their respective regional and international backers) to perform and protect this country from real threats as it should.

This is not to say that the army has not come a long way from where it stood barely a decade ago. This is not to deny the blood that it has already shed in the difficult task of protecting this god forsaken country from harm. Nor is it to downplay the respect and admiration Lebanese people have for the men and women in uniform and their courage and dedication. Yet its camouflage boots still have a long and bumpy road to march before keeping true to their oath to the nation and its people, instead of to those that are adamant in keeping this country apart…

2 Replies to “The Lebanese Army: Coming a long way and a long way left to go”

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