Lebanon After Hariri: A Rose Revolution with Oriental Features?

Posted in Broader Middle East | 06-Mar-05 | Author: Manuela Paraipan

Syria and the geo-strategic environment
Syria and the geo-strategic environment
The sudden and unexpected assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri was a severe blow to Lebanon, the region and the world. Lebanon prides itself on being a cradle of moderation and sectarian coexistence in the Arab world. Therefore, the assassination of such a prominent political leader and businessman reminded many of the dark years of the civil war.

As usual, every time something negative is happening in the region, there are people who believe that the CIA, Mossad or both are the evil brains behind those actions. This myth could not have been left out this time, although it kept a low profile.

Simple logic makes this alternative impossible. The only way the CIA or Mossad could have executed such a plan would have been to use the Mediterranean to enter Lebanon, or they would have had to plan the details of the attack with the Syrian Secret Service.

On the other hand, if Syria was not behind the assassination plot, then why did it not protect Hariri? How can someone transport bombs without attracting attention? Also, how can the Americans and the Israelis dig up a road under pretence of a public works project and find an expert to put the explosives together without the knowledge of the Syrian Secret Service? It is obviously impossible.

If the Syrian Secret Service is responsible for this assassination as most suspect, then it must have acted through General Rustom Ghazaleh, the Chief of the Secret Service in Lebanon. However, Ghazaleh is an employee. He is not the decisive force behind such decisions, unless there are major problems within the Syrian Baath regime and decisions are being taken separately. Although a possibility, it is highly unlikely to see a loyal lackey such as Ghazaleh biting the hand of his master, President Assad.

Syria probably assumed that no one would blame Damascus, since it looks so foolish to shoot oneself in the foot. Following this assumption, Syria had nothing to lose. By killing Hariri, someone else would be blamed, they would prove that Lebanon is not stable and furthermore they would have been able to say that their presence in Lebanon is needed.

Rafiq Hariri's political rhetoric against Syria was not radical, but rather moderate. He called for strong, neighborly and diplomatic ties between two countries that share a similar culture, tradition and history. Both Hariri and Druze leader Walid Jumblatt were at some point in their lives close to Syria. However, none of them approved the current status quo when Lebanon became merely an extension of Syria with General Ghazaleh making the most important political decisions in Lebanon. Hariri was a moderate voice on the Lebanese political stage. He joined the opposition while trying to ensure through his personal ties in Damascus that Lebanon and Syria would maintain good relations, each respecting the other's sovereignty and interests.

It is also plausible to assume that there might have been internal power struggles in Syria at Lebanon's expense. If the assassination was not plotted in Damascus, then why did the Lebanese government through its secret service not react to such a plan? Where were the Lebanese protection forces when Hariri's assassination was being planned?

If the Lebanese government cannot assure the safety of its people, then it should resign. This is valid for Syria, as well. It doesn't matter if they are in Lebanon flagrantly trespassing on Lebanon's sovereignty: If the Syrians are worthless in terms of security, then they should get out as soon as possible.

Did the Syrians use Amal or Hezbollah, the Shiite parties strongly supported by Assad's regime and by Iran? Unlikely. They may have proposed the idea, but the Lebanese Shiites would not have gone so far as to murder Hariri.

The Secretary General of Hezbollah, Sheikh Nasrallah, had a private meeting with Hariri two weeks before the incident. Hariri was willing to help Hezbollah on the international political stage. He credited Hezbollah as a resistance, not a terrorist movement. Hariri supported UN Resolution 1559 more because it demanded the withdrawal of Syria's military and intelligence from Lebanon and less because it speaks out for a disarmed Hezbollah. Apparently, Hariri asked Nasrallah to keep the military wing of Hezbollah at low profile and instead emphasize the role of Hezbollah, the political party.

Once Syria would have withdrawn from Lebanon and relations with Israel would be normalized to a certain extent, Hezbollah's military services would become useless. Hariri wanted what is best for Lebanon, his beloved country. In a state of law, there cannot be any private militias; until Lebanon would sign a truce agreement with Israel, he thought that it might be dangerous to renounce Hezbollah's services. The aim of Hariri was to see a democratic, free, sovereign, secure and prosperous Lebanon. As proof of this, he was among the few powerful businessmen and prominent political figures that did not have his own militia. He preferred to trust the Lebanese security forces, and look what good it did to him.

