The Day After Tomorrow… / by Qifa Nabki

Tomorrow, the solution to Lebanon’s crisis may finally materialize. Unlikely perhaps, but the possibility does exist, as it always has, that the Lebanese will wake up tomorrow morning and discover at lunchtime, on a coffee break, or on the evening news that their hapless politicians have finally agreed to agree.

On that day – let’s be optimists and call it tomorrow – a great sigh of relief will emerge collectively from the body politic, rustling the pine needles of the Shouf and whistling through the alleys of Sidon and Tripoli. There will be much rejoicing (in the Lebanese style), some gloating, conspiracy theorizing, but above all, relief.

And then the day after tomorrow will arrive, and the Lebanese – and the Syrians – will be back at square one.

So much attention has been focused on the details of the current standoff that there has hardly been any serious speculation or debate about what will take place after the government is up and running again. What can the Lebanese expect in the medium-term? The short-term priority is obvious: solving the crisis in a manner that is satisfactory to all local and regional actors, and getting on with the business of governing. The long-term priorities are many and complicated: reforming the failed systems of government to promote increased efficiency, stability, and (hopefully, in the very long term) equality in political participation. Of course, there is also the economic crisis, the problems of corruption, and much more.

But the medium-term is far from clear.

Will Bashar al-Assad put Syria in a holding pattern, waiting until Bush is out of office before setting the new policy for Lebanon? Or will the regime seek to consolidate its renewed influence by supporting the pursuit of an electoral law that would give Hizbullah a larger share in parliament? What mechanisms will ensure its continued influence in the event that the opposition’s momentum flags once they are back in the halls of government? Will there be an exchange of ambassadors between Beirut and Damascus? Will the borders stay wide open to Syrian workers? What will become of the rabble-rousing politicians who – for three years – have defined their entire political platform (or had it defined for them by the media) in terms of Syria (i.e. pro- or anti-).

The day after tomorrow will be far more important in determining the answers to these questions than tomorrow itself.

Comments (27)


1. norman said:

QN , this is a poem.

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January 11th, 2008, 2:16 am

 

2. Honest Patriot said:

Qifa Nabki,

Thank you for your excellent post. The majority or Lebanese, ordinary citizen, want nothing more than to go back to a normal life where the threat of violence and of an explosive outburst are back to the ordinary levels of an ordinary country. We will all rejoice if all this conflict were moved to the purely political arena, with internal security as well as the country’s security in the hands and under the authority of a single strong government system. Assad and his regime will be forgiven if, and only if, they cease and desist completely and permanently their interference in Lebanese politics, agree to fully secure and controlled borders with Lebanon that prevent any further weapons “leakage” to HA, agree to exchange diplomatic missions and embassies with Lebanon, and stop maneuvering to use the Lebanese border with Israel as a theater of operations to put pressure on Israel to give up the Golan. Without such complete change of attitude and behavior – change that requires courage and statesmanship – it is inevitable that, sooner or later, the crimes committed by or under the orders of the Syrian secret services will be exposed and “consequences” borne by the Syrian regime. Notwithstanding the analyses that try to justify the assassinations, the constant claims of lack of evidence, the analyses that this is the way “business” is done in the Middle East, the analyses that speak of the “amorality” of politics and its tools, the crowd that gathered on March 14, 2005, was, in its majority, real people who are not usually involved in politics. It was made of people of who will never forget, of people who will not use terrorism to claim their rights, of people who, sooner or later, will ensure that justice is done, of people who care about principles, honesty, fairness, and coexistence among differing beliefs and communities. These are the true Lebanese people. They will emerge.

I don’t care (actually, I don’t give a damn!) about Geagea or other leaders who many accuse of being murderers. I don’t care about Saad Hariri’s supposed quest for revenge. This is not what drives most of the supporters of M14. What drives the true Lebanese is a fundamental belief in fairness and justice and the vision that one day Lebanese citizens will identify themselves as Lebanese first and foremost before listing any other religious or other affiliation they may belong to. This is the true spirit of the Cedar Revolution. There are millions of us worldwide, the true Lebanese Diaspora, who will support by any (civilized and peaceful) means at our disposal the eventual emergence and realization of this vision. Sure, we have many obstacles to overcome: corruption, perpetual lack of civic sense, interference by every other foreign country and movement in Lebanon, religious fanaticism, to name a few! But Lebanese nationalism will emerge and will set the standard for the whole Middle East; for the Palestinians; for the Syrians; for the Iraqis; for all the Arabs.

