I'm sorry I've put off posting about the recent events in Lebanon. Demonstrators in Beirut's city center, coupled with a massive clamor in the parliament, have toppled the country's prime minister (BBC, Daily Star, al-Ahram). Omar Karami has resigned and parliamentarians are discussing a future government. It's been three days, however, and so far no agreement on sacking/replacing Emile Lahoud, the President whose term was controversially extended another year through Syrian offices (Daily Star). While many in the West and in Lebanon are cheering the capitulation of a Syrian-affiliated PM, the other shoe has yet to drop—and a heavy shoe it is.
You see, not all of Lebanon is pleased with the ouster of a politician through demonstrations; after all, Lebanon has a constitution, it has elections, multiple parties, and a free press. Naturally, in the clash of needs and desires between cosmopolitan, booming Beirut and little stagnant Tripoli, I'm inclined to favor Beirut (reason: Beirut has more people, of course, and Tripoli's bread and butter was smuggling through its ports); but Tripoli does have a legitimate basis for demanding that the constitution be upheld. This is a fact much overlooked in the Philippines after Pres. Joseph Estrada's ouster, something that has returned to haunt the main beneficiary of EDSA2—Pres. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (INQ7).
NOTE TO READERS: for many profiles of major figures in Lebanese politics, I was compelled to rely on the Middle East Intelligence Bulletin, one of whose publishers is the execrable Daniel Pipes. Why is Pipes associates with this publication? It is published by Lebanese who are mainly frustrated with Syrian involvement in Lebanese politics; some have—foolishly, in my opinion—taken up the goal of "regime change" in Syria. Needless to say, articles are heavily biased against Syria. So please, Dear Readers, be forewarned. Again, my apologies.
Moreover, I doubt Lahoud's departure will be so easy even with the immense political mass of Druze leader Walid Jumblatt (profile; HC profile) behind it. The Syrians extended Emile Lahoud's term as president last year; Lahoud's "second term" is supposed to last from November '04 to Nov '05. They did the same for his predecessor, Elias Hrawi—then, for three years (1995-1998). Hrawi had been their ally in the struggle to implement the Ta'if Accords, defeat the rival government of Gen. Michel Aoun, and arouse international opposition to the Israeli presence in southern Lebanon; the decision appears to have been imposed by Damascus. There's reason to suspect that Emile Lahoud, previously the commander-in-chief of the Lebanese armed forces, was being rewarded for his loyalty to Syrian Pres. Bashar al-Assad; another possibility is that he had convinced Syrian intelligence that he required a few more months to outmaneuver his archrival, Walid Jumblatt.
Walid Jumblatt has never been a friend of Emile Lahoud, the C-in-C of the Lebanese Army; I seem to recall reading that he believed Lahoud was militarizing Lebanon in order to enable Assad to control Lebanon without juggling. There is, naturally, a huge amount of influence from items we'll never know—the outcomes of private discussions in Jumblatt's castle in the Shouf, or in Damascus. However, in 2004, after Lahoud's term was arbitrarily extended a year, and after PM Hariri resigned, Jumblatt began his most recent campaign against the Syrian occupation. Since the resignations (on paper) of the Lebanese government, the official acting head of government has been the onetime leader of the consistently pro-Syrian Shi'a Amal militia, Speaker Nabih Berri.
And why wouldn't he be so awestruck and incredulous? This isn't how it has been or, indeed, how it was supposed to be. The rules of the game in the Middle East are undergoing great flux and real bona fide history is being made in our midst. The only question is whether these are but ripples that will prove short-lived—simply borne of lucky happen-stance, destined to prematurely wilt and become stillborn—or whether instead they will pick up momentum, flourish and blossom though the coming decades. But the fact that the leader of the world's sole undisputed superpower is deeply convinced of the justness of such democratization, that he has put the very blood and treasure of his nation in pursuit of it smack dab in the middle of the region undergoing these shockwaves; well surely that counts for a lot, no? Of course it does. This is prima facie self-evident.I think that's quite enough, thank you. The gentleman cited ignores much: the fact that the elections in Iraq were required of the Administration by an elderly Shi'a cleric, the Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani; that, aside from the tiny enclave of Kabbul, Afghanistan remains under the grip of the Taliban or thuggish warlords; or that Lebanon actually had a flawed, but valid parliamentary democracy that has been trivially disrupted by demonstrators (I'm sorry, but does Gregory know anything about parliaments? If the PM tenders his resignation with a smirk, because he knows you can't replace him, so he stays in office as caretaker, that's not much of a revolution); the Speaker and President, the more reliable supporters of the Syrian presence in Lebanon, all remain in control. And suppose they decide that they, too, want to quit. They might; Syrian intelligence might think it prudent to lower their profile. Any guesses who replaces them?
Ignore the petty carping that Bush didn't cause Arafat's death. Or Hariri's—the direct catalyst for the Cedar Revolution in process today. Or that Bush didn't cause Qadafi to seek a deal for hard currency and to come out of the cold. Piffle and sour grapes. Bush has, rest assured, done plenty in four short years to further democratization in the broader Middle East.
I think it is highly likely that Hizbullah will form a government then.
Hizbullah? Hizbullah? Yes, you heard me—Hizballah, Hezbollah, the radicalized Shi'a movement the State Department has tried and failed to have recognized as a terrorist group (to the rest of us humans, they're a resistance movement-turned-political party).
Globe & Mail: With parliament almost evenly split between pro-Syrian loyalists and the opposition, the Iranian-backed Hezbollah looks to hold the deciding seats.I wonder how long after Bush takes personal credit for the collapse of a coalition government, and has himself proclaimed a god of freedom and democracy by Congress, he finds it needful to threaten Lebanon with a bombing? I don't believe there's a great enthusiasm to invade Lebanon again—that's a notoriously unsuccessful method of achieving political ends—but seriously, are people like Gregory really stupid or do they just pretend to be in order to win arguments?
The opposition is now actively appealing to the militant group to remain true to its roots as a liberation movement and join the push to oust Syria from Lebanon. In recent remarks, Walid Jumblatt, one of the main leaders of the anti-Syrian opposition, has gone out of his way to praise Hezbollah's head, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, as a "great leader," and has repeatedly called on him to join the opposition.
"There is a lot of contact with Hezbollah going on right now," said one opposition figure familiar with the talks, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Posted by James R MacLean at March 2, 2005 11:33 PM