Sunday, July 17, 2005

Syrian "Soldiers" Still in Beirut

The Lebanese Blogosphere and Press have been obsessed with the formation of the Cabinet for as long as I can remember. Almost every article or entry that one reads has to do, in some form or another, with the cabinet.

In the Press, you find the following headlines:
Lahoud, Seniora in 'Irremediable Discord' as Lebanon Teeters on Brink of Abyss
Seniora after 1-Hour Talks with Patriarch: 'No Blessing, No Veto'
Aoun's door is open
PM back to square one on Cabinet
Lebanon's PM proposes new 24-member Cabinet

In the Blogosphere, headlines read as follows:
I'm Disgusted With Sectarianism!
The New Cabinet of Ministers Really Stinks
BREAKING NEWS: Seniora Submits A New Lineup To Lahoud!

A scan of both forums highlights a discourse that unfortunately verges close to all-out sectarian conflict as well as a complete obsession with local readings. Some new “enlightened thinkers” who have graced the blogosphere with their wisdom deserve a whole post on their own; but they are not the subject of this entry. Instead, I am posting because one aspect of the cabinet formation process is (for some weird reason) not covered by both bloggers and columnists: Syria's role.

Syria has become part of our government-formation process

Only two Lebanese bloggers have posted on Syria in the past few days: Firas, a member of the Lebanese Bloggers, and Tony at Across the Bay. Firas has written profusely about Syria’s possible role in the attempted assassination of Elias el Murr. Tony, on the other hand, has posted entries regarding Syria’s recent enthusiasm for border-security. Neither bloggers, to my knowledge (please guys, forgive me if I’m wrong) has connected these developments to the formation of the government.

In an entry titled Syrian Spite, Tony posts the following quotation from Nicholas Blanford:

Syria is making a "political statement that it is a strong adversary, if not an
'enemy' of the 'new Lebanon' that came out of the ballot boxes after the era of
Syrian tutelage," wrote Nassir Asaad, a columnist for Lebanon's Al Mustaqbal

Firas posted a story from Naharnet that reported the arrest of five Lebanese fishers off of Syria’s waters with the sarcastic title of “HOW FAR AND LOW ARE THE "BROTHERS" GONNA GO?”

I’m not so sure what the complete press coverage is like, but I am sure that if any columnists made the connection between the recent Syrian economic blockade (which, in international law, amounts to a de-facto declaration of war) and the formation of the future cabinet, they are few and far between.

Assassinations were not working… so they reverted to economic war!

The assassinations have been going on since the attempted murder of Marwan Hamade. Bloggers, thus far, have assumed that the Syrians harbor at least three possible motives for conducting such operations: 1) Assassinate their political opponents or those “who know too much” 2) Create a sense of instability in the country that would keep everyone on their feet and shut down the vital tourist industry 3) Ensure that Westerners perceive Lebanon’s “transition to democracy” as a rough transition, in the interest of discouraging further adventures.

The motive that has yet to be mentioned by most bloggers is the Syrian desire to maintain its grip on the country. In other words we all agreed that Syria was playing the role of the “spoiler” in our New Lebanon, but we could not even fathom that it actually desired to regain control over our country. The recent economic blockade is the final piece of the puzzle that points exactly at what Syria’s new (or rather not so new) policy towards Lebanon is, and what it will be for the foreseeable future.

What is clear is that the current economic blockade began when the process of cabinet-formation began. It has also become clear that this situation will persist until the Syrians get what they want. Berri mentioned two days ago that the situation will be resolved in a matter of hours (or rather, a day). It appears that Seniora did not cave in, and consequently, the Syrians did not play ball.

If the Syrians have realized that they cannot afford the cost of assassinating anyone in the Hariri orbit, they now think they can afford the price of destroying what is most valuable to Lebanese: its economy. If they are able to sustain the regional and international pressure that would result from such a policy, Seniora will most definitely be pressured into concessions.

A Glimmer of Light in a Room of Darkness: the People are Beginning to Feel Lebanese

The reason a glimmer of hope exists inside of me is that the Lebanese people are now starting to see Syria as a different and even hostile country. Even Lebanese who traditionally feel “pro-Syrian” have begun to seriously question their leanings. They now understand that the “Realists” have a point when they say that “its every country for itself,” irrespective of ideology, religion, race or whatever.

Muslims and Christians alike are beginning to see that Syria is a belligerent country that is not that much better than others in our vicinity. They are starting to feel like they are one people under siege, and are even thinking the unthinkable: in several conversations I recently overheard, people openly discussed signing a peace deal with Israel as a means of creating a different access point to Arab markets - it appears that when people are given the choice between starvation and dealing with an "enemy," they choose the latter.

The biggest losers of the blockade are Shi’a farmers in the Beka’a and South. Their products are rotting in the borders, and the markets that once received fruits/vegetables from Lebanese farms are now seeking other suppliers. This Syrian policy is putting Hizballah in a very tough bind, and (if it continues for the foreseeable future) will most likely induce some serious soul-searching in the Shi’ite community. The next group of losers are traders and manufacturers from all sects who depend on Gulf and Iraqi markets to sell their products. In short, today, it is not only one or two sects that are thinking about what was once the unthinkable. Today, all Lebanese are thinking – thinking about how to survive this onslaught from our “brotherly” neighbor.