Those who belong to this silent majority are not vocal. You may not read them on this blog or on any blog. But I assure you they are there, and they will emerge and triumph.

Peace

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January 11th, 2008, 2:48 am

 

3. Qifa Nabki said:

Norman,

Thanks for your comment.

HP,

I agree — this is what the majority of Lebanese want (and by the way, this includes non-M14 partisans). Everybody wants a stable society, a peaceful security situation, etc. And, of course, the vast majority want a fair and just peace with Israel. It did not take long for Lebanon to become a very optimistic place after the Civil War — a few years, tops. There were thousands of Lebanese repatriating, billions of dollars flowing in, hundreds of thousands of tourists, all bolstered by a confidence in the potential of this tiny little country.

But… I would say that idealism and hope are not enough. To actually effect “change” (that elusive term that is on the verge of becoming very cynical in America’s political debates) you need to lay real groundwork, and build real institutions, which of course needs real leadership.

This is where Bashar, if he is to truly leave his mark, needs to change the game from checkers to chess. Syria can only benefit (in the long term) from democratizing and encouraging peace and prosperity. But it will take leadership.

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January 11th, 2008, 3:02 am

 

4. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Since the power of the Syrian regime comes only from their ability to cause trouble, there is no chance that Lebanon will be quiet soon.

What good is Hizballah to Syria if they don’t cause problems on the border with Israel? What good is a Lebanon that has a peace agreement with Israel?

The best solution for Bashar is to keep Lebanon always on the cusp of a civil war or a confrontation with Israel. I am not optimistic about the prospects of Lebanon in the next 10 years.

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January 11th, 2008, 3:20 am

 

5. Honest Patriot said:

AIG, well, things would work out if Syria and Israel manage to reach a peace accord. Aren’t the outlines of that accord just as well known as for the Israel-Palestine solution? Sure there are details to be worked out, but they are just that, details. (I know the argument that the devil is in the details, but with today’s surveillance technology and the kind of guarantees that the US can give and that Israel can effect by itself — most of these capabilities are classified — it is all doable). What’s needed is for the statesmen who know what needs to be done to have the courage to buck the religious fanatics in their respective societies (in ALL parties, including Israel).

Qifa Nabki, I know there’s a lot of idealism in what I wrote. The ONE stumbling block is security. When I was in Lebanon (25+ years ago), I saw so many genuine patriots return to positions of responsibility, or take nationalistic initiatives, only to be “liquidated” by overt or covert assassination. Eventually, everyone got the message. The idealism in what I said stems from the fact that this fear factor will continue to plague the country and prevent its valiant sons and daughters from effecting the true modern solution, until a person can feel secure that he/she will be taking no more risks than in normal life upon taking initiatives. Perhaps military rule for an interim period is the only way this can happen (?). I sure hope not, but it’s a very arguable point. What say you?

… and, yes, I agree, it’s not just M14, it’s all Lebanese. It’s just that in the recent years, I see M8 and Aoun positions always carry with them the risk (threat?) of civil disorder which can easily degenerate into catastrophic violence, and this is distressing.

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January 11th, 2008, 4:37 am

 

6. Antoun Issa said:

Qifa Nabki,

I couldn’t agree with you more. I’m a Lebanese who’s resigned to concede that change in Lebanon must in face come from Syria.

I concluded long ago that Syria and Lebanon will forever be inextricably linked. The ties go too far back, and far too deep to be extricated. There are Lebanese who perceive Lebanon as a Western style nation-state, compelely independent of what occurs beyond their borders, when in fact the opposite is the clear truth.

We also have to conclude as Lebanese that Syria has, and will always have, the upper hand in our intertwined relationship.

The Lebanese are incapable of crafting a genius state with advanced institutions that will not only provide stability, but prosperity that is distributed amongst all Lebanese.

Lebanon is an entity that is still struggling to grasp the reality of its existence. It is still battling that same identity crisis it had when the French drew the line separating it from Syria 90 years ago. This is why I am pessimistic that Lebanon will never be able to get on its feet, on its own.