Many wonder why Syria would have committed the suicidal act of murdering Hariri? Syria felt threatened and wanted to prove to the world that they are the ones in control in Lebanon. Last year, before the presidential elections, the United States, the European Union and the United Nations publicly and repeatedly asked President Assad not to interfere in Lebanon's domestic affairs and let the Lebanese choose for themselves. What was his answer? He extended the mandate of Emile Lahoud for 3 more years, defying the West.

Former Prime Minister Hariri was a friend of Syria, but this time he opposed Syria. Syria is accustomed to eliminating those who go against its policies and interests; thus, Hariri was ruled out of the game. The Syrian government is desperate. And desperate times call for desperate measures. The authoritarian regime can no longer make long-term political strategies; it has its own domestic issues to deal with. The Syrians sensed that the Americans in partnership with the Europeans are highly interested in solving the Arab/Israeli conflict long-term. With desperation, Syria feared losing Lebanon as a bargaining chip if deals in the region were to be made soon. Far from intimidating the Lebanese opposition, all of this has strengthened it. What makes matters worse for Syria is that a door has been opened through which the United States will be able to push its anti-Syrian policies. America has the support of the Lebanese anti-Syrian opposition, of European and some Middle Eastern governments.

The Occident's support is important, but it would not be enough without a united Lebanese society. The Lebanese have finally understood this. The example of Ukraine is referred to very often in private discussions, talk shows and articles. Taking into consideration Syria's behavior post-Hariri, it would rather see Lebanon destroyed than leave it. In this context, the Lebanese from Lebanon and all over the world have understood that their strength is their unity.

The core of UN Resolution 1559

The Resolution 1559 asks for the withdrawal of Syria's military and intelligence in full agreement with the Taef Accord, and it demands the disbanding and disarming of the foreign militias from Lebanese soil, namely Hezbollah and the Palestinians groups of terror from the refugee camps. Hezbollah has a political party with several seats in the Lebanese Parliament while it continues to maintain its militia, mainly in the South. Hezbollah is a movement of Iranian descendents backed up by both Syria and Iran.

Although for the Occident Hezbollah is considered a terrorist organization (US), for the Lebanese, Hezbollah is the icon of their liberation from Israeli danger. Of the Lebanese who support Hezbollah, 100% oppose US and UN involvement. However, they largely sustain the Taef Accord, which requires a full withdrawal of the Syrian military and intelligence from Lebanon as soon as the war with Israel ended. In this case, Syria is not only violating international law and UN Resolution 1559, but also the accord it willingly signed with Lebanon.

Nonetheless, in the post-Hariri era, the Lebanese may go along with UN Resolution 1559; regardless of religious and political leanings; they all want Syria out. Is Hezbollah ready to sacrifice itself for the sake of Lebanon? Will it withdraw its guerrilla troops and dismantle its militia without stirring up a confessional fight? If Hezbollah truly supports Lebanon's independence, then it should be the first to adapt to the new realities of the Lebanese political system, accept Resolution 1559 and help rebuild the country.

In 1982, due to extreme instability and sectarian fights among the Christians, Muslims and Druze, President Reagan called for the formation of the Multinational Force (MNF) to stabilize Lebanon with French and Italian help.

In 1983 after the relentless shuttle diplomacy of then US Special Envoy to the Middle East Philip Habib, Lebanon and Israel signed an agreement to end the hostilities against each other. The agreement also emphasized the withdrawal of the PLO and Syrian forces from Lebanon, together with the Israeli army. As expected, Syria did not obey the agreement. Thus, the agreement was futile.

The result of this was that with Syria's blessing and coordination, Hezbollah placed a car bomb at the US Embassy in Beirut that killed American diplomatic personnel and the Lebanese employees of the Embassy.

In October 1983, 241 US Marines died when explosives blew up their barracks at the Beirut International Airport. On the same day, 56 French troops suffered the same fate. As a consequence, the MNF peacekeeping troops withdrew from Lebanon, leaving the country prey for Syrian claws.

