March 01, 2005

Martyr's Square Rules

Hassan Fattah:

Mr. Karami, a Syria loyalist, announced his resignation in a terse statement as Parliament reconvened debate on the confidence measure. "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," he said.

Lebanese television reported that President Émile Lahoud had accepted Mr. Karami's resignation and that he would soon establish a caretaker government.

Mr. Karami, scion of the Lebanese independence hero Abdul Hamid Karami and brother of the multiterm prime minister Rashid Karami, who was assassinated in 1987, was defiant as he faced Parliament on Monday morning.

I call on everyone to be patient and avoid taking their strength from abroad, allowing Lebanese demands to be manipulated by the ongoing conflict in the Arab world," he warned, in an allusion to growing pressure by the United States and France on his government and on Syria.

The resignation is likely to help budding democratic efforts throughout the Middle East. Few opposition parliamentarians expected to win the no-confidence measure, but in a nod to the growing populism of the opposition, Mr. Karami bowed to the Lebanese street.

"The government would have won the confidence vote, they weren't afraid of that," said Jihad al-Khazen, a professor of political science at American University in Beirut. "But they lost confidence on the street, and that was awkward. They lost legitimacy, they lost credibility." [emphasis added]

"Lost confidence on the street." "Bowed to the street." Think about the import of these words. These certainly ain't the old Hama Rules (perhaps we'll come to call them Martyr's Square Rules)? In Hama, thousands were mowed down on the streets. Now an Arab leader will bow to the street? There's a word for that. It's called progress. And make no mistake about it, such words are partly a legacy of Baghdad. Yes, Hariri's assassination was a tipping point. Maybe he was too big to have been killed. Something definitely flipped in the Lebanese consciousness. Enough is enough! one could almost hear the Lebanese collectively emote. But Iraq emboldened too. Bush's call for Egypt and Saudi Arabia to democratize emboldened. Bush's comments that Syria was 'out of step' with broader Middle East trends emboldened. Yes, something new is in the air; and spring-time is beckoning...


In scenes reminiscent of protests in the United States in the 1960's, protestors rushed to get to the site of the demonstration, just yards away from Mr. Hariri's grave, and camped through the night, waving Lebanese flags as anthems played on. Many handed flowers to the soldiers and beseeched them to cooperate with them. Despite orders to prevent demonstrators from entering the area, soldiers eventually relented to the flood of largely young protestors on Monday, and the demonstration carried on peacefully.

We came to say that conditions are not acceptable anymore," said Tony Khouri, who had come from Amman, Jordan, with his wife, Caroline, on family business and stayed on for the demonstration. "The goal is for everyone to stop interfering in our country and let us take care of ourselves," he said, alluding to Syria's grip on Lebanon.

Such talk was virtually unheard of in public only a year ago. But the resignation of Mr. Karami underscored Syria's weakening grip on Lebanon. For more than 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 into the global economy.

Wow. Bonne chance Beirut! A personal note. I've probably been to Syria over half a dozen times. The souks of Damascus and Aleppo (particularly Aleppo's) are simply glorious. I harbor no animus towards the Syrian people who can be extremely hospitable indeed. I have Syrian friends. But the Baathist dictatorship has simply become too ossified and Bashar's decisions (particularly if Syrian intelligence was behind Hariri's assassination) highly unfortunate. Bashar bought himself some time with the turnover of Saddam's half-brother and is doubtless tightening up the border with Iraq (no, there is no Ho Chi Minh trail running between Damascus and Fallujah but the border was always a bit too porous). And Syria will always play a role in Lebanon, in some fashion. But Bashar must move his country forward towards new vistas. The antiquated continuance of Hafez al Asad's hardline rejectionist front vis-a-vis Israel is increasingly appearing a relic. Egypt is at peace (if a cold one) with Israel. Ditto Jordan. Perhaps the PA in the coming years. Millions of Iraqis have voted in free elections. Yes, Syria must come out of the cold. She has her legitimate national aspirations and security concerns--but she has been making too many bad decisions of late. It's not too late to get back in step in more positive vein and play a more constructive role in the neighborhood. But Bashar must seize the moment and act with real resolve. Nor should he think he can outlast the Americans in Iraq through some low-level support to insurgents. He won't.

