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Edition 11 Volume 3 - March 24, 2005

The future of Lebanon

Syria's stake in Lebanon  - Rime Allaf
Syria needs a stable and peaceful Lebanon, especially when instability in Iraq still has the potential to overflow.

Syrian military pullout could backfire  - Israel Elad Altman
An international presence is indispensable if Lebanon is to succeed as a test case regarding the commitment to freedom in the Arab world.

The end of sectarianism in Lebanon?  - Kim Ghattas
Hundreds of thousands of mesmerized Lebanese suddenly realized the divide in their country was no longer sectarian but political.

Lebanon's future looks more promising  - Farid el Khazen
The factors, both internal and external, that led to war in 1975 are not there anymore.

Syria's stake in Lebanon
 Rime Allaf

The Syrian regime may have had plans for Lebanon, but clearly none envisaged the scenario that developed over the last weeks or correctly assessed the current regional mood. Having failed to realize that frustration and resentment were mounting in Lebanon, especially after the extension of President Emile Lahoud's term, Syria became inextricably entangled in the most shocking event of these recent weeks, the assassination of Rafiq Hariri, whose death shook the very foundation of Syria's presence in Lebanon.

No one expected Syria to leave gladly, certainly not completely. The troops are a mere logistical detail and their numbers would not have been reduced from a peak of 40,000 had they been the real guarantors of Syrian influence in Lebanon. Syria's real power brokers are the numerous elements in an extensive intelligence network, as well as the myriad Syrian and Lebanese political and economic contacts. These are what most Lebanese (and most Syrians) really want to see end; simultaneously, this is precisely what a minority will be sorry to let go.

Undeniably, a number of individuals in the Syrian regime will always resist attempts to uproot their authority and business interests from Lebanon. But for every Syrian profiteer, there are dozens of Lebanese associates who have made this situation possible. A rushed Syrian exit will harm their stakes and they will try to prolong this mutually beneficial relationship, especially as long as Syria's closed economy makes abuses viable. Moreover, with as much as 20 percent of deposits in Lebanese banks allegedly Syrian, and Lebanon's reconstruction manned primarily by countless cheap Syrian laborers (who, with over 30 killed so far, have paid the ultimate price of anti-Syrian sentiment in Lebanon), suddenly cutting these economic ties may cause agitation, which is in no one's interest.

But it would be a mistake to interpret Syria's stakes in Lebanon purely as vested economic interests and to forget the major political dimensions to the issue. This is not to give credence to the notion that Syria still adheres to the idea of Greater Syria (an idea which would then encompass much more than Lebanon and include other parts sectioned under Sykes-Picot); nor is this to credit a simplistic Baathist or pan-Arabist ideology advocating a common front.

The Golan Heights, indeed the entire Arab-Israel conflict, is a straightforward issue that exists outside the framework of colonial or ideological considerations. Until they are settled, Lebanon's fortunes will be intrinsically linked to those of Syria (and, to a lesser degree, Palestine).

Accordingly, a resurrection in one form or another of the May 17, 1983 US-sponsored accord between Israel and Lebanon is not an eventuality Syria could entertain while the Golan remains occupied (and annexed) by Israel. Some Lebanese feel this is an excessive burden, but Lebanon is not the only country hostage to regional circumstances. As long as a state of war prevails with Israel, Syria will remain politically entrenched in Lebanon, more or less overtly, even after a full withdrawal.

That said, any implied equivalence between Syria's presence in Lebanon and Israel's occupation of Arab territories, including the Golan, is unwarranted. This is why Syria is reluctant (but obliged) to cite UNSC Resolutions 242 and 338 when pointing to western double standards that demand Syrian compliance with UNSC Resolution 1559, but ignore Israeli snubs to international law.

In fact, current depictions of the 30-year (or even 15-year) Syrian occupation of Lebanon do no justice to its history or to Syria's contribution to ending the civil war. Even allowing for the Taef Agreement, no political analyst would seriously argue that a Syrian withdrawal could have been strategically possible before May 2000, when Israel ended its 22-year occupation of Lebanon (but has since then continued flexing its muscles with daily violations of Lebanese air space as reminders of its might).

