Wednesday, March 9, 2005

Is Lebanon Doomed?

In a previous post I asked "Is Syria Doomed?". I still don't know the answer; I think we may all have to wait and see. But now there may be reason to ask the same question about Lebanon.

Robert Fisk asks it in different words in an article published Monday, called "Is Lebanon walking into another nightmare?". Here's a short excerpt:
LEBANON CONFRONTS a nightmare today. As the Syrian army begins its withdrawal from the country this morning, after mounting pressure from President George Bush - whose anger at the Syrians has been provoked by the insurgency against American troops in Iraq - there are growing signs that the Syrian retreat is reopening the sectarian divisions of the 1975-1990 Lebanese civil war.

The first Syrian units are expected to cross the Lebanese-Syrian border at Masnaa before midday and their military redeployment should be completed by Wednesday.

To the outside world, this may seem a victory devoutly to be wished: just two weeks after the murder of the former prime minister Rafik Hariri - a prominent opponent of the Syrian presence in Lebanon - the army of Damascus is pulling out of the country it has dominated for 29 long years. At last, free elections might be held in Lebanon, further proof that - thanks to Mr Bush - democracy is breaking out across the Arab world. Iraq held elections, Saudi Arabia held local elections, President Hosni Mubarak promises a contended election for the presidency of Egypt. So why shouldn't Lebanon be happy?

Have we forgotten 150,000 dead? Have we forgotten the Western hostages? Have we forgotten the 241 Americans who died in the suicide bombing of 23 October 1983? This democracy, if it comes, will be drenched with blood - but the blood will be that of the Lebanese who live here, not that of the foreigners who wish to bestow freedom upon them.
Unfortunately, I believe, we have forgotten many of these things. But the Lebanese people have a much longer memory. Here's Robert Fisk again:
Alas, this is a dark corner of the former Ottoman empire - whose First World War defeat allowed the French to create Lebanon out of part of Syria - which rests precariously upon an understanding between its Christian, Sunni, Shia and Druze inhabitants. All factions came together to mourn Hariri. But now, at night, most - though by no means all - the demonstrators in Martyrs' Square who have demanded a Syrian withdrawal are Christian Maronites. And yesterday, Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, the chairman of the Hizbollah Shia guerrilla movement, a loyal if somewhat unwilling Syrian ally which drove the Israelis out of Lebanon in 2000, called for a massive demonstration close to Martyrs' Square on Tuesday - to support the "unity and independence" of Lebanon, but also to thank the Syrians for their "protection" of Lebanon in bygone years. Nasrallah invited Christians and every other religious group to join their demonstration. But most of those present are bound to be Shias - who, like their co-religionists in Iraq - are the largest community in the country.
And what was the result of this call for a demonstration? Whoa! It's been massive!

On Tuesday, as reported in this article,
Hundreds of thousands of pro-Syrian demonstrators have gathered in Beirut to denounce what they see as Western interference in Lebanon.

The gathering, called by the Shia Muslim group Hizb Allah and its allies, highlights deep divisions over Damascus's role in the country.

The demonstrators chanted pro-Syria solgans a mere 300m from where opposition protesters held daily rallies to demand a complete Syrian withdrawal form Lebanon.
And now, just one day later, Umar Karami, who resigned as prime minister just nine days ago, has been called back to his former post by the Lebanese parliament. According to this piece from Aljazeera,
A majority of Lebanon's parliamentarians have nominated anew Umar Karami to form a new government, political sources said.

A total of 69 deputies from the 128-member chamber on Wednesday chose Karami, a favourite of Syria, in consultations with President Emile Lahud, the sources said in Beirut.

The president, also close to Damascus, was now bound to appoint Karami, who resigned last week under popular and opposition pressure, as prime minister-designate.
This turn of events is so surprising, so momentous, that even CNN is reporting it. Of course, in order to get to their coverage, you have to scroll down past enormous headlines about the Michael Jackson trial.

