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Would Lebanon Healing Be Given A Chance

(A call for unity towards sovereignty and reforms) 10/17/04

The Lebanese expatriate community is anxious, disappointed and perplexed by the current political atmosphere in the Old Country. There was too much hope for change, renewal and reform being hyped on the presidential election. While there was division abroad as in Lebanon, as to whether President Lahoud's term should or shouldn't be extended, the optimists among us were betting on the hyped reform, regardless of the persons leading the necessary changes. The key rationale for extending President Lahoud's term was based on recent speeches where he reiterated his desire to deliver on the promises he made a the start of his current term, namely aggressive administrative, judicial and political reforms and severe punishment for those convicted with corruption or criminal wrongdoing.

The extension has now taken place using a mechanism of constitutional change that is apparently appropriate under the current system. It was uneventfully tested previously for President Hrawi, but may have now disregarded the changed international environment. The process of changing the constitution this time occurred in defiance of UN Security Council Resolution 1559, thus placing Lebanon and Syria in a very uncomfortable situation with the international community.

The expatriate community wonders at this point, whether Lebanon still has any margin of flexibility to minimize the tension and diminish the confrontation that could only result in compounded problems for both Lebanon and Syria. Lebanon's true destiny within the Arab World has always been to serve as a bridge between East and West. Consequently Lebanon should serve as a conduit to improve Syria's stand with the West particularly the US and France. Being a docile little brother of Syria doesn't help in that regard. The fact that Lebanon contributed directly or indirectly to the generation of UNSCR 1559, definitely doesn't help Syria.

At this point, nobody in the right mind can bet on rolling back history. Whatever has happened may not be subject to possible undoing, particularly in the absence of clear technical illegality or unconstitutionality. President Bashar Assad may rightfully raise questions about ulterior motives behind 1559 in the light that everybody tacitly accepted a similar move in 1995. This still doesn't mean that Lebanon and Syria can safely ignore the resolution and its sponsors..

President Assad's recent speech at the Expatriate Convention in Damascus suggests significant hardening of attitude towards the Lebanese opposition as well as towards the US and France. This is somewhat surprising to those of us who heard him state clearly his support for Lebanon's sovereignty as well as his strategic choice for peace as a first priority.

The anti Syrian pessimists and extremists are feeling vindicated and are looking forward to more anti Syrian activism by the opposition in Lebanon and more importantly among the Lebanese Expatriate community. They are also counting on whatever contributions can come from undeclared or repressed opponents who used to be Syrian allies and are now finding themselves dejected or afraid to act freely according to their conscience or their political interest. Last but not least they are counting on the US and France to continue the squeeze. The moderates and optimists among us are still refusing to give up hope, maybe against all odds. President Assad's position hardening may not necessarily mean a turn around from his previously stated support for peace and Lebanese sovereignty. It could still be an attempt to reach either or both goals from a position of apparent strength and not weakness. We all remember that it took a strong French President to succeed in exiting from Algeria under honorable terms. It also took a hard line republican US president to open up to communist China.

Most people around us are still trying to figure out why Syria was willing to pay such a high price with the International community and some of its Lebanese allies to extend the term of President Lahoud. It is postulated by some that a strong ally that can be fully trusted is needed to move safely towards Lebanese sovereignty restoration. Such analysis may or may not need lots of gullibility for acceptance. The fact of the matter remains that analysis (positive or negative) will not change the facts. However giving hope a chance may allow Lebanon a better opportunity for survival with dignity in these difficult times.

The other important question is what is the effect of the Lebanese situation on Syria itself? Dr. Assad said to us and is repeating again that a strong Lebanon is good for Syria and a weak Lebanon is a burden on Syria. We are now hearing that the Lebanese population is rapidly dividing into those for UNSCR 1559 and those against it. This is no sign of strength and may be an antecedent for disaster.
There is no question that those who have been frustrated by the Syrian presence in Lebanon are elated by 1559. But in addition many of those who benefited from Syria's role are supporting 1559 overtly or covertly. In fact there is a strong feeling among the Diaspora, that some of them were instrumental in instigating the French to sponsor UNSCR 1559.

Speculating about how things reached this point may not make much difference. The important issue is where do we go from here? The only way to go in our humble opinion is to opt for reforms and avoid further provocation to the opposition, other Arab countries supporting 1559 or the West. All that may to a certain extent be accomplished at this point by the formation of a new government, based primarily on the best interest of Lebanon, which as a matter of fact will also serve Syria best. Since the old and new opposition have apparently refused to join a national unity government under current circumstances, it would be wiser to avoid replacing the current government by a similar one. More importantly rewards and punishment should not be used in the process of forming the new government.. Efforts should be made to form a transitional, reform minded government of technocrats and independents who are friendly to Syria as well as to the opposition and have a shot at helping the possibility of mending fences with the US and France. The new government should also include experts on financial and economic matters who can inspire enough confidence to avoid further stresses on the sensitive Lebanese economic situation. Such a government can do the necessary conciliatory towards all concerned.

In the name of God and Country, the Lebanese people and their leaders should make every possible sacrifice in order to remain united. There is no place for bickering over little selfish interests. There is consensus in Lebanon about the desire for sovereignty and good relations with Syria. The differences and polarization are focused on timing and the details. The Lebanese President can opt for courageous and wise choices that can improve the chances for healing and unity. We wish to appeal to President Lahoud to choose the magnanimous decisions that would give healing a chance, and we appeal to President Assad to support him in any such initiative.


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