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In Lebanon time is ripe for more statesmanship

(A call for more decisive and unifying leadership) 3/12/05

For several weeks, Lebanon has been making news on the world scene. In these exciting times of "rose", "orange" and "purple" (peaceful and democratic) revolutions, the Lebanese people have earned themselves a niche in this evolving history. They demonstrated people power in such a charming and spectacular manner, using a sea of Lebanese flags, which brought down the weak and ineffectual "made in Syria" Karameh government. This was termed the "Cedar Revolution". However, this Lebanese phenomenon adds to the other colored revolutions a new dimension of utmost significance. It is distinguished by the diversity of the participants, Christians and Moslems of various sects or denominations, walking peacefully, shoulder to shoulder in quest of freedom and justice. It was also remarkable that the members of the Lebanese armed and security forces treated the peaceful demonstrators with respect and dignity and there were sporadic hugs and kisses and no reports of any significant violence despite some unfortunate minor attempts at provocation, by small groups of trouble makers.

During the current decade, most of us were exploring all possible pathways to recover Lebanon's full sovereignty, so that the country can return to its intended destiny as the place for the dialogue of civilizations. Suddenly, due to multiple factors coming together, Christian and Moslem communities that recently fought wars against each other were walking and working together in unity, demanding national sovereignty. The assassination of Prime Minister Hariri was unquestionably the event that resulted in the overflow of the glass of patience. After a long and remarkable political career, Hariri managed to achieve by his martyrdom, more for Lebanese unity and dignity than he or anybody could have done in a lifetime of generosity, sacrifice and tirelessness.

What is even more remarkable than the fact that so many Christians, Druze, Sunni and some Shia Moslems marched peacefully together, is that the dominant pro-Syria Shia Community, particularly Hezbollah, itself threatened by the pro sovereignty UNSR 1559, acted calmly and wisely throughout these developments. It continued to have a quiet dialogue with various representatives of the revolting opposition. Remarkably as they later on mounted their own massive peaceful demonstration in support of Syria, they also intelligently displayed another sea of Lebanese flags. In reality Hezbollah has demonstrated impressive maturity and national responsibility as well as the ability to evolve into a powerful political player regardless of the presence or absence of any need for armed resistance. The more the Hezb opts for Lebanese interest first, before Syrian, other Arab or Iranian interests, utilizing peaceful mechanisms, the better the prospect of unity and prosperity for Lebanon and the brighter the outlook for freedom, peace and renaissance for the whole Arab world.

None of the above could have happened to this point in the absence of genuine courage, wisdom, patriotism and/or statesmanship, in the ranks of the opposition, the military and some of the pro-government/pro-Syrian leadership, particularly Hezbollah.

How does Syria view the current situation in Lebanon? Syria certainly appeared surprised and had some difficulty in deciding how to respond. Almost a year ago, I had the privilege, with a small group of colleagues, to have a face-to-face dialogue with President Bashar Al Assad. He, in no equivocal terms stated to us his support to Lebanese sovereignty and he was clearly receptive to gradually reforming the Syrian Lebanese relationship, so that the best interests of Syria and Lebanon are assured in peace and harmony. However, about a year passed and very little was achieved. Too many hypotheses were and continue to be proposed, but most converged towards the difficult reality that in Syria, too much power has remained in old hands that abhor any form of change.

Those of us who met, listened to and liked Dr. Bashar have hard time accepting that he may not be sincere with his reform and rectification projects. But we certainly understand the opposition's long term frustration with Syria's interference in Lebanon's affairs and current concern about Syria's hesitation to leave Lebanon alone as demanded by the International Community. The majority of the Lebanese and the whole world want Lebanon to recover its sovereignty now, and despite painful suspicions and accusations directed by many towards Syria, most Lebanese still want friendly and brotherly relations with the Syrian people after the Syrian army and intelligence services leave.

We certainly would have wished that some of the ideas we discussed in Damascus last March became reality. Syria would have only had friends in Lebanon to say good-bye to upon its withdrawal. Instead, a major Lebanese opposition leader who until recently was a Syrian ally, stated that he couldn't understand why the Syrians are making the Lebanese hate them. However all that will be resolved if Syria's commitment to withdraw as, just stated by various officials, is fully honored. A sovereign and democratic Lebanon will become a strong asset for Syria and its other Arab brothers on the world scene and may certainly facilitate the resumption of the peace negotiations that are currently a stated goal of President Assad.

Between now and then the pro-Syrian officials in power, should hopefully avoid provocation as much as possible. Some opposition leaders are characterizing the Karameh renomination for Prime Minister as provocation. However he is quoted as stating that he will only form a national unity government or resign. Such attitude would represent true statesmanship at this time and it is hoped that he will stick to his position, although he may possibly have also the option to form a government of high caliber independents and technocrats who are respected and tacitly acceptable to the opposition. However such option may fit better with Prime Minister Hoss who have declared himself and a group of his intellectual friends as a neutral third force. Either way, a prolonged government crisis is undesirable and may result in irreparable economic damage to an already fragile and heavily indebted economy. Nevertheless the choice should remain restricted to either a national unity government or a high caliber neutral and independent government acceptable to both sides. Statesmanship is required from all concerned to facilitate one of the two options.


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