how the world sees america

Lebanon's Politicians: Avoiding the Assassins

Ahdab-Still.jpg
Ahdab at home.

TRIPOLI - Guards with AK-47s patrol the perimeter of Mosbah Ahdab's flat in Tripoli. "I'm effectively a prisoner" he says, in a U.S.-v-Iran proxy war waged on Lebanese soil.

The forty-six-year-old Ahdab is an independent member of the Lebanese Parliament, known for his steadfast opposition to Iranian and Syrian influence here. He consistently opposed the current Syrian-backed President Emile Lahoud, whose term expires next week.

Ahdab worries that Syrian-backed assassins are targeting him. The shutters of the flat are all closed. Cameras survey the streets all around. And he travels only in the middle of the night in a long convoy, which he enters through a specially designed tent so snipers or bombers can't tell which car he's in.

Ahdab is convinced he can outlast his assassins. But he worries that U.S. interest in Lebanese democracy might not wait with him. Ahdab wants America and the West to keep a sharp eye on Lebanon, oppose political murders, and support democracy. But he doesn't want the U.S. to engage Lebanon as a proxy battlefield, which is what Iran and Syria, he says, are goading it to do.

The numbers worry him. If a few more of Ahdab and his allies are killed before the election the anti-Syrian bloc will lose its slim majority in parliament, making the election of an anti-Syrian president far less likely.

Ahdab comes from a successful business family which owns the buses running between Beirut and Tripoli along with some construction interests. So his home isn’t a bad place to be stuck. Plush sofas and Lebanese artwork line the walls of his expansive living room facing the ocean. Fresh flowers pack the vases. And he carries a portable buzzer that allows him to call his butler for wine or food at any time.

The flat has become his political headquarters. From here Ahdab greets other politicians, businessmen, reporters, and artists. Over our five hours together, nearly a dozen guests pass through. His young wife, fifteen years his junior, engages them all in banter, mostly about the upcoming election, while their energetic five-year-old daughter zips around the guests on a Barbie-brand scooter.

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Photo of Ahdab with Hariri.

She's safe inside, but when the elections come next week, all bets are off. Ahdab's sending his family abroad to be extra secure.

Ahdab's not the only one holed up in expectation of the elections. My room in Beirut overlooks the five-star Phoenicia Hotel, which reportedly houses nearly forty other MPs also protecting themselves from potential assassins.

Amphibious tanks squat on the streets, and snipers peer out of an adjacent, abandoned building to protect the MPs. They overlook the spot in front of St. George's Hotel where former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was killed in a massive explosion nearly three years ago, serving as a grim reminder of the stakes.

Ahdab and these MPs are part of the March 14th Coalition, whose members led over a million Lebanese in the Cedar Revolution, which led to Syria's military withdrawal from Lebanon after nearly three decades.

Now those who oppose March 14 politicians like Ahdab accuse the movement of serving America's interests, but Ahdab shrugs off the criticisms saying they don't stick to him, or resonate with voters.

As a businessman, he sees U.S. support and investment in Lebanon as a potential asset. And he doesn't think adopting an "anti-American" mantle will do him or his country much good.

He wants to bypass America-talk, which he believes diverts attention from local concerns. "Americans have the idea that their Middle East allies have to oppose them publicly" to succeed, he says, but he should serve as a counterargument.

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Guards with guns.

Lebanon is a small country with approximately 4 million people. It's often used as a staging ground for regional conflicts. "The [Iranian] Ayatollah Khamenei said 'We'll beat the Americans in Lebanon' because he's invested 18 billion dollars in Hezbollah, and Iran isn't willing to give this away," Ahdab says. But Hezbollah as an armed movement has stopped representing Lebanese interests, he says, and he eventually wants it disarmed, not for America's good, but for Lebanon's.

The solution isn't war between the U.S. and Iran, he emphasizes, or even America's demand that the new president immediately enforce UN Security Council Resolutions 1559 and 1701, calling for Hezbollah to give up its arms.

Ahdab does say he wants America to stand by the ideal of democracy. He believes Lebanon can be the example of democracy the U.S. wants to see in the Middle East. But America must let the Lebanese work among themselves to realize it on the ground.