After the sudden leave of the American marines in 1984, the US ignored the situation in Lebanon for many years. However, US policy vis-à-vis Lebanon changed shortly after September 11th.

The first move taken by Washington in recent times was the Syrian Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act (SALSRA), passed in the Congress and signed into law in 2004. Later on, the Bush administration pushed for UN Resolution 1559.

Until now, Syria and Lebanese pro-Syrian officials have stubbornly refused to take UN Resolution 1559 into consideration. Syria's preferred excuse is the existence of the Taef Accord, which legalized an otherwise illegal foreign occupation of the Syrians. However, the Taef Accord did not and does not provide a solution to Lebanon's problems.

The Economic Impact of Hariri's Assassination

When Rafiq al-Hariri participated in Jeddah at the Economic Forum held in 2004, he spoke about his vision of rebuilding Lebanon. After many years of civil war, Lebanon managed to stabilize its economy to a certain extent. In 1992, Lebanon's debt was approximately $2.5 billion at a time when the government's revenue was less than $350 million. To a large extent, the economic recovery of Lebanon was possible due to Hariri's economic strategy of attracting foreign investors, thus consolidating confidence in Lebanon's business potential and in its banking system. He stressed the importance of having a united, Lebanese political class in order to increase foreign investments in the country. Once the political changes are made, the government will easily be able to implement the financial reforms initiated by Rafiq al-Hariri. Without major fiscal reform, Lebanon will once again be on the edge of a terrible financial crisis.

The International Community

From America to Europe, to Saudi Arabia, Syria and everywhere else in the Arab and Muslim world, the news of Hariri's death was astonishing. A few hours after the incident, President Bush recalled the US ambassador to Damascus, and US Envoy to the Middle East William Burns called for an immediate withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon. Burns also demanded that Syria hold "free and fair" elections, stop its support of various terrorist movements and stop sheltering Iraqi insurgents. "The relationship is not moving forward. Syria is out of step with the progress being made in the greater Middle East," President Bush declared. He further added: “This is a country that isn't moving with the democratic movement. I look forward to working with our European friends on my upcoming trip to talk about how we can work together to convince the Syrians to make rational decisions. The idea is to continue to work with the world to remind Syria it's not in their interest to be isolated."

France, a long-time friend of Syria, has already asked the Lebanese government to find and punish those behind the attack and urged Syria to comply with UN Resolution 1559. Hariri's assassination has led to closer relations between the US and France and a common push for trade sanctions against Syria by the United Nations and the European Union. Given the bad press coverage the United Nations has been receiving from the Iraq Oil-for-Food scandal, these sanctions would most likely be enforced. In this context, the diplomatic, economic and political isolation of Syria would be nearly complete.

In a joint declaration issued by the White House, Presidents Chirac and Bush said: "The United States and France join with the European Union and the international community in condemning the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and in their support for a free, independent and democratic Lebanon. We urge full and immediate implementation of UN Resolution 1559 in all its aspects."

If Syria continues to defy the international community, as appears to be the case, then it will have to deal with a global economic blockade.

Pope John Paul II condemned the assassination of Rafiq al-Hariri in a telegram of condolence to the leader of Lebanon's Maronite Church, Cardinal Sfeir. Also, the Council of Maronite Bishops called for the stopping of any "foreign interference" in Lebanon, clearly making reference to Syria's presence in the country.

The Australian government reiterated its support for UN Resolution 1559 and called for an urgent and transparent international investigation of Hariri's death.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw declared that in the UK and Europe, there is a "high level of suspicion" with regard to Syria's involvement in the bomb attack. A draft communiqué of EU foreign ministers called for "an international investigation without delay to shed light on the circumstances and those responsible for this attack." Jack Straw further declared, "The European Union is on exactly the same page as the United States in respect to Syria."

The Saudi Foreign Minister, Prince Saud al Faisal bin Abdel Aziz speaking on behalf of the al Saud Royal family with close ties to the al-Hariri family, stated that unless the perpetrators were brought to justice, there would be some unexpected consequences for the entire region, Syria included.