Change has to come from its most significant external influence, Syria.

Those of us Lebanese who are keen on change in our own country must keep our focus on Syria, and push for more reforms from the Assad regime, because the benefits of a prosperous and advanced Syria will automatically flow onto Lebanon.

Syria likes to boast its “natural” influence that it exerts over neighbouring entities, particularly Lebanon. We need Syria to start boasting a positive natural influence, and not the negative influences we’ve grown accustom to in Lebanon.

The Syrians had 15 years to establish a benevolent Lebanon, a stable Lebanon, and a prosperous Lebanon. All it did instead was empower corrupt warlords, inflame sectarian divisions, and exploit it. Syria is now dealing with the problems it created.

The Assad regime needs to stop thinking about its own preservation, and begin thinking of the greater national interests of Syria and Lebanon.

Syria is the key to Lebanon’s prosperity.

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January 11th, 2008, 5:20 am

 

7. Alex said:

Qifa Nabki,

That was beautiful.

I really enjoyed reading your post.

And so true … there is much to worry about in Lebanon (and Syria/Lebanon) that we all find it not practical to keep track of all those fundamental long-term questions for now.

If I may give you a naive-sounding answer to some of the Syria questions:

The Syrian people will go out of their way to express their friendship and goodwill to the new Lebanon … a Lebanon that is reasonably friendly, to Syria.

As for the Syrian government … unfortunately, things will depends on the regional situation… you know the unfortunate complications.

There is a relatively good chance that with the next US administration we might have a smoother running Middle East, but who knows what can go wrong by next year.

But regardless of the regional variables, I hope to see the Syrian government show the Lebanese people that a friendly Lebanese leader can get from Syria what a hostile leader can not … at the least I am talking about reaching a quick agreement with President Sleiman to send the first Syrian ambassador to Beirut.

I can’t think of a better confidence building measure.

In the short term … expect Syria to continue to express its reluctance to get too involved in Lebanon … after the past two years of asking the Syrians to stay away (while the Saudis, Americans, and French were quite involved) the Syrians will first require a lot of “oh please, we really want you to get involved now … we want you to interfere .. yes, please do .. we badly need your help, you are Lebanon’s saviors …”

You will not see any visible signs of uninvited Syrian interference. Behind the scene, consultations with Syria’s traditional allies in Lebanon will go back to normal … it will be ok for Sleiman Frangieh, Nabih Berri, Nasrallah and others to visit Damascus more often … Damascus is only 2 hours away by car … When was the last time you saw Nabih Berri in Damascus on the evening news?

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January 11th, 2008, 8:38 am

 

8. Alex said:

As for Lebanon itself .. I am not optimistic. I don’t think the Lebanese have a clear hierarchy to their political System. those of you who studied management know that reporting to more than one boss (Matrix structure) will make you frequently confused and sometimes paralyzed … in Lebanon you might report to three bosses … think of these examples from the new balanced cabinet:

Aoun supporter, Christian minister from the group which is appointed by President Sleiman (because Aoun did not get enough reps from the chairs assigned to the opposition for example), will practically take his instructions (how to vote) from the president. He might also take into account what Patriarch Sfeir said in his Sunday mass few days ago … and of course he remains loyal to General Michel Aoun … his third “Boss”.

The minister sitting next to him is a M14 figure … his role is to counterbalance President Sleiman’s ministers who proved to be too friendly to Syria and Hizbollah. His boss is Prime minister Seniora (though I think Mr. Seniora won’t make it again). His other boss is Walid Jumblatt … his Party leader. His third Boss is Sheikh al3aql for the Lebanese Druze who advised him few days ago to be tougher and not compromise (for example)

Both ministers are supposed to answer to one boss … but in reality each one of them has three bosses … and they are not the same three …

This is not sustainable … you need a unique, senior, boss… respected, feared and liked…. sufficiently.

Yes, … Syria, and only Syria can be that boss. Because Syria will not allow anyone else to be Lebanon’s boss … and because Syria already has decades of experience.

Qifa Nabki … Lebanon needs radical reforms to avoid needing Syria’s “help”.

Lebanon needs a more conventional hierarchy… and to take religion out of its political system.