That's why he's here in Lebanon, avoiding the assassins, and waiting to cast his vote.

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Comments (26)

Ace:

I agree with Gabe - well written.

Aoun is not well thought of in US Government circles today or in most of the American Lebanese diaspora. He is very unstable, and will do almost anything (up to and including another Civil War) to gain "the chair", as they call it in Lebanon. He actually said in his last speech that even a 2/3 majority vote for President would not be acceptable - unless he was the President. This entire Presidential crisis is about total control of the Government. They are not just debating the President - it is who will be the Army Commander, who will have what Ministers, who will get to name the Prime Minister, who will have the VETO (control) of the country - and this is absolutely KEY. The Parliament is not actually allowed to vote - they will be presented with the "winner" just as they were in the days of the Syrian occupation. Positions and Ministers are being "negotiated", just as they were during the Syrian occupation. All the Foreign Ministers go to Damascus to get their "opinion", just as they did during the Syrian occupation. Syria is in this up to their neck with the goal of imposing a Pro-Syrian President that will follow the orders of Damascus and Iran through Hezbollah.

Consensus is the Arab way, but in this particular case it is the Hezbollah way. Only Nasrallah can say what (or who) the consensus will be. There is no compromise. He said in his Easter speech that there would be no more "round tables", there would only now be a table with him at the head. You can generally believe what he says - he prides himself on this. Hezbollah must have the "Christian cover" in Lebanon. The Shia and the Sunna are roughly equal in size and the Shia overwhelmingly support Nasrallah - they actually have very little choice in this. With the Aoun "Christian cover" - Nasrallah can make sure this does not evolve into an Iraq situation. Without Aoun - he would not stand a chance and none of this would have happened.

Aoun dislikes the USA because they won't give him their support. Aounists do and think exactly what Michel Aoun tells them. He is one of those leaders - a Jim Jones type, that is almost a Messiah to his followers. President Bush has executive orders in place to try and force Parliament Leader Berri to open the Parliament for the election, and to try and stop this 2nd Government they keep threatening with a possibly military takeover. The Lebanese Army has said they will not do this, but Hezbollah also has an Army and his Army has the most guns. The situation is very volatile and could go either way. It's hard to believe that Nasrallah, who has declared his "Divine Victory" over Israel will allow the Government of Lebanon to defeat him. This is why he is so dangerous - he can't afford to lose this fight. He seriously under-estimated Prime Minister Seniora and the March 14 Alliance. They have stood firm so far.

The people of Lebanon are very, very frightened.

Jeha Mismar:

The interview with Ahdab was good, and Mr Ahdab is an intelligent and articulate person. However, for all his qualities, Mr Ahdab demonstrates why those who now claim they represent March 14 will always be mistrusted, to the chagrin of their supporters. There are two reasons for this;

First, it is useless to state general platitudes with no real "program". Yes, this is common to all Lebanese politicians, but those of us who gathered on March 14th were calling for a change of such old habits. We do not care whethere "the solution isn't war between the U.S. and Iran", as this not our purvue. We care about local, tangible issues, and this is where "democracy" starts really.

Second, and more crucially, it is essential that any "new president immediately enforce UN Security Council Resolutions 1559 and 1701", as they are not only "calling for Hezbollah to give up its arms", but also for all other non-government bodies. Why else was all this for? Why else does Mr Ahdab thinks we support them, and allow them to claim March 14th? Those "born again Lebanese" better remember that the core of their supporters are tired of paying taxes to subsdise their lavish lifestyles and Hezbo's supporter's tax avoidance and subsidies... We have visas and know the road to the aiport; if they fail to give us a real president, they will be facing Hezbo' & Co alone this time; it is not worth fighting when those who claim to lead you are so spineless/clueless.

http://jehasnail.blogspot.com/

Gabe:

Michel Aoun will side with whoever if it benefits his political purposes.

He was a popular general and leader during the Civil War. He still currently leads the "Patriotic" party, but does not speak for all the Christian Lebanese. Aoun supporters generally follow Aoun wherever he goes, and will take whatever Aoun's positions are.