Likewise, allegations that Syria intends to ignite civil strife as it withdraws, in apres moi, le deluge mode, are dangerous; Syria needs a stable and peaceful Lebanon, especially when instability in Iraq still has the potential to overflow. This doesn't mean that Syria did not foolishly contribute to a rekindling of tensions, but rather that this was (hopefully) unintended.

However, the seeds of discord have long been sown, and Syria needs to consider its next steps in Lebanon carefully. While future relations will depend largely on intra-Lebanese politics, Syria's internal affairs matter. Even if Syria were to develop into a Swiss-style democracy with the economy to boot, or, more realistically, just a more open system, it would still try to maintain its influence in Lebanon, which would itself still need Syrian political and (macro)economic support.

As things stand, a gradual but real metamorphosis is needed from current Syrian micromanagement of daily Lebanese affairs into a more mutually-consultative role. The Syrian regime must rein in the individuals who have exploited people and institutions on both sides of the border, and give the Lebanese people back the right to work out their own affairs--just as Syrians wish they could work out theirs. A more egalitarian relationship can do wonders for both, but it will take time for past mistakes to be forgiven.

The road to redemption is within reach: as a first gesture of goodwill, even if initially symbolic, diplomatic relations must be established between the two countries. This is a journey Syrians and Lebanese can take together, one step at a time.- Published 24/3/2005 (c) bitterlemons-international.org

Rime Allaf is an associate fellow at Chatham House in London.

Syrian military pullout could backfire
 Israel Elad Altman

In response to mounting international pressures, Syria will eventually withdraw its uniformed military units from Lebanon--not a small victory for Lebanese opposition groups and for the international efforts to advance freedom in the Middle East. Yet for Lebanon to be able to really regain its independence and undertake political reconstruction, while not sliding toward civil strife and becoming a regional trouble spot, Syrian military withdrawal is not enough.

Two elements should be added to the present international efforts. First, a NATO and EU international civilian and military presence should be deployed in order to verify the full implementation of UNSC Resolution 1559 and to help ensure a peaceful transition, free elections and the emergence of a legitimate and effective government. Second, the dismantling of Hizballah and the Palestinian armed groups, which are an integral part of the Syrian structure of domination in Lebanon, should be part of the Syrian withdrawal and not separated from it and delayed to a later stage. Nor should it be left to the auspices of the Lebanese government or of an internal Lebanese dialogue. Here, too, the international presence will have a crucial role to play.

The main thrust of international diplomatic efforts so far has been to bring about rapid and total Syrian withdrawal, presumably opening the way for parliamentary elections this coming May and for the formation of a new parliament to make the hard decisions over Lebanon's future. Assuming that a Syrian military withdrawal does take place, one can hardly imagine that the present Lebanese regime, even under the heaviest diplomatic pressures, will provide the conditions necessary for the free and fair elections that would probably bring about its own demise.

The unity of purpose manifested by the anti-Syrian and pro-independence camp was galvanized by rage over Rafiq Hariri's murder, and brought together Christians, many Sunnis, Druze and some Shi'ites. It is hardly likely to survive once Syrian forces are gone. Moreover, this camp is already challenged by a formidable pro-Syrian, Hizballah-led coalition. One can hardly find in Lebanon today the foundations for the new, broad-based national agreement that is required for the political reconstruction of Lebanon as a cohesive, stable nation state.

Grievances and rivalries suppressed for decades can now be expected to erupt, just as the Lebanese face extremely difficult decisions concerning the nature of their state itself. Should the sectarian, not national, electoral system be preserved? Is that system, as formulated in the Taif Accord (1989), suitable for the new phase? Is it likely to allow for the election of a parliament really capable of handling the complicated issues ahead? Should the new demographic balance between Muslims and Christians and the growing Shi'ite demographic weight force changes in the electoral system? Who should decide these issues, and how?

A relapse into communal violence over these and similar issues is more likely since the murder of Hariri, a bridging figure who transcended communalism and was able to make the deals necessary for the various communal groups to coexist. The terrorist attacks in the Beirut area in the past few days could presage a new, horrifying Lebanese reality unless an international peacekeeping presence is rapidly deployed.