I don’t see how the different Lebanese parties will agree peacefully on all those structural reforms.

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January 11th, 2008, 8:46 am

 

9. offended said:

Qifa Nabki, thank you for the sobering article.

The one good thing this agreement (if succeeded in garnering the various consents) will do is to take the political contention from the streets back to the confines of meeting rooms. By Lebanese standards, this thing itself is an achievement.

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January 11th, 2008, 9:38 am

 

10. Qifa Nabki said:

Honest Patriot wrote:

Perhaps military rule for an interim period is the only way this can happen (?). I sure hope not, but it’s a very arguable point. What say you?

To be honest, HP, I believe that security can only be achieved through consensus. We live in an age when people can be terrorized very easily by small groups of motivated individuals. It doesn’t take much to send the entire country into a panic: a single car bomb can do it. Add to this the weak central authority in Lebanon and the strength of the various ex-militia leaders, and you have a situation that makes it extremely difficult to prevent security threats.

So we have to have consensus, which means giving everybody a stake in the current government. People like to say that there are too many different parties, different sects, different interests for Lebanon’s pie to be split up equitably, but I have always disagreed with this analysis. There is more than enough “pie” to go around. People have to realize, however, that greed will only create problems in the long-term. The United States (and the U.K. and France, and plenty of other democracies) have extremely diverse populations with complicated formulas of power-sharing, and they still manage to function effectively. The Lebanese have to figure it out.

Hizbullah must be brought in and allowed to share in the government; I truly believe that there is nothing like having to make the trains run on time to turn a zealot into a pragmatist. And HA is certainly not defined purely by zealotry.

Alex said:

This is not sustainable … you need a unique, senior, boss… respected, feared and liked…. sufficiently.

Yes, … Syria, and only Syria can be that boss. Because Syria will not allow anyone else to be Lebanon’s boss … and because Syria already has decades of experience.

Alex, excellent comments. I agree that, yes, in the short-term Syria will likely function as Lebanon’s “boss”, but in the medium and long-term, things will not return to the old nizaam. They simply cannot. Lebanon is a changed political arena. As I said before, the cat is out of the bag: everybody understands that the old arrangements will simply not function properly anymore. Also, the July 2006 War and Hizbullah’s role as a political opposition (and not just a military resistance) have taken a lot of luster off of its once universally respected status in Lebanon. More and more Lebanese are cynical about Hizbullah and feel that something has to be done about the weapons… we could go on and on.

The point is that the day after tomorrow will be the first real day of the new Lebanon. February 15, 2005 (the day after the Hariri assassination) marked the first day of a very strange period — a kind of twilight zone — in which many bizarre things happened: the discovery of mass demonstrations, the departure of the Syrians, the March 14 movement, the July War, a year-long sit-in by Hizbullah… All these things are atypical political phenomena, even for Lebanon. That period will come to an end once Lebanon has a new government and so that is why the day after tomorrow is the first real day in the new chapter of Lebanese-Syrian relations.

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January 11th, 2008, 1:26 pm

 

11. Alex said:

QN

I agree with everything you said. I meant that Syria will probably need to be that boss for a year or two max … and it will have to act in a different way than it did from 1994 to 2004 … that decade was about keeping the status quo, not about reforming anything. The Syrian army was in Lebanon to ensure the current political system was functional.

There will be no Syrian army the next time Syria is asked to be the new boss.

If Syria is somehow given an international mandate to help “manage” things in Lebanon, this time everyone (America, KSA, and France) will be watching, and hopefully helping as well … or at least they should. There should be a specific objective for Syria’s role … to work towards producing a new elections law, and other reforms.

But even Syria can not guarantee anything alone. The Syrians will refuse, absolutely refuse, to take charge of Lebanon if they do not trust the intentions of the Americans, Israelis and Saudis.

Without a Syrian army in Lebanon, if Saudi Prince B. wants to continue supporting Wahabis in Lebanon to make life difficult for Syria, or if some neocons and some Likudists want to move some of their friends in Lebanon to also ensure a Syrian failure, then Syria will not take that chance in the first place.

So … what will it take for Syria to start trusting the Americans, Saudis, and Israelis? … the past three years those three countries worked in many convoluted ways to weaken the Syrian regime (and Syria).

