will demonstrate whether democracy stands a chance in the
. Right now, it's a flip of the coin. -- Alan C.
The Lebanese Dilemma
By Alan Caruba
For anyone who is not Lebanese, trying to understand what
is happening in a nation long regarded as an example of how Christians and
Muslims could work together to govern and prosper remains a confusing matrix of
competing religious factions.
, was the
. It was modern and cosmopolitan. It was a financial hub. It was a place where a
Muslim could go and enjoy its secular pleasures. Osama bin Laden reportedly
sowed a few wild oats there in his youth.
That was, of course, prior to its fifteen year civil war
from 1975 to 1990. It was triggered by an influx of heavily armed Palestinian
refugees, many of whom arrived after being driven out of
followed a failed attempt to overthrow the Hashemite monarchy. Today,
is the misbegotten child of French colonialism and its present troubles are
usually dated to its independence in 1943. Prior to that it was a French
protectorate, “carved out of the Ottoman
in the 19th century,” notes Gwynne Dyer, a London-based journalist.
In modern terms
has been a sovereign nation only since the last century, but its nationhood
goes back thousands of years, having been mentioned at least sixty-six times in
the Torah, Judaism’s holy book.
“Nobody alive today is to blame for the fact that every
Lebanese is defined politically by his or her religion” “not just as Muslim
or Christian, but as a Shia, Sunni, or Druze Muslim or a Maronite, Roman
Catholic or Greek Orthodox Christian,” says Dyer. This was a practice of the
which the French adapted in order to impose a government in which half the
seats in its parliament would permanently be reserved for Christians and the
Lebanese president would always be a Maronite Christian while its prime minister
would always be a Sunni Muslim.
It seemed to work but it is also the reason there hasn’t
been a census in
for more than seventy years. Much of the former Christian population has either
been killed or emigrated to North America, Europe, and
. As a result, the vast bulk of the population is Muslim. In a recent election
held in southern
, the Shia Muslim parties, Hezbollah and Amal, won all 23 seats. A previous
election in the north gave all 19
seats to an alliance headed by Saad al-Hariri, son of the assassinated former
Prime Minister, Rafik al Hariri.
It was that assassination in February of this year that led
to the forced withdrawal of Syrian troops from
after massive demonstrations in the streets of
. The real problem
faces can be summed up in one word,
. A close observer of events, Ziad Abdelnour, founder of the United States
Committee for a Free Lebanon, says bluntly, “Nothing is really going to change
until the current President Emile Lahoud, a total Syrian puppet, is evicted.”
The Bush administration agrees. In mid-July, National
Security Council spokesman, Frederick L. Jones II, charged that Lahoud, a Syrian
ally whose term was extended by three years under pressure from Damascus, was
“preventing the will of the Lebanese people from being carried out.”
Syria has also been busy undermining Lebanon’s economy,
blocking its exports so that millions of dollars of produce rot at the
Lebanese-Syrian border. Trucks that would normally carry agricultural and other
goods imported through Beirut’s port on the Mediterranean to Syria, Iraq, and
Gulf countries have been stopped. The closure, noted Robin Wright of the
Washington Post, threatens “50,000 jobs in Lebanon” and had cost Lebanon
$1.5 million by mid-July, an estimated $300,000 a day. In a nation of some 3.5
million people, everyone is affected.
Abdelnour, along with countless other Lebanese knows that,
so long as Bashar Assad runs Syria’s Baath regime is there, Lebanon’s
progress toward true independence will be blocked. A pragmatist, he notes that,
“Lebanon has got to sign a peace treaty with Israel.” The likelihood of that
is unlikely due to the grip Hezbollah holds on much of the nation. Designated a
terrorist organization by the US, it has not ceased from its attacks on Israel.
In an effort to defend itself, Israel had occupied southern Lebanon for
twenty-two years, ending it in May 2000.
A United Nations Security Council Resolution, 1559,
sponsored by the United States and France, and adopted in September 2004, calls
for all of the militias in Lebanon to disband and disarm. Hezbollah has made it
clear it has no intention of doing that. It’s worth noting that Hezbollah is
funded by Iran. As such, it poses a threat to the stability of Lebanon, though a
significant portion of its population sees it primarily as a political
organization. As we have seen in the past, fifteen years of similar UN
resolutions regarding Iraq were finally enforced by the US invasion and the
subsequent efforts to reform that beleaguered nation.
To understand Lebanon’s dilemma, one needs to stand back
and look at the entire Middle East which is still in the grip of despots like
Syria’s Assad, Muslim revolutionaries like the Iranian mullahs, or monarchies
like the Saudis. The larger, strategic US goal of changing the Middle East will
only be achieved when democracy is imposed and protected by the armed might of
the United States.
In Lebanon, the old ways of governance must give way to the
reality of a Muslim majority population. If they can demonstrate tolerance for
Lebanon’s Christian population; if they can establish the rule of secular law;
if they can make peace with Israel, tiny Lebanon has a chance to become a real
nation again. As things stand now, the prospects are not good, but the Lebanese
people may yet surprise everyone.
Alan Caruba writes a weekly column, “Warning Signs”,
posted on the Internet site of The National Anxiety Center, www.anxietycenter.com.
Â© Alan Caruba, July 2005