Amr Moussa, the Secretary General of the Arab League, condemned the attack on Hariri and met with Syrian President Bashar Assad to work out a reasonable solution for both Syria and Lebanon. According to Amr Moussa, President Assad showed the willingness to withdraw Syrian troops from Lebanon. Moussa said: "President Assad expressed his firm desire, more than once, to continue implementing the Taef Accord and to withdraw from Lebanon in accordance with this agreement." Hours after Amr Moussa's declaration, Syria denied the statement. The Syrian officials made it clear that Damascus will be redeploying its troops within Lebanon, not withdrawing.

President Assad is not naming a specific date when the troops will withdraw from Lebanon, or if Syria has any intention at all in this direction. He also did not mention anything about the hundreds of intelligence officers and agents. Therefore, it is likely that Damascus will keep its "eyes and ears" in Lebanon.

Later on, Lebanese Defense Minister Abd al-Rahim Murad announced that approximately 15,000 Syrian troops would be redeployed to the Bekaa Valley in full accordance with the Taef Accord. The message between the lines is that Damascus is still refusing to accept the legitimacy and the demands of UN Resolution1559. The Taef Accord calls for a phased withdrawal of Syrian troops but leaves the timing to be agreed upon by the Syrian and Lebanese governments. Then Murad continued by warning the international community and the Lebanese opposition that "the continuation inside and outside Lebanon of provocations and incitement against Syria and Lebanon risks leading to negative developments that will harm the interests of all concerned."

Interesting declaration, but who's interest is Minister Murad trying to protect here? On the same wavelength with Murad, Omar Karameh, the pro-Syrian Lebanese Prime Minister declared his personal concerns and that of the existing government that a Syrian complete withdrawal will "shake the stability of the country."

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad addresses parliament in Damascus March 5, 2005.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad addresses parliament in Damascus March 5, 2005.
What the Taef Accord and UN Resolution 1559 have in common:

Both are asking for the disbanding of the Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias and the transfer of weapons in their possession to the Lebanese government

The Taef Accord requires this particular measure to be implemented within six months of the ratification of the document. Since then, time has passed and Hezbollah's militia and other militias are still active on Lebanese soil.

Both are asking for the deployment of the Lebanese army at the borders with Syria and Israel. Therefore, what are Hezbollah's militia and the Syrian troops doing at the borders? Where is the Lebanese national army? Taking into consideration the fact that the President Lahoud is a general, it is very odd that he did not strengthen the army. In one of his frequent disagreements with Lahoud, former Prime Minister Hariri reprimanded Lahoud for entrusting Syria with securing Lebanon's safety.

The failure to implement the Taef Accord with consistency has allowed Syria to continue to interfere in Lebanese domestic and external affairs, thus perpetuating a weak and unstable Lebanon. It is this failure that has pushed the international community, represented by the UN, to act in accordance with the UN Charter and empower Resolution 1559.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, one of the closest friends that Washington has in the Arab world, decided to take the Syrian/Lebanese problem into his own hands and mediated, taking care to stress the importance of the interests of both parties. Egypt's Intelligence Chief, Omar Suleiman, was therefore sent to Damascus to discuss with President Assad Syria's present situation and its alternatives. In Mubarak's words: “It is difficult for Syria to face the mounting pressure from the international community."

It would not be difficult at all, if Syria would only respect the Taef Accord or the UN Security Council Resolution, or if Damascus would show some respect for Lebanese sovereignty.

In order to further defy the Lebanese opposition and the international community, the Syrian government recently announced that Assef Shawkat, the brother in-law of President Bashar Assad, has been named the new head of Syria's military intelligence organization replacing General Hassan Khalil.

The names of General Shawkat, General Ghazaleh, Bahjat Suleiman (a rough intelligence officer whose past is mired in violence) and Jamil al-Sayed, the head of Lebanese intelligence are being repeated in Lebanon and Syria as the masterminds behind the killing of Hariri.

If Shawkat is involved, then Assad's decision is challenging the West. If Shawkat is not involved, this is seen as Assad's intention of using the killing of Hariri to take control of the runaway intelligence services in Syria and Lebanon.

For all it's worth, Shawkat's rise to power is not a gesture of reform. President Assad is warning the world that the Syrian regime intends to fight tooth and nail in Lebanon. But, to defy the EU, the UN and the US, Syria needs the support of its old friend, Russia.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin is pushing hard to help Syria. The help is taking place at the United Nations where Russia is actively seeking to stave off the offensive against Syria.