Aoun was initially Pro-Syrian until 1989, moving up the ranks by toeing the Syrian line.

Around 1988, a temporary Minister's (Executive branch) government of only Aoun supporting Christian leaders (Aoun kicked out both Sunni and Shiite leaders) was formed and lead by General Aoun. Aoun's temporary Minister government and his Prime Minister appointment was pre-authorized by Syria. The parliament eventually elected another President but Aoun used his military power to keep his temporary Ministers government in power. When Aoun refused to step down, Syria then viewed Aoun as a threat.

Aoun came to the realization then that he would never become President through Syria. Aoun waged a several month war against Syria in the name of freeing Lebanon from any foreign occupier, despite the obvious risk. Many Christian militia members died senselessly in this mad rush for power that Aoun authorized, this failed attempt to push back Syria devastated the Christian power and community in Lebanon. After this failed attempt, Aoun turned against his own community and attacked a Christian militia, further devastating the Christian situation.

These wars ended when Aoun was forced to leave after the Syrians attacked the Aoun controlled President’s House. The Syrians were then able to place their puppet President through the Pro-Syrian Lebanese Parliament in 1990. Aoun went into exile in France for 15 years.

During his exile, Aoun consistenly took Anti-Syrian and Anti-Hezbollah positions.

According to Le Monde newspaper in April 25th, 1996 Michel Aoun said, "Everybody knows that Syria is giving armor and ammunitions to Hezbollah, who is defying the Lebanese government everyday, and Hezbollah is forming a kind of foreign occupation in Lebanon. The view that this militia is a form a resistance against the Israeli occupation is just unnacceptable."

In February 27th, 2002, Michel Aoun addressed his supporters in a University in Ashrafieh through a conference call which was published in the Annahar newspaper, saying that "Hezbollah should disarm and take a solely political form like all other Lebanese parties. He added that Hezbollah is now taking the role of the Lebanese Army which is unacceptable."

Quotation from Aoun's (via phone) meeting with the Free Patriotic Movement's school students third annual conference on April 5/2003, Journalist Katia Srour moderated the dialogue:
Question by one of the students, "The US considers Hezbollah a terrorist organization. Hezbollah is the son of our country. What will be our position?"
Aoun answered, "I had previously invited Hezbollah to a solution. I am not willing to assume the results for the policies it follows and for its external ties. I advised them to abandon the military work and return a political party, for then we congratulated them on liberating Lebanese land. But when Hezbollah wants to stand outside the Lebanese framework for other objectives, we cannot bear the results of its policies. Then I cannot engage in a dialogue with Hezbollah while it is carrying the rifle. Let it put the rifle aside, then we sit down and talk. I call on Hezbollah to turn into a political party and we will cooperate with it..."


Aoun returned to Lebanon in 2005 after the Cedar Revolution (lead by the Lebanese majority of Sunni, Christian, & Druze) that ousted Syrian occupation. Aoun quickly aligned himself with this Anti-Syrian movement. An Anti-Syrian Cedar Revolution government was elected in Lebanon in 2005.

Hezbollah was a part of the new Lebanese government, but they were a Pro-Syrian minority. Hezobollah needed a Christian cover to support their Shiite minority movement.

Aoun signed an agreement with Hezbollah in February 6th, 2006, bringing Aoun's Christian parliament seats (not the other half of Christian seats such as the Lebanese Forces) to the Hezbollah/Shiite minority opposition of the current Anti-Syrian Cedar Revolution government. Aoun sided with Hezbollah despite their Pro-Syrian ties and despite their continued military presense outside of the Lebanese government. Aoun has a strong desire to become Lebanon's President, and this move was his best chance to realize it. You can see Aoun's political contradictions: he was Pro-Syrian initially, then Anti-Syrian & Anti-Armed Hezbollah when exiled, then Pro-Syrian & Pro-Armed Hezbollah when given a chance to become President again. The only common thread in this pattern is Aoun's obsession to become President.

