MideastWeb Middle East Web Log

log  archives  middle east  maps  history   documents   countries   books   encyclopedia   culture   dialogue   links    timeline   donations 


Lebanon: Point of No Return


Eugene Sensenig-Dabbous, Beirut

One of the wonderful things about Lebanon is the multiplicity of realities that exist side-by-side in this tiny republic. Thus, the "truth" about the rapid change that we are now experiencing in this country is dependent upon both who you ask and who is asking the question.

I have been reluctant to add my interpretation of the situation in my "homeland of choice" during the last few weeks for two reasons; first, though I have now lived in Beirut for a total of six years and worked here full time during the last four, I really don't understand this place; second, things are in such incredible motion that no matter what you state at any given moment, it can become outdated in a matter of days or even hours. MEW's Ami Isseroff, in his usual, convincingly insistent manner, has been pressuring me to comment on the situation in Lebanon for almost a week now, and I have finally given in. Please excuse any cultural bias or inaccuracies that can and most certainly will result from my narrow perspective on events. I hope to phrase my comments in a way that will make them accessible to the majority of those who utilise the MEW website on a regular basis.

Heart of Darkness

Anyone who has only second hand knowledge of the effects of the 16 year Lebanese Civil War was confronted on 14 February 2005 with the deep emotional scars this conflict had left behind. The assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was a devastating and very personal blow to everyone I know who survived the war. His funeral, two days later, united a people in mourning. For a total of three days, the entire country came to a standstill. Not since the death of the Filipino opposition leader Corazon Aquino on 25 February 1986, has a politically motivated murder led to such an outpouring of almost universal outrage. The demise of the Hariri reform project and the killing of a Sunni Muslim representative who had transcended the confines of his confessional camp brought the majority of the population together in two important ways. For the first time in Lebanese history, the nation mourned publicly and collectively for a leader, who many had criticised, but most agree was dedicated to the long term good of the country. Secondly, by assassinating Hariri, his murderers had crossed a red line, convincing everyone that there were no taboos, no thresholds, nothing that couldn't happen next. This last aspect is of key importance because it prevents one from giving up, from acquiescing, from attempting to simply make due in an unacceptable, but otherwise tolerable situation. As of 14 February, there is nowhere to go back to, Lebanon can only move forward. Calling for "Truth Now," the struggle to find Hariri's assassins has united the country in a manner that nobody had considered possible one month ago.

Having been forced across the line, transcending the point of no return, the Lebanese Opposition has been grappling with possible alternatives to the current situation. It seems obvious to almost everyone I have been in contact with during the last few weeks - either personally or via email - that both the Syrian and Lebanese secret services, the notorious Mukhabarat, were in some way involved in Hariri's assassination. Thus, one goal has united mourners and protesters from the very start, freeing the country of Syrian occupation in all its forms, including the toppling of the Syrian backed government, the dismantling of the Mukhabarat, the withdrawal of the Syrian army and, more recently, the resignation of Damascus' handpicked Lebanese-Maronite president, General Emile Lahoud.

With the pro-Syrian government's resignation one week after Hariri's assassination, the immanent withdrawal of a large portion of Syria's military forces, the growing isolation of the Syrian backed elements within the Lebanese security apparatus and the increasingly untenable position of General Lahoud, it is becoming increasingly obvious that the Opposition needs a programme that can lead it into the future. A majority of its leaders have - at one time or another - supported and enjoyed the benefits of the Syrian "peacekeeping forces." Many of the problems now facing the country are home-grown; Syria merely exacerbates one crisis after another in order to divide and conquer and thus keep Lebanon weak and destabilised.

The current Opposition lacks Hariri's connections with and backdoor access to key leaders in the European Union and the Middle East. They have demonstrated little interest in dealing with issues as varied as the bourgeoning national debt, a shaky currency, the devastatingly high level of youth unemployment, a massive braindrain, the disastrous state of all public services (electricity, water, health care, education, public transportation, road maintenance, waste disposal, etc.), the lack of an independent judiciary and the need for public investments in R&D, agricultural development and cultural diversity. It remains unclear what will hold the Opposition together once the Syrians withdrawal.

One of the main issues left unresolved during the one and a half decades since the end of the Civil War is the issue of the crimes against humanity committed by the various militias and warlords between 1975 and 1991. Many of these criminals now hold important positions in government and private enterprise. A general amnesty has led to a case of national amnesia with respect to the causes and horrors of the war. Although Hariri's assassination has rekindled debate over the possibility of a Peace and Reconciliation Commission, based on the South African and Northern Ireland experience, it is unlikely that progress will be made on this front anytime soon. This is the one area in which the pro-Syrian Loyalists and the nationalist Opposition agree; there are too many people in high places on both sides who stand to lose if the truth were ever to be made public.