The Russians have been asking for French cooperation in the UN Security Council to block a new US draft resolution calling for actions against Damascus, if Syria does not withdraw its troops from Lebanon. The Russians have gone as far as asking Paris to support a compromise solution that calls for a two-year delay in Syria's troop withdrawal from Lebanon. Paris was listening, until the assassination of Hariri.

However, the French have aligned themselves with the Americans by seeking a new UNSC resolution calling for the Lebanese government to fully investigate the murder of Hariri. According to French Foreign Ministry officials, and since Hariri's death, Chirac has backpedaled about blocking US demands on the United Nations to punish Syria. It is also expected that the French will object to Russian arms sales to Syria. The United States has already pressured Russia not to sell the SA 18 shoulder fired missiles to Syria, in spite of the agreement signed President Putin and President Assad.

Syria finds itself with fewer friends and more enemies than ever before. If the Russian initiative fails, as is expected it will, Syria may be looking for answers from the two people that have been the most at odds with Syria: President Bush because of Syria's meddling in Iraq and President Chirac, one Hariri's best friends.

At the request of the Security Council, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan sent a group of experts to investigate former Prime Minister Hariri's assassination while the Druze leader, Walid Jumblatt, publicly asked the group to interrogate Syrian intelligence chief Rustom Ghazaleh. Peter Fitzgerald will lead the team of experts. He has been a Deputy Irish Police Commissioner since 1998 and has worked in various UN peacekeeping operations in Namibia, Cambodia and Bosnia. He was part of the team that investigated the attack on the UN office in Baghdad. President Emile Lahoud and Prime Minister Karameh initially refused to cooperate with an international investigation team, but due to increased internal pressure, they have accepted the idea. Nonetheless, they continue to say that the opposition's main goal is not to find the truth, but rather to score political points. No one is buying what these two men are trying so hard to sell.

The Existing Regime's Response

Prime Minister Omar Karameh, a friend of Syria, said in one of the cabinet sessions held after Hariri's death: "If the Syrian security apparatus leaves Lebanon, it would create chaos." However, some of the ministers and members of parliament that were part of the pro-Syrian camp have begun to doubt their convictions. Tourism Minister Farid Khazen resigned from the cabinet and the Kesrouan MP, Neamatallah Abi Nasr, joined the opposition. Some others may follow.

Members of the opposition in parliament, lead by Walid Jumblatt, refused to debate the draft on electoral law for May until a parliamentary debate is held on Hariri's assassination and on attempt last year to assassinate Druze leader Jumblatt and Chouf MP Marwan Hamade.

Some fear that the refusal to debate the draft on electoral law could delay parliamentary elections, but the opposition firmly dismissed the idea. In accordance, opposition MPs met at the Le Bristol Hotel in Beirut, asking for the immediate withdrawal of Syria from Lebanon. The attendants wore red and white ribbons in support of Lebanon's independence. Although Walid Jumblatt called for the meeting, he did not attend it due to a death threat he received. He commented on the threat as being an old policy of Syria and added: "They cannot assassinate the one or even two million people who support us." Walid Jumblatt, the President of the Progressive Socialist Party asked Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah's Secretary General to join the opposition camp for the benefit of all Lebanese: Christians, Sunnis and Shiite. Jumblatt said that the Lebanese "want to remain friends with Syria, but we refuse the rule of the intelligence services in Lebanon." For many years, politicians from both camps have asked for friendly, diplomatic relations with Syria demonstrating that although only some publicly recognized that Lebanon is under foreign occupation, all realized it. Although some Lebanese Shiites have joined the peaceful "intifada", the two dominant parties representing the Shiite community, the secular Amal and the Islamic Hezbollah are still on the adverse team. If Amal's leader, Nabih Berri, who is also the Speaker of the Parliament does not take any steps toward the Qornet Shehwan opposition, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the astute leader of Hezbollah, is not burning the communication bridges with the opposition.

At the Ashoura religious festival, Sheikh Nasrallah called for reconciliation and unity. "We, as Lebanese, can only resolve our crises and problems by dialogue. We should not commit previous mistakes but learn from them."

