Rethinking "people power"

Most of the articles I posted a few days ago were relatively optimistic about what was happening in Lebanon and the rest of the region. Now, after the huge Hizbullah demonstration, here are some more realistic analyses:

Charles Harb -- Lebanon is not Ukraine (The Guardian)

Syrian mismanagement of the Lebanese portfolio had been building up to a critical mass that only needed a detonator to explode. Neither the Iraqi elections nor Bush's phenomenal use of the word "freedom" led to the dramatic events in Lebanon. The assassination was not only the spark, but also the main motor behind the demonstrations. Current developments must be seen in the light of opportunistic exploitation by local, regional and international players rather than as a "democratic revolution".
Tuesday's powerful counter-demonstration by government loyalists, especially Hizbullah, should rein in international euphoria. Beirut had never seen a crowd so large. Hizbullah's charismatic leader, Hassan Nasrallah, addressed a crowd of a million people, and reminded the world that "Lebanon is not Ukraine". Recent events do spur a glimmer of hope for positive, non-violent change. But if local and regional players want to see a Lebanon enjoying its "sovereignty, freedom and independence", then they need to take the complexity of social reality into account.


(Harb is an AUB professor. He seems to think that the US doesn't really want regime change in Syria and that this is precursor to a confrontation with Iran -- hence dealing with Hizbullah first. Ya'nni...)

Seumas Milne: It is not democracy that's on the march in the Middle East (The Guardian):

The claim that democracy is on the march in the Middle East is a fraud. It is not democracy, but the US military, that is on the march. The Palestinian elections in January took place because of the death of Yasser Arafat - they would have taken place earlier if the US and Israel hadn't known that Arafat was certain to win them - and followed a 1996 precedent. The Iraqi elections may have looked good on TV and allowed Kurdish and Shia parties to improve their bargaining power, but millions of Iraqis were unable or unwilling to vote, key political forces were excluded, candidates' names were secret, alleged fraud widespread, the entire system designed to maintain US control and Iraqis unable to vote to end the occupation. They have no more brought democracy to Iraq than US-orchestrated elections did to south Vietnam in the 1960s and 70s. As for the cosmetic adjustments by regimes such as Egypt's and Saudi Arabia's, there is not the slightest sign that they will lead to free elections, which would be expected to bring anti-western governments to power.


(Also some interesting reflections on Syria's role in Lebanon and, at last, some denunciation of the sham election held in the Palestinian occupied territories. Rather over-the-top lefty, though.)

Mary Wakefield: A revolution made for TV (The Spectator)

The truth is that the Cedar Revolution has been presented and planned in just the same way as Ukraine’s Orange revolution and, before it, the Rose revolution in Georgia. But just because it is in American interests doesn’t mean it’s an American production. ‘The Lebanese people were watching the Ukrainian revolution very closely,’ a Lebanese academic told me. ‘The reason the Cedar Revolution looks so similar to the scenes in Kiev is that they set out, quite deliberately, to copy it.’ The Financial Times reported that a 32-year-old Lebanese businessman called Khodor Makkaoui founded Independence ’05 after Hariri’s murder brought people on to the streets. ‘My friends and I saw that lots of political parties were waving their own flags, and we thought we needed to have one visual identity which would be more impressive,’ he said. ‘We raised money from people we know and started printing Lebanese flags.’ Presentation is everything. In 1990, thousands of Christians demonstrated for weeks on end, calling on Damascus to withdraw its troops from the country. But Makkaoui wasn’t around to print flags or claim a colour, so the cameras didn’t take much notice.
The truth is that, on the streets of Beirut, you could probably find a quote to support every attitude towards Syria’s presence in Lebanon. On Saturday night, in a hotel bar in the Muslim quarter, we met a Beiruti boy called Bashir. ‘How come you’re not at the revolution?’ Bashir shrugged, ‘Why would I be? That’s just for teenagers, to have fun.’ Don’t you want Syria out? ‘Don’t believe what you read in the papers,’ said Bashir. ‘The Syrians are OK. Anyway, the demonstration doesn’t matter. A thousand people won’t make a difference. America will make a difference.’


(A very interesting reflection on the way major Western -- and regional -- television networks have bought the story fed to them by Washington and spun it accordingly, as well as the organization on the ground. Once again, see Nur Al Cubicle's thinking on this.)

Also, this new Zogby poll of Lebanese attitudes is fascinating -- even if I don't give polls much credence generally. Take a look at the numbers:

Who is responsible for the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri?

Maronite

Orthodox

Sunni

Shiite

Druze

The Syrian authorities

17

11

11

4

22

The Lebanese authorities

6

5

9

5

10

The Lebanese and Syrian

authorities together

30

20

11

5

22

Israel

9

14

16

53

0

United States

13

22

13

19

12

International organizations

4

10

21

2

8

How will the assassination of former P.M. Hariri affect the security situation in Lebanon?

Maronite

Orthodox

Sunni

Shiite

Druze

The security situation
will deteriorate

16

13

26

58

16

Other assassinations will occur

17

23

15

11

27

The Syrians will withdraw
from Lebanon

42

29

22

7

39

No effect

21

26

29

21

16

What is the solution to the security situation in Lebanon?

Maronite

Orthodox

Sunni

Shiite

Druze

Reinforcement and deployment of the Lebanese army and security forces all over Lebanon

20

41

47

52

5

Complete withdrawal of the Syrian forces from Lebanon

48

23

31

35

24

Disarmament of all armed forces in Lebanon

17

16

13

5

60

Brining in international forces to implement security

10

7

3

2

8



Note how the Druze seem the most anti-Syrian... I'm not very familiar with the Druze-Syrian relationship, anyone care to enlighten me?
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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.