I’m afraid that nothing short of a successfully concluded, US sponsored, Israeli Syrian peace process can be enough of a proof of goodwill for the Syrians to start putting their reputation on the line in Lebanon.

Or, a new administration in the white house that communicates with Syria for sometime until the Syrians feel comfortable enough to trust dealing with them.

It would also be great to see prince Turki al-Faisal assigned as Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Lebanon. He is a man the Syrians can work with and trust… and he has the respect, and experience necessary for such a critical assignment.

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January 11th, 2008, 6:22 pm

 

12. Qifa Nabki said:

Alex,

Let’s imagine that all goes according to your plan. The Syrians are given a (secret but understood) mandate to manage Lebanon temporarily. Two or three years from now, Pres. Suleiman is hugely popular: he has strengthened the army and turned the economy around, the border with Israel is quiet, the UNIFIL troops are gaining weight from all the shish tawouq they are eating, the hotels are full every summer, the constitution is being reformed, etc. In short, everything is going great!

What is Syria likely to get out of this? We are assuming, of course, that there is no more money flowing directly to Damascus from the Casino, etc.

What would the regime gain from such an arrangement?

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January 11th, 2008, 6:57 pm

 

13. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

QN,
And that is why it will never happen.
The discussion so far is ultra naive. We have 40 years of Asad rule to learn from.

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January 11th, 2008, 7:07 pm

 

14. Alex said:

QF,

I’ll give you an answer, but you should wait for the definitive answer from the only non-naive person on Syria Comment.

As for my ultra-naive opinion:
If you want to understand Syria, you need to forget the popular stories about the regime’s foreign policy being driven by pure corruption. The most corrupt figures are not in charge of Lebanon anymore … Khaddam, Kanaan (I assume) and Rafiq Hariri.

Rami is busy in Dubai and elsewhere.

You know that France really promised Syria huge economic benefits if it agreed to put some pressure on the opposition. Syria refused.

Saudi Arabia can compensate Syria in a way that Lebanon can never compete with if Syria accepted to let the Saudis have the upper hand in Lebanon.

I don’t care what others would like to believe, but personal corruption does not steer Syria’s Lebanon policies.

And I remind you that when Syria had as many as 60,000+ troops in Lebanon for decades which saved Lebanon tens of Billion in the cost of running an army and other security services (assuming 2 billions per year, what America spends in a week in Iraq) … that has to come from somewhere … Syria is not a rich country.

Back to your question: Syria needs a stable Lebanon… that by itself is a reward for Syria. Syria absolutely can not live with the madness in Lebanon the past two years with American and French ambassadors meeting everyday with everyone in Lebanon and telling them what to do and what not to do, then issuing threats and insults to Syria.

Then there is the international recognition that Syria will get if it succeeds where all the others failed miserably.

AND … on the long run … I can tell you that I am one of those who believe that at some point, the Lebanese and Syrians will probably decide to forget the border between them … if not completely, then at least economically, socially, emotionally and practically.

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January 11th, 2008, 7:34 pm

 

15. al Raabia3 said:

Qifa Nabki,

Great Post – I enjoyed reading it. I understand the point that Syria and Lebanon are inextricably intertwine, and that if Lebanon is to emerge from this political mess, Syria will most likely be the force that pulls them out of it. But I am not convinced that Lebanon will always have to maintain that big-brother relationship.

Is it not possible that, in the long term (and maybe even medium term) the relationship between the two states will begin to resemble the relationship that Singapore and Malaysia have (obviously Singapore being compared to Lebanon). I am not an expert on the history but, at least on the surface, there seems to be a lot of similarities. Singapore was once part of Malaysia (and the few Malaysians I’ve met seem to regard Singapore as their ‘rebellious little sibling’). The two countries have very tight social and economic ties and the city state is dangerously dependent on food and water imports from Malaysia, the same way that Lebanon is (think back to when Syria closed the borders).

Yet despite having a ‘big boss” type neighbor, Singapore has managed to maintain its own sovereignty and find a system that works.

Is it completely unfeasible for Lebanon to hope for a similar system?

