March 15, 2005

Protests and Counter-Protests

Last week, during the allegedly pro-Syrian demonstrations in Beirut, commenters were quick to jump on me for not truly being in favor of democracy. The gist of their comments was 'why haven't you yet blogged the pro-Hezbollah, pro-Syrian demonstrations you hypocrite?!?...What of this voice of the street? Why the silence?). Truth be told, I hadn't blogged those particular protests mostly due to the mere mundanities of time constraints (reminder: B.D. is a wholly nocturnal hobby, save weekends on occasion--not a real time insta-analysis news service). But what I wanted to say then was that those Hezbollah orchestrated demonstrations were less pro-Syrian demonstrations than they were really anti- Resolution 1559 demonstrations. To explain. Some Lebanese view 1559 as somewhat high-handed (evoking neo-colonalist imagery and the specter of foreign intervention with the French and Americans collaborating on getting the Syrians out and shaping Lebanon's future to heavy-handedly). There is, in some circles, a preference that the Taif Accords be followed more than 1559. In all likelihood, some hybrid of both approaches will end up constituting the end-game with regard to the Syrian presence in Lebanon (though more skewed towards 1559, in my view, at the end of the day). Also important to keep in mind, of course, is that 1559 has raised Hezbollah's ire given that it calls for all foreign militias in Lebanon to disband and disarm. Iran has been a chief sponsor of Hezbollah for many years (though it has a home-grown constituency in Lebanon too).

So what's my point in all this? Really that the demonstrations last week were really more about Hezbollah flexing some muscle and saying "hey, we (the poorer Shi'a in the teeming slums of South Beirut) are here too. Keep us in mind as well oh gelled haired, Western-clad, nightclubbing bourgeois ones." But the shrewd Sheikh Nasrallah, likely all along, was well aware that appearing too pro-Syrian would backfire on Hezbollah (and if he wasn't last week; he certainly is after today's massive protests). Regardless, what's manifestly clear is that the nationalist, liberationist aspirations of the Lebanese have positively erupted, and Hezbollah ain't gonna stand in the way--despite occasional Bashar poster spottings here and there amidst the protests. What better quote to sum it up than: "I feel a certain kind of grandeur today. The Lebanese people are finally saying what they wanted to say for years, and they are saying it out loud." They sure are, loud and proud and in big, big numbers, as Glenn aptly points out.

Oh, and isn't it truly wonderful to see the partisans of competing visions of Lebanon's future argue their positions through peaceful rallies rather than via bullets and terror (yeah, that's a rhetorical question)? Still, no one should get too giddy as instability remains a real risk factor in the coming weeks and months. But with deft diplomacy and sustained international attention, responsible moves by the key Lebanese and regional players, and, not least, a good dollop of luck--things could turn out quite well indeed. And so far, so good.

Posted by Gregory at March 15, 2005 01:49 AM | TrackBack (8)

It is amazing to see the allies of the GOP, long anti-interventionist while Clinton was in power, now embracing liberal internationalism.

Its a pity you weren't convinced in time for Somalia or Bosnia.

Posted by: On the Left, from Maryland USA at March 15, 2005 03:19 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

er, click on my bio. i worked in the former yugoslavia doing humanitarian work for two years. i was plenty convinced...though Clinton's sad, long inaction in the Balkans (until Holbrooke in '96) is nothing to be proud of re: the annals of "liberal internationalism".

Posted by: greg at March 15, 2005 03:23 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Thanks for keeping a pretty good finger on the pulse Greg. As posted previously I've been a vehemently anti-Bush since he became president, and whilst I still strongly disagree with the way the administration operated in the previous term, I'm eating my hat somewhat, as the last 3 months are showing some positive results - even though I've disagreed with the means used the acheive them.

I sincerely hope they continue, and that the newly, more diplomacy based approach of the White House in this term enables these gains to be continued, and perhaps build a more "useful" UN.

Posted by: Aran Brown at March 15, 2005 04:23 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Well, OTL, just so you don't confuse "liberal internationalists" with "transnational progressives". I believe the latter are in charge in Bosnia now, which may explain its lack of progress.

Posted by: R C Dean at March 15, 2005 12:46 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

As a mild or rabid anti-interventionist since the US ran out and let commies commit genocide in SE Asia, I've also been schizophrenically supportive of exporting democracy and free markets.

W repudiated support for "our bastard" dictators. This is amazing, and inspiring.
(And expensive, if followed. Very, Very expensive.)

I watched on TV as the WTC came down. Also "amazing" -- as in terrible beyond belief. But I believe it. We need to go to the root causes.
Societies are Free or Fear -- and the Islamofascists come from Fear societies.

The security of the USA depends on transforming the Fear societies, Black Arabism, into Free societies.

The War on Terror does have an ending -- a World Without Dictators.

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at March 15, 2005 01:31 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Concerning Nasrallah, there was an interesting analysis in the NYT, Sunday.

The speech was also remarkable for its venue - downtown Beirut - and the absence of the trademark Hezbollah backdrop, its green and yellow banner with a fist brandishing a Kalashnikov rifle. Manar Television, the organization's satellite channel, ended its somewhat triumphant reporting with a tight shot of Sheik Nasrallah, standing on the balcony of a sparkling white sandstone building and in front of a Lebanese flag.

"Today Sayyid Nasrallah has become a national leader," the announcer intoned.

See here. Posted by: DavidP at March 15, 2005 04:23 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Good analysis, Greg. I opined the same on a bulletin board, and was enthusiastic that, despite a message I didn't particularly like, the "Hez supporters" were exercising their freedom of expression peacefully, the way it should be. That they've done so instead of running amok starting a civil war is, to my mind, a great step forward even for Hez. But the anti-Syrian protests still have the hottest babes.

Posted by: Bruce at March 15, 2005 08:18 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Am I the only one who has a hard time seeing how a country the size of Lebanon can support two successive demonstrations, of hundreds of thousands of people each, supporting two different groups?

What I'm suggesting is that tens of thousands of people each were likely at both the anti-Syrian and the Hezbollah-sponsored demonstrations.

Posted by: Zathras at March 15, 2005 09:32 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Zathras: "Am I the only one who has a hard time seeing how a country the size of Lebanon can support two successive demonstrations, of hundreds of thousands of people each, supporting two different groups?"

Probably. When people are as stoked up as they are in Lebanon, they gather, and in a country that small, they don't have the travel logistics such a demonstration would incur, say, in the US.

Posted by: mamapajamas at March 15, 2005 11:34 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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