Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Recent history of Lebanon - Part 2

Below is part 2 of the recent history of Lebanon. Part 1 can be found here.

Despite the successful extension of president Lahoud’s term, the genie was out of the bottle. Syria’s presence in Lebanon was increasingly debated and criticized among the Lebanese, with the possible exception of the large Shiite community that saw a partner in Syria against western influences. More and more, the Lebanese got convinced that the Syrians, after some 30 years, have overstayed their welcome. E.g., the Lebanese were fed up with the disrespectful treatment they received from Syrian soldiers at checkpoints. Add to this the frustration resulting from the mere fact that a foreigner could decide if you could continue your journey or not, and all of a sudden it all became too much to handle for many Lebanese.

All those years before, most people didn’t really have a problem with Syria’s presence, or at least, they didn’t discuss their concerns openly. Now, however, the frustration started to pour out and people started to believe that there was a possibility of removing, or at least reducing, the presence of Syria inside Lebanon.

It was highly interesting to witness this change. Perhaps it could be compared to the fall of the Wall in Germany which resulted when the people in East Germany suddenly distanced themselves from the regime they supported wholeheartedly only little time before. When I came to live in Lebanon in 2001, many Lebanese would defend Syria and its president. Or rather, they would speak highly of his father and with regret in their voices, would say that his son still has things to learn. But never did I hear criticism.

In fact, politics in general was not something to discuss outside a close circle of friends and relatives. The newspaper the Daily Star was a good reflection of this attitude: president Lahoud was never criticized, instead, all of his visits and visitors were elaborately mentioned in Lebanon’s only English newspaper. But this attitude among the Lebanese changed when UN resolution 1559 was accepted. Suddenly, politics became the focus of much discussion.

The situation escalated with the failed murder attempt on Druze minister Marwan Hamadeh on October 1, 2004 who had resigned only three weeks earlier to protest the extension of the president’s term. Gradually, Lebanon became divided in the months after the extension of Lahoud. One side was in favor of Syria's presence while the other side was against this presence. The first camp consisted mostly of the Shiites complemented with some individual Christians and Sunnis, while the other camp consisted mostly of Sunnis and Christians.

Parliamentary elections were scheduled for spring 2005 and the campaigns of both sides fueled the fire even further. The anti-Syrian candidates spoke strongly against Syria and president Lahoud, only to be matched by pro Syrian candidates who accused their opponents of collaborating with America and sometimes even with arch enemy Israel. The Lebanese must have been surprised and possibly ashamed of hearing their leader bicker with each other.

A low was reached with the murder of ex-Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri on Valentines Day 2005: a 1000kg bomb killed him and 21 others. Although there was no evidence, many people accused Syria of being behind this attack. His funeral witnessed a massive turnout and observers noted that many Christians and Druze participated. In live and death, Hariri brought opponents together and it has been speculated that this was one of the reasons for his murder: Hariri became too powerful of an opponent to Syria by forging allies between the Sunnis, the Christians and the Druze, something that was long thought impossible.

The Syrians, who ruled Lebanon per the divide-and-conquer strategy, felt they lost control within the country due to Hariri’s successful reconciliations between otherwise divided Lebanese groups. Most if not all political analysts predicted a major victory for Rafiq Hariri’s party during the upcoming elections and although he has never spoken against Syria, his support for Syrian influence was understood to have become ambiguous. Hariri never satisfactory explained, e.g., why he gave up his seat after the reelection of Lahoud, which lead people to speculate as to his political stance.

Still, Hariri was not outspoken against Syria and that made his murder all the more ruthless. Many saw it as a clear signal to Syria’s opponents in Lebanon. Yet, the Lebanese wondered if the killing of Rafiq Hariri would further Syria' presence or was it the straw that broke the camel’s back…?

See here for the next episode.


Super Dude said...

"...with the possible exception of the large Shiite community that saw a partner in Syria against western influences."

Can you explain what this means exactly? If I stop a Shia person on the street, and ask him what influence does Italy, France or the US have on him, what would he tell me?

Anonymous said...

your analysis is interesting and informative. if i am to follow it, however, i would get the impression that the last thing syria would want is a catastrophic event like the assassination of rafik hariri. syria got what it wanted and only had to resist pressure. the assassination of hariri brought devastating pressure on syria and caused it to lose lebanon. a miscalculation on the part of syria? highly unlikely. then you have the attempt on marwan hamadi. possibly syria's work; sloppy but with a clear message.
far different m.o. than hariri assassination. in fact, syria has never been known to use suicide bombing as a means.