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January 11th, 2008, 8:14 pm

 

16. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Asad needs a stable Lebanon like he needs a kick in the ass.
If Asad wanted a stable Lebanon he would not have murdered Hariri and all the rest.
If Asad wanted a stable Lebanon he would not have armed Hizballah.
Once Lebanon is stable, Syria becomes weak because its power comes only from causing problems and blackmailing people in order to partially solve them until they create the next problem. This is what 40 years of history have shown. If Lebanon is stable Asad would have to fight his wars with Israel on Syrian soil instead of Lebanaese soil. If Lebanon is stable, no Arab leader would bother talking to Asad. If Lebanon is stable, Saudi and Gulf money and the Sunni elites will eventually control all of Lebanon through peaceful economic activity giving ideas to the Sunnis in Syria (this is why Hariri was murdered).

The last thing Asad wants is a stable Lebanon.

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January 11th, 2008, 8:28 pm

 

17. Alex said:

AIG,

Yes, yes. it is all the fault of the Syrians.

Here is Junblatt agreeing with you:

http://www.memritv.org/clip/en/1647.htm

It is an interesting interview…. but this Iranian TV journalist is a kid.

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January 11th, 2008, 9:44 pm

 

18. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

No Alex,
The instability in Lebanon is not the fault of the Syrians. It is the fault of the Asad regime. The two are very different. Asad is just taking care of his interests like any ruthless mafioso and these interests are definitely not aligned with those of the Syrian people.

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January 11th, 2008, 9:49 pm

 

19. Alex said:

AIG,

I can’t wait to see your idol Mr. Netanyahu back as Israel’s prime minister so that I can have the pleasure of hearing him lecture the Syrian regime about goodness and democracy and respect for human rights …

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January 11th, 2008, 9:52 pm

 

20. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

And by the way, you are as cynical as they come.
Hafez murdered Kamal Junblatt and told his son Walid, hey its nothing personal only business. Walid had to make a choice whether to destroy the Druze in Lebanon or come to terms with the murderer of his father. Thank goodness I never had to make this choice. And now, you are having a great time mocking him for the predicament the Asads put him in by being ruthless murderers. Hafez died peacefully in his bed, but the chances of this happening to Bashar are small and when he goes down, he will bring Syria down with him. But hey, you adore him and support him, so what can I say.

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January 11th, 2008, 10:01 pm

 

21. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Alex,
Under Netanyahu and under any Israeli prime minister the Israeli Arabs had and have 100 times more rights and freedoms than what Asad gives his fellow Syrians. What are you talking about?

Oh, you expect us to be nice to our enemies also. Sorry, that is not how the world works. But Asad is not denying rights to his enemies, he is denying rights to his FELLOW SYRIANS. Let’s see Asad treat the Arab citizens of Syria like Israel treats the Arab citizens of Israel. Let’s see Asad give them freedom of speech. Let’s see Asad give them the right to create their own parties and run to a truly democratically elected paralaiment. Let’s see Asad give his citizens the same economic opportunity Israel gives its Arab citizens. No worry though, we won’t see anything, just more adoration for Asad from your side.

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January 11th, 2008, 10:08 pm

 

22. Alex said:

AIG,

I knew Walid will give you good ideas. That’s why I posted the interview… you need help lately with the Syrian regime “breaking out of its isolation”.

While you are busy trying to practice your Netanyahu-spin tactics, let me explain to you something: when it comes to killing innocent people your Israel, and your favorite American administration (this one) are the champions.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/7180055.stm

New study says 151,000 Iraqi dead

The ongoing unrest makes gathering information difficult
One of the biggest surveys so far of Iraqis who have died violently since the US-led invasion of 2003 has put the figure at about 151,000.

And remember this one?

These are mass graves for veeeeery few of your victims in 2006 … you killed over a thousand as you know.

Anyway … I will not bore the readers here again by giving you more attention, I am going to have my dinner now … you are in Netanyahu mode today, again. the past few days you were a bit more interesting.

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January 11th, 2008, 10:22 pm

 

23. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Alex,
All you can do is pull out irrelevant stuff.
The Lebanese deaths are only Asad’s fault. He supplied the rockets and arms to Hizballah. This is exactly what he wanted, an unstable Lebanon. No Hizballah arms, no war. It is a simple as that, but it is against Asad’s interests so Lebanese and Israelis have to suffer. You are fooling nobody.

