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Lebanon: Deliverance or Despair?


Lebanon's brief Beirut spring of freedom may be coming to an end. The spurt of anti-Syrian activity that was sparked by the assassination of Rafiq Hariri on February 14 was atypical of Lebanese politics: nonviolent demonstrations exhibiting unity of all factions in a national cause. Not it is not even certain that Lebanese want the Syrians to leave.

Quite strangely, Lebanese newspapers seemingly all had the same impossible dream, that the Hizbulla would join the opposition and help to free Lebanon from her Syrian masters. Perhaps they wanted it so much because without the participation of Hizbullah, the revolt against Syrian domination would appear to be doomed. They are probably the largest coherent political force in Lebanon. It would have probably meant exchanging Teheran for Damascus as the string pullers, and it might have meant more conservative and stricter religious observance in Lebanese public places. However, perhaps Lebanese calculated that it might be worthwhile to risk veiling the women of Beirut, and closing the bars, and even risk being dragged by the Hizbollah into dangerous encounters with Israel, in order to be rid of Syria and achieve Lebanese unity.

For whatever reason, the bizarre headline of the Beirut Daily Star editorial proclaimed a day before the rally, "Hizbullah is not a problem - it is part of Lebanon's solution."

Of course, Hizbullah is not a problem if you want Syria in Lebanon forever, but that was not the intention of the Daily Star. On Tueday, the Hizbullah held a giant rally in support of Syria in Beirut, dwarfing all the previous opposition rallies apparently, and bringing out over 100,000 followers (now estimated at hundreds of thousands). Even observers sympathetic to the opposition noted the size of the crowd and also noted that the participants were the "real people" of Lebanon, workers and farmers, rather than the Beirut designer jeans and Gucci fashion crowd that had attended opposition rallies. According to Al-Jazeera, the lranian-oriented Shi'ite Hizbullah made its message clear so that it could not be mistaken by anyone:

"Thank you, Syria's Assad," a large banner said. "No to foreign interference," another said. "Beirut is free, America out," protesters chanted.
"This is a historic day in the history of Lebanon, a day that will found the future of Lebanon," Hizb Allah's media director Muhammad Afif told Aljazeera.

"This huge crowd is gathered under the title of rejecting resolution 1559, as many Lebanese people, including some opposition elements, reject this resolution.

Perhaps it was a historic day. The day the Beirut spring ended. We cannot know if the huge crowds really reflect the wishes of the Lebanese people, or if, as is more likely, they reflect the organizational skills and power of the Hizbollah, backed by other Lebanese puppets of Syria and the still omnipresent Syrian intelligence.

The good news is that since Bashar Assad's nebulous speech last Saturday, Syria has clarified to the UN that its troops and secret service personnel will be leaving Lebanon for good. The bad news is that evidently Syria intends to remain in Lebanon throughout the elections and intends to depart in October. Many Lebanese view this as a bid to control the coming elections. With Hizbollah on their side, Syria will in any case have as many troops as they need to control Lebanon.

The big question is what do Lebanese really want? The Beirut crowds shouting "Syria Out" were very convincing, but the Hizbollah demonstration shows that there is also at least some support for another sentiment. Moreover, a new Zogby poll claims to show that a majority of Lebanese do not necessarily think Syrian withdrawal is the best option for Lebanese security. Surprisingly, even among Maronite Christians, only 48% insist on total Syrian withdrawal, while 35% of Shi'a agree. Perhaps this result was due to the mode of asking the question, which forced people to choose between deploying Lebanese security forces in all of Lebanon, Syrian withdrawal and other alternatives. It seems respondents could choose only one alternative, though they are not mutually contradictory. Zogby is an experienced polling organization, and they must have known that this could not produce a result that showed a true picture of support for Syrian withdrawal. At any rate, the battle for Lebanese public opinion, which seemed to be won a few days ago, is apparently a wide open contest. The main results of the poll are given in the table below.

What is the solution to the security situation in Lebanon?






Reinforcement and deployment of the Lebanese army and security forces all over Lebanon






Complete withdrawal of the Syrian forces from Lebanon






Disarmament of all armed forces in Lebanon






Bringing in international forces to implementsecurity






Ami Isseroff

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Replies: 4 comments

As much as I hate to say it, it seems the only solution to Lebanon's dellema is help from Israel. Israel must take out Huzbulla, clean it completey out. Then we can force Syria out. We should encourage all Lebanese to come back to Lebanon. A Lebanese majority State would definately be Pro-American.

Posted by Taluza @ 03/08/2005 10:50 PM CST

I think the Lebanese people should understand that unity is their number one goal for a country that was torn by a long bloody civil war. For the Shi'a to have no power in the Lebanese government is an unjust and unfair practice. The government needs to understand that to have a united peaceful Lebanon every person needs to be an integral part of the Lebanese population. Syria will adhere to the will of the Lebanese people if the Lebanese themselves can bring unity and fairness to their country. Israel and the US have to stay outside Lebanon in order for the Lebanon to achieve complete autonomy.

Posted by Mazen @ 03/15/2005 07:44 PM CST

As a Lebanese, of the Maronite stock, I can categorically tell you that Hizballah has great respect amongst all Lebanese, and rightly so... apart from engaging professionally the Israeli occupation, they have provide thousands of Lebanese with basic necessities especially in the backwater areas of Lebanon. Moreover, they have represented a moderate force promoting dialogue; they do not oppose the withdrawal of Syrian forces, but are with the Taif Agreement, an agreement which stipulates the Syrian withdrawal.

We consider them a legitamate resistance to counter daily Israeli incurisions into Lebanon (the Shebaa farms, frequent aerial manned and unmanned overflights, breif incursion into Lebanese territory and so forth).

Posted by Yehya @ 03/16/2005 01:02 AM CST

You really don't get it do you? Go to the beach with a pair of binoculars. Those really big boats out there are American warships including two aircraft carriers. They aren't there for show or political posturing. They are there for the inevitable demise of the regimes in Syria and Iran. They both will be gone before the year is out. Hizballah has a chance which may be slim or none but if they sever all ties with Syria and Iran and disarm themselves completely they have a chance. They have contributed to the Lebaneese cause politically and militarily but now is the time to be either a purely independant political faction in Lebanon or dead. Not much of a choice but the only one they have pure and simple.

Posted by Bryan Kerwick @ 03/25/2005 10:48 AM CST

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