But it's better than nothing. Even though CNN is seemingly spellbound by the world-shaking testimony at the trial of the one-time pop singer, we are still getting some World News at CNN, including this:
[D]emonstrations shifted Wednesday to the Syrian capital, Damascus, in support of President Bashar Assad, whose government is coming under international pressure to stop interfering in Lebanon's affairs.

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of the city, singing national songs and proclaiming their loyalty to Assad, The Associated Press reported.

"Nobody can get Syria out from Lebanon's heart and mind," a banner read. "No for antagonist pressures against Syria," read another.

The protest follows Tuesday's mass pro-Syrian rally in Beirut, organized by the Iranian-backed Shiite Muslim group Hezbollah.
All of a sudden things in the Middle East are not quite as simple as they seemed last week, when Syrian troops were set to leave Lebanon and "democracy" was "on the march". But what becomes of the power vacuum that will be left in their wake? And has anyone really thought about this other than the Lebanese themselves?

Apparently the foreign policy wonks in Washington have given scant thought to it. At least it seems that way from where I sit. Robert Parry's recent piece, "Neocon Amorality", which we discussed in this recent post, called the neocons for selecting tidbits of information from the chaotic barrage which forms the daily news of the world, using these for their own political advantage and ignoring everything else, including the well-being of the people over whose bodies this "democracy" is allegedly "marching".

To a seasoned veteran such as Robert Fisk, though, none of this may be surprising. As he wrote Monday,
[Y]et again, Lebanon risks becoming a battlefield for the wars of non- Lebanese.

For 30 years, America has tolerated - even supported - Syria's military presence in Lebanon. In 1976, both the Israelis and the Americans wanted Syrian troops in Lebanon - because they would be able to "control" the 300,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon - but now Mr Bush's real concern is Syria's supposed support for the insurgency in Iraq.

The irony is extraordinary: 140,000 American troops occupy Iraq - we shall leave the Israeli occupation forces in Palestinian lands out of this equation - while their President demands the withdrawal of 14,000 Syrian troops from Lebanon.

Democracy indeed!
As your lowly and nearly frozen Winter Patriot has mentioned once or twice lately, I don't have a crystal ball or inside sources. My point here is not to make predictions or even to attempt to explain things. I just want to point you to a few interesting sources which seem fairly reliable, and allow you to read and think and make up your own minds.

As for today's song, I'm afraid I can't resist. This one was written by "The Corporation", but of course it was made famous by a one-time pop singer and his brothers.

The Love You Save

Stop you'd better save me
Stop, stop, stop you'd better save me

When we played tag in grade school, you wanted to be it
But chasin' boys was just a fad, you crossed your heart you'd quit
When we grew up you traded, your promise for my ring
Now just like back in grade school, you're doing that same old thing

Better stop the love you save may be your own
Darlin' look both ways before you cross me
You're headin' for a danger zone

I'm the one who loves you, I'm the one you need
Those other guys will put you down as soon as they succeed
They'll ruin your reputation, they'll label you a flirt
The way they talk about you, they'll turn your name to dirt.

Isaac said he kissed you beneath the apple tree
When Benjie held your hand he felt electricity
When Alexander called you he said he rang your chimes
Christopher discovered you're way ahead of your time

Hold on, hold on, hold on
"S" is for "Save It"
"T" is for "Take It Slow"
"O" is for "Oh no"
"P" is for "Please, please don't go"
The love you save may be your own
Someday you may be all alone
Stop it baby oo, you'd better

Stop the love you save may be your own
Darlin' take it slow or someday you'll be all alone
I'm the one who loves you, I'm the one you need
Those other guys will put you down as soon as they succeed
They'll ruin your reputation, they'll label you a flirt
The way they talk about you, they'll turn your name to dirt.

Better stop the love you save may be your own
Darlin' look both ways before you cross me
You're headin' for a danger zone.

Better stop the love you save may be your own
Darlin' look both ways before you cross me
You're headin' for a danger zone.

Headin' for a danger zone indeed. Or so it appears. Stay tuned.