Seniora: Stick to Your Guns!

Hopefully, Seniora will not cave into the Syrian demands for Syrian representation in the new cabinet. We did not kick them out of the Parliament so that they could be represented in our govrenment! Rumors on the street say that Mikati is on his way back. I seriously hope that is not the case…. If it is, we would have lost yet another round to our “brothers,” across the border, and Lebanon’s independence would simply be what it has been for the past 30 years: a hopeless pipe-dream.

I'm crossing my fingers. Our only way out of this is if we're able to muster enough international pressure to get the Syrians to loosen their suffocating grip. Lets hope that France and the US are still as interested in our independence as they were a couple of months ago.


Doha said...


Good to have you write after your short absence. Thanks for giving us a glimpse of what the Lebanese are thinking.

At the end of the post you hedge on international pressure. I was thinking to myself where is the Arab League and the Arab countries to take a stand; today Amr Moussa was in Damascus...but the Arab League is a lame duck unfortunately.

I also think that we should all hedge on the Lebanese to make a stand (but perhaps it's wishful thinking.) anticipation of a government to be formed soon.

Doha said...

One more thing, actually taking a quick look at the Al-Mustaqbal headlines of Monday, Jumblatt says something along the lines of your post, basically that the party stopping the government from being formed is Syrian-Aounist-Lahoudist. He also added that he believes the Syrians are taking their revenge from him and Hariri, but questioned why they're also punishing the farmers and fishermen.

ThinkingMan said...

Raja- I was the first blog to mention the Syrian border problem when it barely started and linked it to Syria taking advantage of the government void as a very low blow.

Cheers said...

Nice blog Raja. Just one point:

What is clear is that the current economic blockade began when the process of cabinet-formation began. It has also become clear that this situation will persist until the Syrians get what they want.

What do they want? Can we speculate?
And is any of their demands feasible? Do they really believe that we could respond positively to their demands under the current circumstances?

If not then it's a pure vengeance...


acrobat said...

and now....
"Syria Demands Compensation to Families of 35 Workers Killed in Lebanon"

i guess they're saying "you want 'normal' relations? we'll give you 'normal' relations!"

Charles Malik said...

You missed a bunch of our posts on Syria.
It must be the araq.

Anton Efendi said...

The articles I linked to connected the dots themselves.

By the way, did you know that HA's MPs walked out when it was time to vote for Geagea's freedom? Once again, HA as anti-Lebanon.

Raja said...

LP I realized that you'd posted on the issue after I had posted! Sorry about that buddy. Who knew that wine had its "side effects" ;)

TM, Tony, please accept my apologies as well. My first statement was based on glance of the list of titles on the Open Lebanon list (as well as a few quick reads) - nothing more.

JoseyWales said...

Hi Raja,

Please note I was next in line on "Syria Borders" on my blog, after ThinkingMan who was first.

Good post. The pathetic thing is that it is easier for Syria to do this, when "we" do not respond and Syria's "allies" are silent.

The other pathetic thing is that while it took Raymond Edde 5 minutes to figure out all these things back in 1976. It took others 30 years. And guess what? Like you say in your post: some are still mulling it over.

How can we solve a problem when a sizable chunk of the population needs 56 years to figure out where it's ass is.

Doha said...


I wanted to talk about this issue as well, HA's MP walking out when it was time to vote for Geagea's release. What was that all about? I thought this whole move was a step forward towards true national reconciliation. I mean how do they expect now for LF to agree to protect them from 1559?...

Anton Efendi said...

This is not new doha. I've posted here some of the views of their clerics, but this goes well beyond that. During the demos back in march, Manar TV was focusing on LFers in the crowds and talking about "Israeli agents" and other such cheap tactics. They were also responsible for pressuring Jumblat and Hariri in Aley-Chouf not to go with LF members, but with "non-party" figures. That's why the LF didn't get to pick its candidates there.

They have a sickening self-righteousness and they think they are the pure guardians of Lebanon, yet somehow above Lebanon, and better than Lebanon. As such, they remain outside Lebanon.

mic said...

HA are voicing their opinion towards the LF. They have a right to do that. In the same way that different groups voice their opinion towards HA and support 1559 and insinuate that HA is just a "militia". By walking out (whether you agree with that or not), HA voiced what they wanted, but knew that they would not prevent the actual result. Let's keep that in mind.

Anonymous said...

bla bla bla

Anton Efendi said...

It's funny you should bring up 1559... because everybody seems to be saying (even Jumblatt and his people and Hariri and his people, and trust me, they're all on the record) that HA cannot stay armed if Lebanon is to be a real sovereign state. So, once again, HA is against Lebanese consensus. Express whatever the hell you want, but this is very different. HA right now is the most sectarian party, which is willing to sacrifice the entire country to keep what it managed to get under the Syrians.