Sheikh Nasrallah engaged in private discussions with Patriarch Sfeir and with Michel Aoun, the exiled leader of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM). It is highly unlikely to see Hezbollah giving up its Syrian and Iranian protection for its armed wing and join the opposition, but the moves taken so far by the leader of the party prove his interest in mediating the conflict and finding a common ground for all parties involved in the conflict.

Some fear that Hezbollah, whether neutral or not, will be the Trojan horse if it will not give up at its armed wing. While it is true that Hezbollah liberated the South and enjoys a lot of sympathy and support in the country and in the region, it is a peculiar situation when a political party has its own arm, its own mercenaries backed up by Iranian mullahs. It is a question of loyalty. To whom is Hezbollah loyal? What if the Iranian regime asked the armed wing to rebel against the Lebanese government? Who's side will they take in this hypothetical, yet possible situation?

The Lebanese "intifada"

The Lebanese understood that this is might be the last opportunity that they will have for a very long time to regain their country. With this in mind, the opposition called for a peaceful "intifada."

Lebanese people from the US (Washington, D.C, Los Angeles and Boston), Canada (Montreal), Australia (Sydney), France (Lyon and Paris), the UK (London), the UAE (Dubai), Kuwait (Kuwait City), Belgium (Brussels), Switzerland (Geneva), Qatar (Doha) and many other places around the world are asking Syria to leave Lebanon. The effusion of hope is simply contagious. Christians, Sunnis and Shiites are taking to the streets of Beirut to protest against the Syrian occupation and to prove that in times of sorrow the Lebanese are one, strong people.

It is a breathtaking image very similar to what the world has witnessed in Ukraine. Thousands of people are raising the Lebanese flag and asking in one voice for Syrian withdrawal and the punishment of Hariri's murderers. This proves that the existing status quo in Lebanon is not appropriate anymore.

The pro-Syrian regime in Lebanon has yet to come up with a response to the demonstrations, sit-ins and mass media campaigns. In Beirut, they have tried to stop the manifestations by closing the main highways, setting up roadblocks to prevent access to the sit-in gatherings and they have used tanks as a visual effect to disseminate fear among the participants. Nonetheless, nothing could stop the Lebanese from demanding their freedom. Not even fear. What is now happening in Lebanon is history in the making.

Due to increased pressure on the government from within the country, Prime Minister Omar Karameh said he is prepared to resign, but only if a new cabinet is ready to take the place of the existing one. In the upcoming parliamentary session, Karameh's cabinet will have to respond to the accusations of the Qornet Shehwan coalition regarding Hariri's assassination.

The Maronite Patriarch Sfeir declared that no matter how the situation develops, Karameh's government should resign. Better sooner, than later. The Druze leader, Jumblatt, already proposed the formation of a transitional government that will supervise a Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon before the scheduled parliamentary elections in May.

Under pressure from thousands of protesters waving their nation's flag and chanting "Syria out," Lebanon's pro-Syrian Prime Minister Karameh announced his government's resignation during the extraordinary parliamentary session. He said: "Out of concern that the government does not become an obstacle to the good of the country, I announce the resignation of the government I had the honor to lead. May God preserve Lebanon." The shock announcement stunned the Parliament, but was followed by cheers in Parliament and outside in Martyrs' Square, where thousands of people had gathered to protest against the existing regime and to watch the live debate in Parliament regarding Hariri's assassination. President Lahoud accepted the resignation a little later, although it was made clear that Karameh did not inform him or the Parliament Speaker, Nabih Berri beforehand of his decision contrary to the usual protocol.

The resignation of Karameh underscored Syria's weakening grip on Lebanon. For almost 30 years, Syria has held sway over Lebanon's political and economic life through its military and proxy over the government, arming Hezbollah, and using the country as a gateway to the global economy. In Parliament, the opposition MPs wearing the red-and-white scarves that have come to symbolize their movement gave the announcement a standing ovation. "The government would have won the confidence vote; they weren't afraid of that," said Jihad al-Khazen, a political science professor at the American University in Beirut. "But they lost confidence on the street, and that was awkward. They lost legitimacy, they lost credibility." Ghattas Khoury, one of the opposition MPs who was part of Hariri's parliamentary block, declared after Karameh's resignation: "The battle is long, and this is the first step. This is the battle for freedom, sovereignty and independence."

