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Lebanon is making history, potentially

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Flabbergasted Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Dec-15-06 05:52 PM
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Lebanon is making history, potentially

By Rami G. Khouri
Daily Star staff
Saturday, December 16, 2006

It is easy to get so entangled in the day-to-day dynamics of events in Lebanon that one loses sight of the truly new and potentially historic developments that are taking place before our eyes. I think we can already note five distinct political dynamics that have occurred in Lebanon in the past two years or so. All five are unprecedented in modern Arab history, and potentially could have historic implications for developments in other Arab countries. Yet all five also comprise actors - notably Hizbullah, the Lebanese government and its March 14 backers, Syria, Iran, the United States - whose positions remain fluid, thus some of these events could turn out to be fleeting. My hunch is that they are historic, and will impact on trends in the region in years to come. Here is my list, in chronological order.

The massive street demonstrations and firm political response by many Lebanese figures immediately after the killing of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri last February resulted in the departure of Syrian troops from Lebanon and Damascus' ending its direct control over domestic Lebanese affairs. International diplomatic support for the demonstrators via the UN Security Council helped push out the Syrians. Yet the spectacle of over a million people on the street in March 14, 2005, was the critical populist base that moved the process forward. We should not be surprised if similar mass protests occur in other Arab countries in the years ahead.

The UN Security Council's decision last year to open an investigation into the Hariri murder (now expanded to assist in solving other murders of Lebanese public figures that have occurred in the past 20 months) was followed by a decision to form a Lebanese-international tribunal to try the suspects. Suspicion for the killings has focused heavily on Syria, though the government in Damascus insists it is innocent. The truth should come out soon enough. The important precedent is that the international community has launched an investigative and judicial process to hold accountable those who committed these crimes, delving deep into the inner political and security structures of sovereign countries - mainly Lebanon and Syria in this case. This is an attempt to achieve through legitimate political means what was attempted by Anglo-American military force in Iraq - either changing a regime or changing its behavior.

The war between Hizbullah and Israel this past summer resulted in an effective draw, as both sides agreed to a cease-fire after 34 days of relentless fighting, most often targeting civilian areas. The fact that a non-state actor like Hizbullah forced Israel to accept a diplomatic end to the fighting reinforced the stature of Hizbullah in the Arab world, emboldened the political posture of its allies and supporters, Syria and Iran, and provided a model of resistance, organization, strategic planning and implementation that is already spreading to other militant movements in the region. It reflects a powerful human will and associated technical capacity to defy powerful foes - Israeli, American, or Arab - that may manifest itself in other forms in the years ahead.

Hizbullah and its allies in Lebanon have taken to the streets to challenge the elected government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, vowing to topple it and replace it with a government of national unity in which the opposition has veto power through control of at least a third of the seats. Such a blatant but peaceful challenge in the streets is a new development in modern Arab politics, and represents a precedent that could be emulated in other lands. Most Arab regimes that have been changed in modern history succumbed to foreign or domestic coups, with the possible exception of the overthrow of former Sudanese President Jaafar Numeiry in 1985, after street demonstrations brought to power his army commander, though that happened when Numeiry was out of the country.

Responding to the Hizbullah-led challenge to his government, Siniora and his political allies have fought back energetically, with strong, vocal backing from many Lebanese as well as a host of foreign governments, especially the American and European governments. Never before has the Arab world witnessed such a determined political stand - as opposed to military attacks and mass arrests - by an incumbent Arab political leadership that has been openly challenged by a strong Islamist-led movement. The spectacle of a Western- and Arab-backed, legitimately elected Arab government staring down a strong domestic Islamist challenge backed by Syria and Iran is a noteworthy novelty. Whoever emerges triumphant, or if a negotiated compromise solution is agreed upon, the outcome of this historic face-off will impact strongly on political trends throughout this region for years to come.

Each of these five developments is historic in itself, and taken together they mirror the outlines of the prevalent new ideological confrontation that defines the Middle East.
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