What next for Syria and Lebanon?

Joshua Landis posts that Syria will have to withdraw. He's absolutely right. As Juan Cole points out, it no longer matters whether Syria was behind the attack or not. Most of the Lebanese factions seem to believe it was, or at least their leadership is seizing the opportunity to push for a pullout -- as they should. I have a hard time imagining Syria resisting the pressure to pull out. They're probably just trying to find a way to save a little face, probably with the help of the Arab League (cue in Mubarak finding a way to make himself useful.)

If the Syrians did carry out the attack (and, say, that is proven by a UN investigation), then the regime is either finished or will become isolated in the same way that Iraq was in the aftermath of the invasion of Kuwait. (In a sense, I think sanctions are worse than an attack -- as we saw in Iraq.) Kofi Annan has joined the US and France in asking Syria to withdraw from Lebanon.

What will happen if, or rather when, they do so? Will there be retributions against those Lebanese who enthusiastically cooperated with the Syrians? Will the web of business relationships that link many prominent Lebanese businesspeople with Syrian ones (usually regime cronies) fall apart, and if so will it damage the country's economy? Will the international community renegotiate Lebanese debt at the Paris Club to help out? (They should, but with extremely stringent political conditions.) Will Syria implode as scapegoats are found for this mess and a major source of regime income dries up? A lot of questions, a lot of potential danger, but also a possible way out of dictatorship for Syrians. I'm not sure whether there are forces inside the country that could pull off a coup (presumably the safest option for the general population) against Assad, though. Perhaps the Islamists?

This site says that Maariv, the Israeli Hebrew-language daily, has an article saying Israeli intelligence thinks Hizbullah did it. I'd appreciate if someone can confirm that (or articles elsewhere in the Hebrew press) as Haaretz only seems to have this analysis piece, which is interesting for the following tidbit:

One of the first people to understand the new situation, not surprisingly, was Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah, who called for "unity in the ranks" in Lebanon and for the first time revealed that he held a weekly meeting with Hariri, including a meeting a week before the assassination.


Israel also said today that Iran would be able to build a nuclear weapons in six months.

In the meantime, Hizbullah's main backer, Iran, says Israel was probably behind the attack. Here in Cairo, most people are quite shocked (I include here some senior government officials I've been meeting over the past few days, which is why I've been busy) and sad for the Lebanese.

The Middle East Quarterly, the gazette of a Likudnik think tank in Washington, put out a piece by Farid Ghadry, who advocates the following:

How can the U.S. government promote change in Syria? Funding of dissident groups is essential to pressure the Syrian regime. If Hezbollah gets ample supplies of money from Iran, why are democratic countries so stingy about funding democratic movements? Behind the Bush administration's democratic advocacy are few programs and even fewer organizations. Only 3.2 percent of Middle East Partnership Initiative funds have been provided to indigenous nongovernmental organizations.[33]


The U.S. government should create a fund to empower democracy advocates across the Middle East. This money should not be distributed to any groups or trade unions affiliated with oppressive regimes. Both Assad's regime in Damascus and other dictators throughout the Middle East are savvy enough to set up front groups to channel funds away from legitimate civil society. Already, the Syrian Baath party has embraced reforms to co-opt the movement and ensure that reforms never threaten Assad's autocratic rule. In June 2004, an anonymous Syrian opposition leader claimed that the Baath party has infiltrated all internal opposition groups.[34]


The war against Saddam Hussein breathed new life into reform movements in the Middle East. Three years ago, the words reform, democracy, and freedom of expression were relegated to the lexicon of a very small group of Arab intellectuals. In September 2000, an Arabic-language Google search of the word "reform" (islah) yielded less than 2,000 mentions; in October 2004 these increased to 25,000. There still is a long way to go, though; the word jihad gets almost 90,000 mentions.


While the Western democracies may ignore the nascent reform movements, dictatorial regimes across the Middle East are increasingly worried about their own growing democracy movements. Nowhere is this truer than in my homeland, Syria. Short of sending troops into Syria, however—an outcome neither Americans nor Syrians want—democracy will be an elusive dream unless the U.S. government is willing to support reformists publicly and fund them properly. A meeting in the White House with a Syrian democratic leader will send clear signals to Syria and beyond that change is on its way, thereby encouraging faster reforms.


Hmm, I wonder which Syrian democratic leader he could have in mind? Surely not himself? Ghadry, the leader of the Reform Party of Syria, has been the subject of a number of articles recently about his quest to be the Syrian Ahmed Chalabi, except less arrogant. You can also read Ghadry's articles at the National Review.

Naji Najjar, another exiled liberator, writes in Arutz Sheva, the once-banned Israeli settler radio station, begging for military help from Israel and America to get rid of the Syrians. His site has more.

Reuters has a piece with some reaction in Syria, which is saying Lebanon is ungrateful because Syria kept it from war:

"There is a feeling that they want to turn anything into a pretext," said analyst Ahmad Samir al-Taqi of the latest U.S. move. "The recalling of the ambassador is a form of escalation in the direction of resolution 1559," he added.


Lebanese opposition figures such as Druze politician Walid Jumblatt and exiled Christian general Michel Aoun swiftly accused Damascus after Hariri's death, provoking anger in Syria.


"They are shameless, absolutely shameless," raged Um Said, an elderly woman shopper waving a lettuce.


"Now we are no good? Now Syrians are their enemy? Don't they remember our sons who ran to help them?" she asked.


Sad in so many ways.
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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.