This puts Aoun & Hezbollah's alliance of convenience in perspective. Aoun's Christian supporters will continue to follow where Aoun goes; but many supporters have become alienated and have defected from Aoun because they were Anti-Hezbollah and are confused by Aoun's confusing new alliance with Hezbollah. Aoun's remaining supporters follow their leader, reject American involvement in Lebanon and accept Aoun's alliance with Hezbollah, and see it as a beginning to a united Lebanon because it includes the Shiite people.
Unity is obviously very important in Lebanon, but Hezbollah has always had in it's sights an Islamic Revolution in Lebanon, which would alienate a significant Christian & Druze community. Hezbollah can't be an equal party in any political arrangement as long as they are holding a separate military outside of the Lebanese government. Hezbollah engulfed Lebanon in the July 2006 war with Israel without asking the Lebanese government, military, or people. If Hezbollah truly wants a unity government, they certainly don't want an equal one, or they would disarm. Hezbollah wants complete control of the Lebanese government.

Regarding the opinion of the Hezbollah supporters that America is blocking a consensus candidate, that America prefers a Civil War to reconciliation...

The Liwaa newspaper just quoted Aoun speaking to his political party a few days ago, "Parliament members should not attend the session to elect a new president, even if they find a consensus candidate they ought not to go."

The Pro-Syrian opposition parliament members (Hezbollah, Nabih Barre Shiite members, Aoun Christian members) are consistently boycotting sessions to elect a new president.

About general opinions of America in Lebanon, the Cedar Revolution is a real Lebanese majority movement, including Sunnis, Christians, & Druze.
Which foreign countries supported this majority Cedar Revolution movement? The Sunni middle eastern countries and the West (Europe & America).
Who opposed this Cedar Revolution movement for Lebanese Independence? Syria, Iran, & even Hezbollah.

Vic van Meter:

What a few of you recent guys have forgotten is what exactly gave Israel the reason (or excuse, whichever you prefer) to bomb Lebanon. Under normal conditions, they wouldn't have gotten away with it. Hezbollah, by acting against Israeli soldiers, called down the wrath of Hell on Lebanon. Then they hid in the population centers there.

Israel's decisions to attack wasn't smart, but then again, if Hezbollah wasn't PLANNING on receiving a few tons of explosive, their move wasn't very smart either. Then again, it could have been pretty smart, as I've said above. If you're a fundamentalist party losing power in the general electorate, you need to remind people why they need you in the first place. Bush looks for new Middle Eastern enemies of freedom to attack and points to the specter of Al'Qaida. In doing so, he causes these nations to react against his antagonistic finger-pointing. By reacting, they give Bush ammunition to convince people that the Middle East is just chalk-full of people who want to suicide bomb New York City. It's a cycle where Bush creates the very enemies he crusades against.

Same with most of Israel's neighbors. Sure, Israel's got a bit of an anger management problem when it comes to their conservative leadership. But when the Syrians were ejected, Hezbollah decided to pick up the offensive. Thus Israel, being Israel, attacked. Hezbollah retreated to civilian centers. Israel went after the civilian centers. And thus Israel's army attacked the people of Lebanon.

It's not as if Israel was being very smart, but Hezbollah gave them the excuse. Then they swore to keep up the crusade against Israeli invasion that they, themselves, made possible. So let's cut the crap about Hezbollah being some martyring wall to Israeli aggression. This is politics, and Hezbollah's no less political than any other entity.

Then again, maybe the leadership in Hezbollah really ARE that stupid. In that case, if Israel's leadership and Hezbollah's leadership are both that dumb, we'll never see an end to the violence. Just a self-perpetuating cycle.

Pray the Lebanese elect someone who can clean up this mess.

dangerosa:

Doesn't Ahdab object to the cluster-bombing that devastated his country, and will continue to destroy innocent men, women and children? He sounds like a great propagandist for the neocons and Cheney-Bush. I'm sure the American Enterprise Institute in DC would love to hear him lecture on his "victimhood" -- forgetting all the ordinary citizens who were killed during the recent strikes against Lebanon.

Ahdab sounds like a propagandist for the same old, same old...

dangerosa:

Doesn't Ahdab object to the cluster-bombing that devastated his country, and will continue to destroy innocent men, women and children? He sounds like a great propagandist for the neocons and Cheney-Bush. I'm sure the American Enterprise Institute in DC would love to hear him lecture on his "victimhood" -- forgetting all the ordinary citizens who were killed during the recent strikes against Lebanon.

