While the security situation in North Lebanon placated this week, road blockings and security violations continue in the capital and the South, causing the government much embarrassment over its failure to put an end to the chaos and disruption of public life. Tit-for-tat kidnappings and assaults between the country's Sunni and Shiite communities continued, nurtured by rising tensions and a division over the Syrian uprising.
Ahmad Assir, a controversial Salafist cleric and aspiring Sunni leader, this week gave a scathing speech against Hezbollah, accusing it of being involved in the alleged arrest of a Sunni cleric in the town of Mashghara in the Bekaa area. In an interview with Lebanese TV station Al Jadeed, Assir said he would make Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah "pay peacefully." Following the interview, five members of Hezbollah's "Resistance Brigades" allegedly stormed Al Jadeed's headquarters, firing gunshots at the building and attempting to set its entrance on fire. The perpetrators were caught on tape and one, Wissam Alaeddine, arrested; he later turned out to be affiliated with Hezbollah.
The incident was a blow to the Shitte group Hezbollah, which has been trying to enhance its image as peacemaker in the country and maintain calm within its own community as with others. However, several incidents, including this last one, have pushed the group to a tight spot.
Eleven Shiite pilgrims - five of whom are allegedly members of Hezbollah - were kidnapped in Syria last month, but the group has not been able to bring them back. An anti-Assad group claimed they would return the pilgrims only after Nasrallah offers an "apology" for supporting the regime, but Nasrallah sufficed by urging the kidnappers to release the victims. Angry Shiite families protested on the streets several times, but Hezbollah exerted all efforts to contain their frustration.
Today, Hezbollah is being challenged for the first time by a vocal - but by no means equally powerful - Sunni group led by Assir. Assir took his criticism a step further this week by starting an open-ended protest in Saida against non-state weapons. Right as his supporters set up tents in the southern city, the family and friends of Wissam Alaeddine again blocked the airport road in protest.
Tit-for-tat road blocking has gone out of control, but the government has done little to bring back order. Minister of Interior Ghassan Charbel this week announced a "month of security" where protestors would not be allowed to disrupt public life, but most Lebanese are skeptical of his statement. Indeed, following his announcement, the airport roads were again blocked. There was no immediate action on the ground to restore public order.
The biggest loser in all this is, ultimately, the Lebanese state and the average Lebanese citizen. While smaller groups and militias settle their sectarian and political scores on the streets, it is the Lebanese citizens who are left with no voice or protection. Until the government takes serious steps towards imposing sovereignty within its borders, strengthening the judiciary and the army, such clashes will continue, taking their toll on a receding national economy.