The Future of Lebanon

Lebanon's post-war generations have been leaving the country in droves. Under Hariri's leadership, this brain drain was one of the many hot topics that were considered taboo. I have taught at three Lebanese universities as of the spring of 2001, one predominantly Muslim, one Armenian and one almost exclusively Maronite. The lack of hope for Lebanon's future, exhibited by my students, was one of the most difficult phenomena I had to deal with, after leading a relatively sheltering Central European existence for almost three decades in Salzburg, Austria.

High school and university students now make up one of the main elements of the People Power revolution now permanently occupying Martyrs Square in the centre of Beirut. Pictures of these massive demonstrations of popular will have been seen on TV around the world. As of 14 February, Lebanon's youth have begun to care about their country in a way that I haven't seen before. Not only this, they now see their future and that of their country as being inextricably linked.

Most educators in Lebanon are aware of the transformation that takes place when students travel to a conference, a model UN, for field research or something of an equally serious academic nature. I have experienced this metamorphosis many times over the years and often challenged my university colleagues, as well as my Lebanese wife (who teaches media law and gender studies), to help create conditions in Lebanon that would motivate our students to act is if they were abroad. Whoever assassinated Hariri has helped create a set of circumstances in which this country's (albeit middle and upper class) youth are now reaching for the stars. This wreaks havoc on your semester planning, but does wonders for class participation.

The death of Rafik Hariri has robbed Lebanon's Sunni community of a leader who helped compensate for their shrinking numerical significance in the country. Sunnis and Maronites are the two confessional groups who have long felt most uncomfortable with the growing importance of the Shi'ia in Lebanon, now making up approximately half of the total population. Traditionally, Sunnis have seen themselves as Arabs first and Lebanese second, while simultaneously enjoying the right to speak for all of Lebanon's Muslims. The Civil War enabled the Shi'ia to outflank the Sunnis; Syrian presence reassured the Sunnis that their traditional political and economic privileges would not be endangered.

Purported Syrian involvement in the murder of their leader has forced Sunnis to choose between Hariri and Assad, between national or pan-Arab identity. They have come down solidly on the side of Lebanon. My wife is Sunni and I have seen this process transpiring amongst my in-laws firsthand. Today, Christian, Muslim and secular Lebanese pray and/or commemorate their martyred former prime minister, side-by-side at his grave. Hariri was buried beside Beirut's almost completed grand mosque, which he had personally paid for. It is conveniently located on Martyrs Square, within easy walking distance of the parliament and many of the country's universities; it is symbolically also right on the Green Line, which separated the Civil War's warring Christian and Muslim factions for almost two decades.

Lebanon is now torn between its future and its past. It can become a powerhouse of Mediterranean prosperity or languish alongside its Syrian neighbour and the forces of religious and nationalist reaction which hope to retain a stranglehold on the hearts and minds of the region. Lebanon's Shi'ia leadership, and Hezbollah in particular, will play a deciding role in determining which way the country turns. Following the Taif Agreement, which ended the Civil War and laid the foundation for the country's post-war economic prosperity, Hezbollah received a parliamentary mandate to liberate Lebanon. In the war of attrition that followed, Israeli forces paid a high price for their continued occupation of the south, leading to their ultimate withdrawal in the year 2000. Losing its raison d'etre as a fighting force, Hezbollah has been struggling to transition to a "normal" parliamentary party and social movement ever since, along the lines of the Sinn Fein and ANC.

UN Security Council Resolution 1559 not only offers Lebanon the golden opportunity to finally rid itself of all foreign occupation. It also presents Hezbollah with the rationale to speed up its process of normalisation, severing direct ties with both Iran and Syria and serving the people as part of a coalition of national cohesion. Hezbollah also has the necessary clout and military experience to convince the Lebanese allies of the Baathist dictatorship in Damascus, that violent resistance to change is neither in the nation's nor their interest. By doing the right thing, Hezbollah could help ensure a peaceful transition to a phase of post-occupation restructuring and development that could deal with the serious challenges now facing the country.

By its very nature and location, Lebanon will never be free of foreign influence and intervention. It can, however, turn this fact into an asset rather than the liability it has been for the last third of a century. Its religious mix can help it serve as a bridge between the resurgent Shi'ia in Iraq and the Gulf states, the reform-minded Sunnis of the region, the indigenous Christians and even the until recently prosperous Lebanese Jews, the majority of which have migrated to France. Historically the most Western part of the Middle East, the Lebanese business community, schools and universities and tourism industry have been attractive to both Europeans and Arabs for over a century. Its population is highly cosmopolitan and simultaneously rooted in the region's religious, ethnic and cultural traditions. The proverbial "land of contradictions," Lebanon enjoys almost unlimited potential. It has also found an almost unlimited number of ways of wasting this potential - starting with its youth and natural beauty - for many decades.