By focusing on Syrian withdrawal, the present diplomatic efforts seem to be leaving the other major element of 1559, namely the disarming of the militias, for the Lebanese people and government to handle. This approach is probably based on the assumption that with Syrian troops gone, Hizballah will be easier to handle. It may also seek to preserve transatlantic unity over the Lebanese problem, as some European governments consider Hizballah a legitimate political movement. Yet it is extremely hard to imagine any Lebanese government or coalition of political forces being able to persuade Hizballah, whose military capabilities have catapulted it to domestic and regional prominence, to surrender them fully or in part--the more so since few Lebanese leaders, including those in the anti-Syrian coalition, would openly endorse the designation of Hizballah as a militia to be disarmed.

Furthermore, the Syrian pullout will provide Hizballah with an additional justification to hold on to its arms as the "resistance" (al-muqawamah) protecting Lebanon against presumed Israeli encroachments. Elections can be neither free nor fair if one party is a military organization that also enjoys effective autonomy in parts of the country.

Syria has never really accepted Lebanon as an independent, sovereign state. Even after the military withdrawal, the military-intelligence-business group that runs the Syrian regime will continue to enjoy far reaching influence in Lebanon and manipulate its politics through a formidable network of contacts in the Lebanese military and intelligence services and the pro-Syrian political and business elite. Hizballah is in fact an additional component of the Syrian structure of domination in Lebanon. Syria's influence over Hizballah and Palestinian armed groups there will remain an important tool for pressing Israel over the Golan, and for deterring Lebanese leaders who might ponder the separation of the Lebanese track of the peace process with Israel from the Syrian one.

The regional implications of the presence and activities of Hizballah and the Palestinian militias in Lebanon make their disarmament too an international, not merely Lebanese, matter, just like the Syrian withdrawal itself. Resolution 1559 should be implemented as one whole: the disarmament of Hizballah should be treated as part of Syria's pullout, and Syria should be required to use its influence over Hizballah in the context of efforts to dismantle the militias.

With Syria no longer responsible for internal security in the country, and probably as a by-product of attempts to dismantle the militias, Lebanon could rapidly become a fertile ground for terrorist attacks against Israel, against American or French interests in retaliation for those countries' sponsorship of 1559, or as a warning against further intervention in Lebanese or Syrian affairs. Syria itself might be interested in, and even initiate, internal strife and other mischief, in order to raise the price the international community will have to pay for its willingness to help in peacekeeping.

The proposed international presence, then, is needed to verify full Syrian military and intelligence withdrawal; to assist in disarming all the militias; to help provide internal security; and to assist the Lebanese in reconstructing their national institutions. UN forces have failed in a peacekeeping role in Lebanon, as did multinational Arab forces. NATO and the EU, both looking for new security missions in the broader Middle East region, would be more suitable for the job.

Attempts to mobilize a coalition to support the deployment of such an international presence will be difficult, particularly as no Lebanese invitation is forthcoming. Yet that presence is indispensable if Lebanon is to succeed as a test case regarding the international community's commitment to freedom in the Arab world, and if Hariri is to be the last casualty of "Beirut's spring".- Published 24/3/2005 (c) bitterlemons-international.org

Dr. Israel Elad Altman is director of studies of the Institute for Policy and Strategy, The Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya.

The end of sectarianism in Lebanon?
 Kim Ghattas

When a car bomb exploded in Jdeideh, a Christian suburb of Beirut, last week, just over a month after the massive blast that killed the former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, Lebanon's worst nightmare appeared to be taking shape. Was the cross-confessional unity shown around the grave of Hariri lying in the rubble of the targeted shopping center? Were the Christians going to retaliate and if they did, against whom?

But flashbacks of Lebanon's bloody civil war did not last long. Bahiyya Hariri, a Sunni Muslim and the sister of the slain former PM, visited Jdeideh within hours of the explosion. She received a hero's welcome by shocked residents who were comforted by her words: "They will not succeed in terrorizing us."

The use of "us" was essential, a signal that it wasn't just the Christians who were targeted but the hundreds of thousands of Lebanese who have taken to the streets since the death of Hariri demanding an end to the status quo. "They" are Syria's allies in Lebanon, according to members of the opposition who have accused pro-Syrian factions of trying to stir civil unrest in an attempt to justify the continued presence of Syrian troops in Lebanon as peacekeepers.

