Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Winds of change blowing over Lebanon

For a first thoughtful opinion in a while, I feel a bit threatened. As if the last month I spent dug into my paper (see my previous post) has drained me of imagination and will power. Work can be so brain numbing; I guess it is the faith that is awaiting most of us, once we joint the ranks of the working masses. I haven’t had the chance to read the newspapers in a month, I watched no TV, even turned off my MSN at times (believe it or not), with one of my few distractions being "Les Frères Karamazov", a truly demented book, about which I will be compelled to write eventually (but only once I get out of it with my sanity maintained). In these circumstances, the only ideas that float in my head, when it’s not nightmares on my paper, are about love and jealousy, the kind of thought that are hard to voice properly. Damn Dostoïevski, dragging me in his Russia, a place impossible to get out of. To fight off this influence, I want to discuss some recent world developments that have caught my attention. What better to get your feet on the ground than some biased political analysis.

Rafik Hariri’s assassination in Beirut seems to have triggered a movement in Lebanon powerful enough to force the withdrawal of Syrian troops. I admit that I am no Lebanon/Middle East expert, but as usually I will give my expert analysis.

First, why should the Syrians leave Lebanon? How about because the civil war is over, Lebanese society is attempting to rebuild itself and heal its wounds by bridging gaps between the various religious communities. By now, everyone knows from historical experience, that internally initiated reforms are the most effective tool for concrete change. Military presence, if anything, creates a feeling of oppression and is a constant remainder of the civil war, when what the Lebanese people need the most is to move on and learn from their mistakes. There are is also the fundamental fact that the Syria has absolutely no capacity, desire or need to establish a true democracy in Lebanon, as it would set a standard in the Middle East and threaten regimes like the one of Damascus itself. Finally, an independent Lebanon will also cut a large chunk of income for Syria, which takes advantage of Beirut’s port and Lebanon’s dynamic economy in general. Basically, Syria is a major obstacle to the establishment of a "functioning" democracy in Lebanon, which would be a first in sub-Turkey Middle East. Such a democracy could be a catalyst for wider change in the region.

Will there be a negative impact if the Syrians fully withdrawal from Lebanon? That I can’t tell as my prescient skills are not fully tuned yet. The only problem I foresee for now might be the Palestinian refugees. It will entirely be up to an independent Lebanese government to demonstrate to the Palestinians that it will not threaten their security and to encourage them to actively partake in the civil life of Lebanon.

How can the Lebanese get rid of the Syrian military? Maybe following Ukraine’s example will be an effective method. Widespread and prolongated protest is bound to attract the attention of local intellectuals, encourage local political opposition to voice its opinion and provoke strong international pressure on Syria. Definitely, weapons are out of the question, no one needs another civil war.

A full withdrawal of Syrian military should also be accompanied by an expurgation of the Syrian secret service from all levels of the Lebanese government and institutions. Only then a meaningful democracy can be built in Lebanon. Hopefully, the international community understand the positive impact such development could have in the Middle East and will do everything possible to encourage positive change in this small country.

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