Parliamentary elections have been scheduled in Lebanon for May of this year. Traditionally, elections have merely demonstrated how successful the corrupt Lebanese elites and neighbouring powers have been at robbing the country of its future. In concert with the newly formed national Opposition, the international community now has a unique chance to strengthen democracy and rule of law in the Middle East, in a country whose wealth is rooted not in unsustainable natural resources, but in the unlimited potential of its people.

Eugene Sensenig-Dabbous, Beirut

Eugene Sensenig-Dabbous, Ph.D. teaches political science and cultural studies on the university level and is an activist in the alternative-globalisation movement. email: sensenig(at)cyberia.net.lb

If you like this post - click to Reddit!
add to del.icio.usAdd to digg - digg it

Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000340.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

by Moderator @ 10:53 PM CST [Link]


Middle East e-Zine

Midde East News

Opinion Digest

Late Updates


Middle East Glossary

Middle East Maps

Middle East Books

Middle East Documents

Israel-Palestine History

Israel-Palestine Timeline

Middle East Countries

Middle East Economy

Middle East Population

Middle East Health

Zionism History

Palestinian Parties

Palestinian Refugees

Peace Plans


Middle East


Blog Links

OneVoice - Israeli-Palestinian Peace Blog

Bravo411 -Info Freedom

Israel News


Michael Brenner

Dutchblog Israel

Dutch - IMO (Israel & Midden-Oosten) Blog (NL)



Alas, a Blog

Little Green Footballs

Blue Truth

Fresno Zionism

Reut Blog

Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Blog

Simply Jews: Judaism and Israel

Jeff Weintraub - Commentaries and Controversies

Vital Perspective


Meretz USA Weblog


MIDEAST observer

On the Contrary

Blogger News Network- BNN

Google Sex Maps

Demediacratic Nation

Realistic Dove

Tulip - Israeli-Palestinian Trade Union Assoc.

On the Face

Israel Palestjnen (Dutch)

Middle East Analysis

Israel: Like This, As If

Middle East Analysis

Mid_East Journal

Z-Word Blog

Dvar Dea

SEO for Everyone

Web Sites & Pages

Israeli-Palestinian Procon

End Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: One Voice


ATFP- American Task Force on Palestine

Americans For Peace Now

Shalom Achshav

Chicago Peace Now


Peacechild Israel

Bridges of Peace


Israeli-Palestinian Conflict



Zionism and Israel

Zionism and Israel on the Web

Israel - Palestina:Midden-Oosten Conflict + Zionisme

IsraŽl in de Media

Euston Manifesto

New Year Peace


Christian Zionism

Jew Hate

Space Shuttle Blog

Israel News Magazine


My Ecosystem Details
International Affairs Blogs - BlogCatalog Blog Directory

Link 2 us
We link 2 U.
MidEastWeb- Middle East News & Views
MidEastWeb is not responsible for the content of linked Web sites

Replies: 1 Comment

It would be truly wonderful for peaceful change in Lebanon. You are however correct in pointing out Syria crossed the line. Kindly go to the beach and look at those really big boats. They are American warships including 2 aircraft carriers. They are not there for show or political posturing, rather the swift and inevitable demise of the regimes in Syria and Iran. Just go ask Saddam how that works.

Posted by Bryan Kerwick @ 03/25/2005 10:36 AM CST

Please do not leave notes for MidEastWeb editors here. Hyperlinks are not displayed. We may delete or abridge comments that are longer than 250 words, or consist entirely of material copied from other sources, and we shall delete comments with obscene or racist content or commercial advertisements. Comments should adhere to Mideastweb Guidelines . IPs of offenders will be banned.

Powered By Greymatter

[Previous entry: "The Fate of Lebanon and the Oracle at Damascus"] Main Index [Next entry: "Lebanon: Deliverance or Despair?"]


Thank you for visiting MidEastWeb - Middle East.
If you like what you see here, tell others about the MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log - www.mideastweb.org/log/.

Contact Us


Editors' contributions are copyright by the authors and MidEastWeb for Coexistence RA.
Please link to main article pages and tell your friends about MidEastWeb. Do not copy MidEastWeb materials to your Web Site. That is a violation of our copyright. Click for copyright policy.
MidEastWeb and the editors are not responsible for content of visitors' comments.
Please report any comments that are offensive or racist.

Editors can log in by clicking here

Technorati Profile

RSS FeedRSS feed Add to Amphetadesk Add to Amphetadesk

USA Credit Card - Donate to MidEastWeb  On-Line - Help us live and grow