Monday, May 23, 2005

Spice up your revolution 

One of the better Middle East correspondents, Nicholas Rothwell of "The Australian" writes that the Lebanese election next month is already sending tremors throughout the region:
This correspondent was approached cold on the street in Damascus on the weekend by a Syrian passer-by. "Dr Bashar (President Bashar al-Assad) is making the country hungry," he declared, a look of stricken terror on his face, and melted away. This level of overt dissent is something new in the realm of the Syrian Baath party-state.

Assad's powerbase has been quickly redrawn in the past month, since the completion of his army's withdrawal from Lebanon, and he is now more reliant than ever on members of his own Alawi religious minority. The Lebanese vote, by both its proximity and its sheer complexity and openness, will send a strong message to the Syrian public about the degrees of freedom they are denied.
Still, Rothwell is reluctant to give credit to the Bush administration:
How easy, too, to read the weekend vote as a marker of the success of US President George W. Bush's advocacy of far-reaching Arab world political reforms. In fact, Lebanon's political trajectory is still to be shaped, and its capacity to transcend its internal divisions is not yet proven.

One striking aspect of the "cedar revolution" was its eastern European flavour: its principles descended from the anti-communist street protests of 1989 and the more recent upheavals of 2004 in Ukraine and Georgia.
As they would, since to have a truly American revolutionary flavor the Lebanese would have to reach back to 1776 for inspiration. Besides, all the talk about flavors is rather silly - the most important thing is that be it the Eastern Europe fifteen years ago or the Middle East and the post-Soviet republics more recently, it's the American policies and actions that have created an international climate favorable to those fighting for freedom and democracy. The US has lit up a fire under the pot – the locals can add their own flavors.


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