P.S. Will Hariri have proven greater in death than in life? This, if nothing else, may prove a consolation to his bereaved family.


The anger simmering in this country since the unprecedented extension of President Emile Lahoud's term of office last September finally found a vocal and unstoppable expression that has toppled a government.

The final and tragic component that united the nation and provided the catalyst for yesterday's unprecedented events was the murder of former Premier Rafik Hariri.

This newspaper pointed out following the outpouring of grief at his funeral that Hariri's lasting legacy would be to unite his country. Yesterday's tumultuous events have made that assertion fact.

Stung and shocked by the strength of public anger shown toward it, this ramshackle government, formed by default in the wake of Hariri's resignation last October, finally seems to have lost the will to go on.

History in the making indeed...

Where do we go from here? Who will fill the political vacuum yesterday's events have left? Hariri's sister, MP Bahia Hariri, who spoke both eloquently and movingly in the stormy parliamentary session that preceded the government's resignation, is being talked about as a possible candidate for the premiership.

If Lebanon is ready for a female prime minister she must surely be the first choice.

Whoever it is will have the trust of the people in a way that few politicians can ever enjoy. Let us hope this optimism, this trust and this moment is not betrayed. To paraphrase Karami's last words as prime minister, May God preserve what the people of Lebanon have achieved.

A female PM? Well, why the hell not?

Full article here.

Posted by Gregory at March 1, 2005 04:40 AM | TrackBack (9)


It's interesting.....these analogies between the 60's and what's happening in Beirut. Interesting because the '68 Generation, Dean, Kerry, and most of the current European leadership has provided no support for greater democracy in the Middle East. In point of fact, these '68'ers have done their best to preserve the conservative status quo and ossified systems. Amazing that a generation after '68 it would take a Republican from Texas to show the world what true leadership is. I think we are all hearing the sound of President Bush's historical reputation crashing upward. Perhaps conservatives and Republicans in the United States would be wise to consider a candidate in 2008 who is the logical continuation of Bush's policies and ideas, namely Condi Rice.

Posted by: davidinsingapore at March 1, 2005 08:20 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Something else happened in 1968, in Prague. And that Spring probably felt about like what we are seeing in Beirut. To stop the similarity there, we must lean very heavily on Syria, which still has the power to stop the "Cedar Revolution" in a heap of bloody splinters.

Posted by: sammler at March 1, 2005 08:35 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

American liberalism is still stuck in the 1960's, and in the affinity for communism and socialism that led to the 60's protests, thus the inevitable comparison to those "heady days". I like the camparison to 1989 better.

I caught myself juxtaposing two letters in comparison and got "comaprison" - perhaps a Freudian slip metaphor for today's American and European anti-democracy leftists?

Posted by: Waffle King at March 1, 2005 01:25 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I remember the elation of 1989. It ended with the grinding of tank treads and a hail of machine-gun fire beneath that paper-mache statue of Liberty. This only works as long as the tyrants fear American JDAMs. If they can hide behind nukes or massed-artillery hostage-taking of cities, then the tank-treads can and will sing out again.

This elation ends with a mushroom-cloud over an Iranian testing-ground.

Posted by: Mitch H. at March 1, 2005 04:17 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I'm not sure just how much real power Bashar the Ophthalmologist from Paris has. It's almost as if the Assad clan need the eldest son to be the head of the business, while the real power rest with his uncles and other in the military intelligence.

Posted by: BigFire at March 1, 2005 05:23 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Perhaps because I was preoccupied with baseball during the 1960s I missed that comparison. What has struck me about Beirut is how much the demonstrations there had in common with those in Kiev last December.

The similarities are, I think, too obvious to require enumeration, but one of them needs to be pointed out. What demonstrators in both Kiev and Beirut asked for is their own government -- a normal, honest government chosen by them rather than their larger and historically dominant neighbor. Not all protesters against other governments have the same objectives or use the same methods.

The White House in its public statements has very correctly stated that the credit for the positive events in Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza, and Iraq belongs most of all to the people who live in these places. They turned away not only from their prior governments but from their recent history. It is a remarkable thing to see.

Posted by: Zathras at March 1, 2005 08:14 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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