Ahdab sounds like a propagandist for the same old, same old...

Tarik:

The common people of Lebanon would like the world to leave them alone. To suggest that one or the other group is more patriotic is preposterous.
There are good and evil people on each side.
They can sort out their problems and will reach a solution. Outside interference only prolongs the inevitable.
Except for George Bush no previous US president has shown such tenacity to stand with his allies. But the cost is too high! Just look at Iraq.

Angelo:

Hey Duderino - give Ahdab some credit. With all his "amassed wealth" as you call it, he could take off with all his relatives to Brazil, France or the UAE and protect his wealth without the headaches of politics and security threats. He stays and tries to make a difference because he is a true Lebanese patriot.

Duderino:

This guy doesn't give a rat's pooper about Lebanese interests. He's some rich guy rationalizing the protection of the wealth his family has amassed. And not rationalizing his own long term interests very well I might add. He should be thanking God for Hezbollah, because they are all that stands in the way of Israeli colonization of southern Lebanon. I'd like to see him run buses to Tripoli with Israeli checkpoints all along the highway.

Amar C. Bakshi:

Ace, and Gabe, thank you both for strongly argued, thoughtful pieces. I would just put one question out there to both of you and any others. What do you think about this alliance, if you will, between Aoun supporters and Hezbollah? How does that affect perceptions of the U.S. in the region, particularly amidst the Christian communities?

And also, I spent today in the southern suburbs talking to supporters of Hezbollah who complain America is blocking a consensus candidate, preferring civil war to reconciliation. What are your takes on these positions?

Vic van Meter:

Well, that's a good bit of information. Thanks to all you posters out there who know more than I do!

Gabe:

Hezbollah wants an Islamic Revolution in Lebanon, Nasrallah (their leader) has been quoted saying this. I'm going to bounce around in time a bit, so please read closely.
Nasrallah is a hypocrit and a liar.
Nasrallah has been quoted saying Hezbollah will only use their vast (Iranian and Syrian funded) armory in a defensive manner against Israel.
Low and behold, after Hezbollah initiated the July 2006 war with Israel which began by Hezbollah killing 4 & kidnapping 2 Israeli soilders and striking Israel with these same "defensive" missiles for cover, Nasrallah was quoted saying, "We did not think, even 1 percent, that the capture would lead to a war at this time and of this magnitude. You ask me, if I had known on July 11 ... that the operation would lead to such a war, would I do it? I say no, absolutely not," ....I say BS.

How can this liar say this, just a week or two before Hezbollah's raid, Hamas killed 2 and kidnapped 1 Israel soilder which lead to a huge Israeli counterattack. And Nasrallah honestly thought he was special and Israel would let Hezbollah launch missiles into Israel and kidnap soilders, even though Israel didn't allow Hamas to go unpunished. Nasrallah relished at the opportunity for chaos and destruction of Modern post-Cedar Revolution Lebanon to begin his insane Islamic Revolutionary goals.
Israel is not the initiator, but fool Israel once, shame on the extremists, fool Israel twice shame on Israel. Peace is the answer, WAKE UP!

I strongly urge readers to look up Bashir Gemayel, lebaneseforces.com or .org ...Bashir & his family are akin to the Kennedy family in America. Bashir was a great leader, President-elect of Lebanon in 1983, assasinated by a Syrian instructed & paid Lebanese before taking office. Bashir spoke of unity in Lebanon decades before the Cedar Revolution. He brought Christians and Muslims together during the Civil War.

What does Syria do every time? Kill Lebanese politicians who are pro Lebanon.