And the Iraqi deaths were comitted by mostly by insurgents that came through Syria. I hope you are proud of that. Yes, Iraq for decades will be the way dictators scare their people and convince them why they should be denied rights, but they will never talk about the efforts they made to stop democracy from coming to at least one place in the mid-east.

PS And as usual all you have is the “two wrongs make a right argument”. We are discussing the stability of Lebanon and Asad’s interests but you bring unrelated presumed wrongs as an argument of some sort. As if these make Asad’s wrongs right or something. You really need to get rid of this bad habit.

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January 11th, 2008, 10:31 pm

 

24. Antoun said:

Alex,

I second your response to QN.

Syria needs a stable Lebanon, a Lebanon that is not a threat to Syria.

That would be her prime interest in regards to Lebanon.

However, that is not to say that if Syria is given the year or two to manage Lebanon, that it will aid in creating a prospering Lebanon.

Corruption may not govern Syria’s Lebanon policy, but it certainly is not national interest. Preservation of the Baath regime is the key force behind Syria’s Lebanon policy.

It is in Syria’s national interest that Lebanon is stable and functioning well. Syria and Lebanon are not opposite states, they’re not enemy states, they are complimentary to one another. As I said, there is an inextricable link between the two states that needs to stop being counter-productive, and start being cohesive.

Syria and Lebanon can only gain from implementing reforms and developing their economies.

It is the paranoia of the Baath regime that it may not be able to contain a surge in development, and that economic freedom may lead to calls for social freedom, that may give Syria an excuse to impede Lebanon’s development. That is the only excuse I can think of.

But generally, I would hope Syria sees interest for herself that Lebanon prospers, one that is allied by will to a more benevolent Syria.

QN,

The political climate has changed in Lebanon.

One positive aspect from the latest two years is that the Shi’ites, via Hizballah, have for the first time become a major participant in Lebanon’s political life.

Whereas there are continuous accusations of Hizballah creating a state within a state, its heavy participation in the country’s political life shows the contrary.

The realignment of alliances that would never have been foreseen even a decade ago (Maronites and Shi’ites vs Sunnis and Druze) demonstrates that Lebanon is undergoing a change.

Not many analysts predicted a Maronite-Shia marriage, but we can analyse and demonstrate that this was not a mere coincidence.

Syria’s tutelage of Lebanon greatly benefited the Sunni and Druze. The Syrians rewarded her allies of the war. The Sunnis replaced the Maronites as the key players in government, and the Druze clearly had far more representation than what their actual numbers represent. Hizballah was given the lee-way to operate Shia territory outside of the scope of the Lebanese government. The Christians suffered, and had their privileges stripped. Many emigrated during this 15 year period as a result.

The Shi’ites and the Maronites have been left out of the political mainstream for the past 15 years (perhaps the Shi’ites by the choice of Hizballah), leaving the Sunnis and Druze to pick up the scraps. Hariri indeed rebuilt Beirut, the Sunni part of Beirut. Cross from West to East Beirut and there is a stark difference. The Christian suburbs clearly show a lack of funding and investment. We don’t need to mention the state of the Shi’ite suburbs. The Chouf, and the outer Druze suburbs, are contrastingly rather pleasant.

A small trip through Beirut will demonstrate how Lebanon has progressed in the past 17 years, and will give a good indication why the political alliances today are the way they are.

It was no coincidence the Shi’ites and the Maronites would come together. They want an equal say in the political affairs of the country. The Sunnis and the Druze, on the other hand, have much to lose. If Lebanon’s political system is reflective of Lebanon’s demographics, the Sunnis and the Druze would lose as their numbers do not entitle them to the amount of power they wield today.

The last 2 years have been a serious wake up call for Hizballah. It tried to create a mini-state, but it has realised that life outside of Lebanon’s mainstream is impossible. March 14 have called for Hizballah to engage in Lebanon and give up its mini-state, and that is exactly what they’re doing. All Hizballah is asking is for is fair representation, which now March 14 are reluctant to give.

The dynamics of Lebanon have changed, but whether that will bring real revolutionary reforms is a matter of question. I am not too convinced these dynamics will bring about advanced institutions and concrete reforms.