For now, no one has fallen into the "trap". "We have enough self-control, we are not organized like a militia, our response will be to continue with our uprising for independence," said Druze legislator Marwan Hamadeh.

There will probably be more violence in the coming months, but the "uprising" continues indeed on Martyrs' Square. The scene of so many battles from 1975 to 1990, the square long struggled to regain its pre-war role as a bridge between the communities in the last 15 years of peace. It remained a vast empty plot of land, with a few buildings on either side. The landmark statue of martyrs from a different era was finally brought back last autumn, after years of renovations, still bullet-ridden--one of the few war-time scars that Lebanon appeared willing to preserve.

The statue now stands a few hundred meters away from the tomb of Hariri with a banner carrying the word "Truth" plastered on its pedestal. The lawn around the statue has been transformed into a small camping ground for dozens of young and not-so young idealists who say they will remain there until the departure of the last Syrian soldier and until the truth is known about who killed Hariri. As they meet around bonfires and share a meal, young Druze from the Shouf mountains and students from the Christian heartland along with Sunnis from Baalbeck and even Shi'ites from the southern suburbs are discovering they have something in common. Separated by the barricades of war, Lebanon's different communities grew estranged and the boundaries remained in times of peace. The country's youth grew up with the "fear of the other" until they suddenly came face to face on Martyrs' Square, chanting the same slogans.

The rallying cry for unity has come from an unexpected source. Future TV, the station owned by the Hariri family, was once best known around the Arab world for its most popular production, the widely watched song contest "Superstar". After the assassination, Future TV was transformed into a Hariri tribute station as well as a 24-hour news and current affairs channel, but the ratings, at least domestic, have probably not fallen. The station is still giving the Lebanese what they want most at this stage. News bulletins and live debates about the latest developments are interrupted by songs in memory of Hariri, video-montages of demonstrations and clips calling for a united Lebanon.

The latest clip is a long list of numbers about the cost of Lebanon's civil war. Billions of dollars but also 150,000 dead, 350,000 injured, thousands of missing. The clip ends with "On April 13, 2005, let's say 'never again' to April 13, 1975", the fatal date that marked the start of the civil war. During the last 15 years of calm, little was done on that sad anniversary. The date that marked the end of the war and the start of the Pax Syriana was too divisive politically to be celebrated.

Lebanon never had a truth and reconciliation process. The Lebanese tried hard to deal with their violent past by simply forgetting about it. But a form of reconciliation appeared to take place around the tomb of Hariri where Christians made the sign of the cross, Muslims read the Fatiha, and all cried together. This unusual picture of Lebanese unity, albeit in sadness, was beamed back live into their own homes to watch over and over again. Hundreds of thousands of mesmerized Lebanese suddenly realized the divide in their country was no longer sectarian but political. It's no longer Christians versus Muslims but pro-Syrian against pro-change, each camp as religiously varied as the other.

This year, April 13 will take on a special significance. Bahiyya Hariri has called for it to be a day of national unity and civil society associations are gearing up to turn it into a solemn, national commemoration. Lebanon is far from having dealt with its past and all its divisions, and violence of some kind may be around the corner, but 30 years after it started and 15 years after it officially ended, Lebanon's sectarian, civil conflict may be finally over.- Published 24/3/2005 (c) bitterlemons-international.org

Kim Ghattas is a freelance correspondent, based in Beirut. She covers Lebanon and the Middle East for the BBC and the Financial Times.

Lebanon's future looks more promising
 Farid el Khazen

In the war years, whenever a car bomb exploded in Beirut, fighting escalated and the internal divide among Lebanese groups deepened. On February 14, 2005, the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in a massive explosion that ripped the hotel district in Beirut, instead ignited the spark of unprecedented national unity. Lebanese, drawn from all communities, have openly expressed their desire to see Syrian troops and security services withdraw from Lebanon. The taboo of Syrian control over Lebanon was broken in word and deed.

Lebanon's 15-year war ended in 1990. But the quest for the country's second independence (the first was in 1943) has now taken off and can no longer be reversed. It all began in early September 2004, when President Emile Lahoud's six-year term was extended after a constitutional amendment and in violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1559, passed one day prior to Lahoud's reelection. A former army commander, Lahoud was Bashar Assad's choice for the presidency at a time when Assad could have opted for other pro-Syrian candidates. The passing of UNSCR 1559 meant that developments in Lebanon were closely monitored by the international community, and particularly the United States and France, the two co-sponsors of the UN resolution.

