Thursday, March 10, 2005

Lebanon - where to from now? 

The empire strikes back, or at least tries to, in Lebanon; first with the mega-Shia demonstration of somewhere between 500,000 (the media) and 1 million (the organizers and the authorities), but either way impressive in a country of 3.7 million, and now with the prospect that the president will re-nominate the pro-Syrian prime minister who only resigned a few weeks ago.

What does it all mean? So much for the Druze opposition leader Walid Jumblatt's
attempts to woo Shia away from the government and away from Syria to join the opposition. Jumblatt might have called the Hizbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah "a great Lebanese who freed Lebanese territory from Israeli occupation, [who] should join the caravan of those who want liberty and independence," but judging by the slogans at the Shia demonstration, Hizbollah is quite happy with non-Israeli occupation of his land.

Lebanon has been a much fractured polity for the last few decades. In a country that until the end of the civil war in 1990 has been dominated by Maronite Christians (now no longer an absolute majority), the Shia (not a majority yet but the largest group in Lebanon) see Syria as a protector and guarantor of their newfound political influence. Thanks to the demographic growth, Hizbollah is now the most significant force in Lebanese politics; thanks to Syrian protection, it is also the only military force outside the government which has been allowed to keep its weapons.

Iran has been waging a long-standing proxy war in Lebanon against the United States and the West generally, using Lebanese Shia as their revolutionary vanguard on the Mediterranean. It is no surprise that the Lebanese Shias have so decisively thrown their weight behind Syria (which also happens to be one of Iran's few international allies) and the pro-Syrian government. Iran's mullahs, currently under pressure from the world community over their nuclear program and facing growing domestic dissent emboldened by the new "spring of nations" sweeping the Middle East, are very keen to provide a diversion elsewhere and frustrate America's democratic rampage through the region. And for Lebanon's Shias it also helps that Assad and his clique who control Syria are mostly members of the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiism.

The Shia show of strength might have emboldened Assad, but in the end, the fate of Syria's military presence in Lebanon is not a function of a popularity contest. Assad is not a committed democrat who will base his decision about the withdrawal on who's got the louder voice of the "Arab street" in Beirut. The fate of Lebanon and Syria will still be decided by the so-called "larger circumstances", such as the broader geo-political situation in the region, the strength of Western pressure, and the considerations of personal survival for the region's last remaining Baathist regime.

As to which babes will gain the upper hand in Lebanon; these

or these

or whether, indeed, the two kinds can continue to coexist in one country, only time will tell.


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?