The opposition also demanded the resignation of all the "behind the scene" actors and Syrian loyalists, starting with President Lahoud, State Prosecutor Adnan Addoum, Director General of the Surete Generale Major General Jamil Sayed, the head of the Military Intelligence, Raymond Azar and others.

From his castle in the mountains, the Druze leader, Jumblatt said: "The people have won." And, so they did. The sit-ins and large manifestations were unparalleled in Lebanon's recent history. The Lebanese people understand that their own liberty and freedom is at stake, and their unity is crucial for their efforts to succeed. Christians, Druze and Muslims got together under the banner: "Different religions, one nation, one people."

Contemporary Distribution of Lebanon's Main Religious Groups

House Speaker Nabih Berri will begin consultations for a new, transitional government to take over the country and to supervise the complete withdrawal of the Syrian army from Lebanese territory. The new government will also have the responsibility of writing a new electoral law and to organize transparent, free and democratic elections. General Aoun, from his country of exile, France, congratulated the Lebanese people for their accomplishment and urged the beginning of negotiations with President Assad. General Aoun, as well as Walid Jumblatt wants to ensure an honorable exit of the Syrian forces from Lebanon and to maintain the same brotherly ties that Syria and Lebanon used to share in the past.

Walid Jumblatt called for "calm" when dealing with Syria. He further said, "we don't want to be enemies of Syria, but we want the terror reign of the Syrian secret service severed off." The Egyptian Foreign Minister, Ahmed Abul Gheit, reiterated Egypt's willingness to mediate the conflict between the Lebanese opposition and President Assad. He said that there couldn't be peace in the Middle East without negotiations with Syria. What Egypt as well as the Lebanese opposition sustains at this point in time is the withdrawal of the Syrians under the Taef Accord.

President Assad said that the resignation of Karameh's government is an "internal affair", thus it does not concern Syria directly. Bashar Assad further said that a full withdrawal from Lebanon depends on other state actors, not his own will. "Under a technical point of view, the withdrawal can happen by the end of the year. But under a strategic point of view, it will only happen if we obtain serious guarantees. In one word: Peace." What Syria wants is a solution that it finds favorable with regard to the Golan Heights and no more economic or diplomatic sanctions from Washington. In return, they would withdraw their forces from Lebanon and cooperate with the US in the war on terror.

On the other hand, the Bush administration is clearly asking Damascus to withdraw from Lebanon, to stop harboring the Iraqi Baathists or the Palestinian terrorist leaders and take some visible steps towards democratization at home. When or if Syria complies with US demands, only then can it expect to engage in negotiations with Israel over the Golan Heights and the issue of Palestinian refugees. Obviously, President Assad and President Bush have different short-term and long-term goals.

At a conference in London, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier called for the withdrawal of the Syrian troops. "The Lebanese people have very courageously expressed their aspiration for freedom, their aspiration for a sovereign Lebanon. The Lebanese want to be masters of their own state," Barnier said.

The White House welcomed Karameh's resignation, saying it opens the door for new elections "free of all foreign interference" i.e. Syria. "Syrian military forces and intelligence personnel need to leave the country," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan. "This will help ensure that elections are free and fair." The American State Department declared that the recent events in Lebanon might be called the "Cedar Revolution". Although the Lebanese are calling their uprising the peaceful "intifada", what is now happening in Beirut can be put in line with Czechoslovakia's Velvet Revolution, Georgia's Rose Revolution and Ukraine's Orange Revolution.

The Lebanese women that were participating at the demonstrations have offered the army men red carnations, after Kiev's model. The participants waved Lebanon's red and white flag with the cedar tree in the middle and wore red and white scarves.

After discussions with lawmakers, President Lahoud could name a nominee for prime minister by the weekend. The premier would then consult with the blocs in parliament on putting together a cabinet, a process that could take days or weeks. Parliament would then have to approve the cabinet and premier with a confidence vote. In Lebanon's fractious politics, after the present rules, the prime minister should be a Sunni Muslim and the cabinet should be half-Christian, half-Muslim, with religious sects allocated seats according to their size. The new cabinet will stay until the end of May, when the parliament's term expires and new elections will be held. One of the main issues at the moment is to find someone to replace the former Prime Minister, Omar Karameh. Although Karameh will stay in office until the parliament approves the new nominee for the post, many fear that if this decision is not taken soon, violence may erupt and there would be no acting government to take care of it.