Only a few weeks after the passing of 1559, parliament deputy Marwan Hamadeh escaped an assassination attempt by a car bomb. A veteran politician known for his moderation, Hamadeh was an effective go-between among Hariri, Jumblatt and the Christian opposition. The investigation of Hamadeh's assassination attempt led nowhere, not unlike other political assassinations in pre-and post-war Lebanon. The Hamadeh attempt carried an unambiguous message: political assassination to preserve the status quo of Syrian hegemony over Lebanon is still part and parcel of the "political process", in defiance of the renewed international focus on Lebanon.

If the passing of 1559 hastened the decision to target Hamadeh, the beginning of implementation of 1559 paved the way for the assassination of Hariri. UN envoy Terje Roed-Larsen's meetings with officials in Beirut and Damascus only a few days prior to Hariri's assassination signaled that the international community was serious about implementing 1559.

Just as no one expected the targeting of a Lebanese figure of the stature of Rafiq Hariri, no one expected the chain reaction of events that Hariri's assassination instigated and that paved the way for ending Syria's 30-year domination of Lebanon. The rapid deterioration in US-Syrian relations, particularly following the Iraq war and Syria's backing of terrorist groups in Iraq, revived US interest--first to exert pressure on Syria regarding Lebanon and then, following the passing of 1559, to call for complete Syrian troop withdrawal from the country. For Washington, Syria's role in Lebanon became a destabilizing factor and ended American support for the Pax Syriana in Lebanon that dates back to the mid-1970s. It took, in other words, three decades for Lebanon to become a country worthy of international support independently of regional politics.

Lebanon's second independence is on a much more solid ground than its first in 1943. The expression of national unity is far more genuine today than in the 1940s. People power was the main vehicle for change in 2005, while the 1943 independence involved little popular participation. Whereas in the early 1940s the Arab-Israel conflict was in its early phases and inter-Arab feuds in the name of Arabism were deeply divisive issues, today Arabism is a spent force and the battlefield for the Arab-Israel conflict is Palestine and not Lebanon.

Independence in 1943 was wedded to an unwritten understanding, known as the National Pact, on power-sharing and Lebanon's "Arab face". Today, independence is wedded to the 1989 Taif Agreement, which clearly defines the distribution of power and proclaims Lebanon's Arab identity. In the absence of the Taif Agreement, Lebanon's future, following Syrian troop withdrawal, would have been problematic. What will also facilitate the transition is the presence of a Lebanese army capable of filling the security vacuum in the aftermath of a Syrian pullout.

Although Shi'ite leaders have supported the Taif Agreement, the Shi'ite community's two main parties, Hizballah and Amal, are the most closely linked to Syria. Both parties have expressed support for Syrian troop withdrawal in accordance with Taif, but have opposed 1559. The issue at stake here is Hizballah, which refuses to disarm until after the ending of the Arab-Israel conflict. But Hizballah's stand has little support and the party's popularity outside its Shi'ite base has continued to decline since the Israeli withdrawal from South Lebanon in 2000. On the positive side, Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah has committed to preserving internal stability and has opted for the state. Hizballah has been actively involved in the political process since the early 1990s and its decision to disarm is, in the end, a function of a settlement that involves Syria, Iran, and the United States.

The factors, both internal and external, that led to war in 1975 are not there anymore. Gone are the days when Lebanon served as a battleground for the Arab-Israel conflict and for inter-Arab feuds. The Lebanese are also far more immune to internal divisions than at any time in the past. Equally important is Washington's rediscovery of Lebanon as a model for democracy and confessional coexistence between Christians and Muslims, Sunnis and Shi'ites, in an Arab world that is yet to become democratic and to tolerate communal diversity.

Needless to say, Lebanon has to make a difficult transition toward independence while preserving national unity and attending to monumental economic problems. But developments are moving on a path that indicates that Lebanon's future is far more promising than its past.- Published 24/3/2005 (c) bitterlemons-international.org

Farid el Khazen is professor of political science at the American University of Beirut.

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