Monday, January 16, 2006

Lebanon Adrift?

Lebanon is at the cross roads once again. The Syrians had militarily intervened at the commencement of the civil war in 1975 and were forced to leave only in April, last year after the February assassination of Rafik Hariri, former Prime Minister of Lebanon. Hariri was a quiet opponent of Syria's continued domination and his death had fueled anti-Syrian sentiment. The street protests in Lebanon and international opprobrium forced Syria to withdraw its troops after 30 years.

However, Damascus is alleged to have planned 14 bomb attacks in Lebanon last year targeting anti-Syrian public figures and commercial centers in Christian neighborhoods. The latest bombing on December 12 killed Gibran Tueni, the Lebanese Christian media magnate and legislator.

A UN commission investigating the Hariri murder had implicated senior Syrian officials in October, 2005. There appears to be dissension in the Syrian camp. The exiled Abdul-Halim Khaddam, a former Vice President of Syria, charged that the Syrian President had ordered the Hariri assassination. Khaddam announced plans over the weekend to establish a government-in-exile. The narrow Alawite base of the ruling Ba'ath administration in Syria is under threat. International isolation, the re-emergence of the Muslim Brotherhood in that country and dissension within the ruling elite bode ill for the current administration. These factors have direct implications on the future stability of the multi-confessional Lebanon as well.

Syria backed the Shi'ite Hezbollah militia in Lebanon in the 1990s. Five Shi'ite cabinet ministers had suspended their participation in the Lebanese cabinet recently. The Hezbollah opposed international calls for a UN inquiry into recent political assassinations within Lebanon. Hezbollah also rejected UN Security Council resolution 1559 which stipulated that all armed militias in Lebanon disarm.

Walid Jumblatt, leader of the Druze minority, attacked Hezbollah over the weekend for its refusal to decommission. Hezbollah responded with a harsh rejoinder. Meanwhile, David Welch, Assistant Secretary at the United States Department of State had threatened Damascus to cooperate with the ongoing UN investigation on the murder of Rafik Hariri or "face further action". This led to pro-Syrian Shi'ite demonstrations in Beirut yesterday condemning the United States. The police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the demonstrators. There were counter demonstrations against Hezbollah.

Lebanon's confessional political system might be under strain. Can the Levantine Phoenix sustain itself in light of these ominous developments? And is the Arab glasnost sustainable? Much would depend on how events unfold in both Syria and Lebanon in the coming weeks.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

the syrians and the iranians will use Hizbolla and the lebanese shiites to counter the americans. lebanon will lose out.


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