The Maronites were in power for 60 years. When they lost the war and the Sunnis and Druze took power, they didn’t recreate a system that would benefit the country, but instead they manipulated the system to benefit their sectarian interests at the expense of others.

Who’s to say the Shi’ites and the Maronites now won’t do the same?

It has always been a matter of equal distribution and fair representation. The Lebanese National Resistance Movement (Opposition of 1975) was a union of sects and communities that were not benefiting from the Maronite-led system. Today’s Oppostion has similar origins. It is a question of benefits. If the Shi’ites and Maronites are benefiting tomorrow, will the Sunnis and Druze become the new Opposition?

There is one key element of today’s Opposition that has the influence to sway what decision this alliance will take, and how. That key element is Syria.

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January 12th, 2008, 12:12 am

 

25. Qifa Nabki said:

Alex,

I suppose I don’t understand how Syria can “manage” Lebanon while not simultaneously treading all over Lebanese sovereignty.

Many Syrians (and Lebanese for that matter) like to believe that there is no such thing (and can never be such a thing) as Lebanese “sovereignty”, because the Lebanese are too fractuous. You know my feelings about this view.

My gut feeling is that a strong Lebanon is a problem for Syria … Even a strong Lebanon that is friendly with the regime is a potential problem for Syria. Strong institutions mean a greater imperviousness to outside interference, less vulnerability to security threats, and stronger connections with the rest of the world. A strong Lebanon will naturally attract strong relations with its regional neighbors as well as Europe and the U.S. It’s inevitable — a part of the Lebanese mercantilistic and cultural DNA.

These relations will mean that other nations will want to take part in vying for influence… at Syria’s expense. In many cases, what is “best” for Lebanon will not be “best” for Syria.

This is why I can’t help but see a return to dysfunction and instability, until and unless Asad changes course in Syria.

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January 12th, 2008, 3:28 am

 

26. Antoun said:

QN,

A strong Lebanon isn’t a problem for Syria. A Lebanon that is stronger than Damascus is, which isn’t a probable equation.

A two-week blockade by Damascus strangled Lebanon’s entire economy. One way or the other, Lebanon will always be reliant on Syria, regardless of their relations with other states. I don’t think American and European interference in Lebanese affairs could become more involved than what it is today, and yet Syria is still able to demonstrate it has the upper hand (or at least a hand strong enough to thwart American interests).

That’s assuming the Lebanese are capable of building a strong state independent of external forces, which is highly unlikely.

Assad needs to iron out exactly what his interests are. If he wants to focus on internal Syrian development, he needs Lebanon to be quiet, and better yet, he needs Lebanon to be well organised. If Syria embarks on serious economic reform, it is probable that their economy will easily outgrow that of Lebanon’s.
Syria’s economic potential is great.

Lebanese and Syrian prosperity goes hand in hand. Just as Lebanon’s instability is cause for concern in Damascus.

And if it so miraculously arrives that the Lebanese are able to throw away their 80 year old problems and reform their state, then it would either spurn Syria to hasten their own internal reforms to keep up, or the Assad regime will feel paranoid enough to thwart Lebanon’s progress.

Judging from your comments, I’m assuming you’re betting more on the latter. I’m not as pessimistic in that regard.

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January 12th, 2008, 6:36 am

 

27. Alex said:

QN,

Don’t worry … A strong Lebanon is not a problem for Syria… ask most Syrians here if they have another opinion. Syria will benefit greatly from a Lebanon that is economically strong.

Besides, unfortunately, it will be a while before Lebanon can get over the burden of its 50 Billion dollars debt.

Anyway, to summarize my opinion: If the US and Saudi Arabia work WITH Syria to help Lebanon, then you can probably expect many good things. Otherwise, AIG is partially right … Syria will need to keep Lebanon in the game… some Lebanese approve, others strongly object.

One other thing AIG needs to know: To help stabilize Lebanon, Syria will absolutely need to have very good relations with Iran. to ask Syria to flip (move away from Iran) is to ask for extra new complications in Lebanon …

Why? .. because the Lebanese are not isolated from regional conflicts. Bad relations between Syria and Iran might translate to problems between Amal and Hizbollah for example.

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January 12th, 2008, 8:20 am

 

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