Taking into consideration this possibility, the opposition lead by Jumblatt has urged Amal and Hezbollah to join everyone's efforts to establish a strategy for the transitional period. Apparently, both leaders Nabih Berri and Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah are eager to engage in a constructive dialogue with the opposition.

Presidential spokesman Rafiq Shalala declared that President Lahoud favors a ten-member government of non-partisan technocrats until the May elections. He has considered three respected professionals for the prime minister position, namely: Salim Hoss, Bahia Hariri and Fouad Siniora.

What the Lebanese already achieved is important, but there is still much to achieve. Lebanese history is being written; the local, regional and international media is covering the non-violent Lebanese "intifada." However, as important as it is to gain independence, the real test is holding on to it.

The responsibilities of the transitional government are great. It must prevent the emergence of a second civil war in Lebanon. Sectarian and tribal interests have no place in the new Lebanon. Hopefully, the Lebanese have understood by now how important their unity is.

After Syria's gone

Looking at the latest changes regarding Syrian-Lebanese relations, after Syria's withdrawal a general socio-political reform should emerge in Lebanon. The following steps should be considered:

  1. Call the Lebanese to a national referendum and see if the sectarian system should be preserved or changed

  2. Establish diplomatic relations with Syria

  3. Call for a truce agreement with Israel

  4. Play a leading role together with the Quartet in the Palestinian refugee problem

  5. Settle the disagreements with Syria and Israel in regard to the Shebaa Farms

On the domestic level, the following issues should be addressed:

  1. The nationality problem: A Lebanese woman married to a foreigner cannot pass her nationality on to her children

  2. The civil marriage problem: Currently in Lebanon, there is only the religious marriage

  3. High rate of unemployment

  4. Poor or non-existent health care services from the state (Hezbollah through its various hospitals and charities is the only major provider of health care services)

On the other hand, the conflicts involving Syrian-Lebanese relations cannot be solved without a broader dialog with the United States, the European Union, Israel and Russia.

In a concise manner, the Bush administration should:

Engage in direct dialogue and negotiations with Syria

Ask the Arab League to support UN Resolution 1559

Continue to support the fragile base for democracy in Lebanon

Let the Lebanese government decide the fate of Hezbollah's armed wing

Not interfere in the domestic affairs of Lebanon, Syria or any other Arab country - this would make the Arab world see US as a colonizing power. Use dialog, economic support or sanctions, but do not make political decisions for the Arab people.

Address the Arab-Israeli conflict by engaging all parties in dialog and negotiations: Israel and Syria over Golan; Lebanon, Syria and Israel over the Shebaa Farms; Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Israel over the Palestinian refugee problem

Continue to persuade President Putin to work with the international community on Syria and Iran; otherwise, US, UN and EU efforts in the region will be only partially effective. If President Assad is able to see and understand the bigger picture of the existing situation in the Middle East, then he may reconsider his isolation policy and start paying attention not to the US or EU, but first and foremost to the Arab and Muslim peoples desire to enjoy freedom, liberty, independence and economic prosperity.

In practical terms, Syria's steps toward a constructive dialog with the international community cannot take place without the following:

Respect UN Resolution 1559

Establish diplomatic relations with Lebanon

Engage in negotiations with Israel over the Golan Heights

Join the Quartet in its bid to put on track the Road Map plan for Palestine and Israel

Do not interfere in the elections that will take place this May in Lebanon

Begin a general socio-political and economic reform at home (political pluralism, freedom of expression, take into consideration the civil society's voice)

Better guard the Iraqi border

Engage in an open dialog with the Bush administration

Although not expected, at the end of the day it is not the sudden and united Lebanese uprising that surprises the world the most, but rather the time the Arab peoples have needed to break through the ice of stagnation. Nonetheless, if the situation in Lebanon is properly managed, it could turn out to be a new beginning for both Lebanon and Syria.