Rafik Harriri was the first Muslim to be killed for opposing Syria, this lead to the Cedar Revolution in 2005 where finally Muslims AND Christians saw eye to eye on Lebanese Independence. Who in Lebanon would oppose such a great Revolution? Only Hezbollah and their Iranian/Syrian welfare receiving followers. Hezbollah held a pro-Syrian protest during the peaceful Cedar Revolution, and Hezbollah has the threat of a vast armory (Hezbollah was the only militia allowed to maintain their weapons after the Civil War due to the continuted Israeli occupation of Southern Lebanon - which began when PLO operatives staged their activities there, regardless Israel left Lebanon in 2000 and Hezbollah's supposed need for weapons outside of the Lebanese military has long been over) But Lebanon refused to cow to Hezbollah or Syria and peacefully kicked out the Syrian occupiers. The entire world, including pro-Syrian Russia!, could not deny Syria had to end their occupation of Lebanon during the Cedar Revolution. A new government was elected, called the March 14th government, a reference to the current majority parliament elected after the Cedar Revolution, one of the great moments in Lebanese History, I'm sure Bashir was smiling during that election. While the March 14th elected officials may not be completely squeeky clean (many are legacy politicians) they are freely elected and freed from the chains of Syria and united for Lebanon.
Any argument against the March 14th government falls in the face of the Hezbollah alternative, a political party with it's own militia outside of the Lebanese gov't and funded by foreign countries! What's worse!

Hezbollah, in all their wisdom, had another protest called the March 8th opposition (opposing the March 14th Cedar Revolution government). This March 8th protest camped out in Beirut for months to oppose the March 14th Cedar Revolution government, putting the brakes on the Lebanese economy and creating instability. How did all these protesting squatters survive for this long without jobs, without money?... Hezbollah's Iranian & Syrian funded handouts. Hezbollah has been wanting a bigger hand in Lebanese politics, they want more power. They already have seats, but they want complete control and they're unwilling to disarm for the unity of Lebanon. Nabih Berri is the Speaker of the House, a Shiite & close Hezbollah ally, and has been delaying an election for a new President. Nabih has danced every angle to avoid having an election of the President with the March 14th Cedar Revolution majority.

During this Hezbollah March 8th opposition and while Nabih is waiting, two Lebanese Christian March 14th Cedar Revolution Parliament members have died, one was Bashir Gemayel's nephew, Pierre Gemayel.

GOD BLESS AMERICA, LEBANON, SYRIA, ISRAEL, & IRAN, may their leaders be enlightened with peace.

Ace:

First about US involvement. In Lebanon or in any other country, it's always going to be controversial. The US almost has to take a position, and when they do that, they are "interfering" and one of the sides (at least!) is going to be offended. It's a lose/lose deal.

About Lebanon - the article is correct, although it is presented pretty mildly considering what is going on there. 14 politicians and journalists (all anti-Syrian), have been murdered in the last 2 years. Most of these killings have involved innocent by-standers, including the children of the Members of Parliament. After one of the assassinations, there was an accident at the TV station owned by the President of the Parliament (a pro-Syrian), and the TV announcer joked on air about how many more they would have to kill to gain control and who should be next. Disgusting!
The video is widely available on U-Tube.

The Government is actually anti-Syrian now with a majority in the Parliament .... that's the whole point. The anti-Syrians must be eliminated so the pro-Syrians can take control. The minority is insisting on the Majority giving control of the Cabinet of Ministers to them with a VETO power and their choice of President. They have refused (through the pro-Syrian President of the Parliament) to allow Parliament to meet for an entire year now and have nearly destroyed the downtown area with their "sit-in". 1500 business have closed and 35,000 have lost their jobs over this "sit in". No laws can be passed, and no state business can effectively be done. The Prime Minister has done a superb job under the circumstances to keep Lebanon out of bankruptcy.

A big part of the problem is Hezbollah of course, and the 30,000 weapons they control. They are able to hold Lebanon hostage - the other major issue is the International investigation and International Tribunal that has been passed by the UN, to find and prosecute those who have been assassinating the Lebanese politicians. Syria and the pro-Syrian Lebanese on their payroll will do anything to stop this court.

Syria is the conduit from Iran to Lebanon for Hezbollah's weapons and money. It is also the only ally in the Mid-East for Iran and vice versa. They work closely together and it is hard to tell which of them is actually giving the orders to Hezbollah, but Hez is actually a division of the Iranian guard, so it is likely Iran that has the final say. They need free access and control of Lebanon to fight their war with Israel. Most of the radical Palestinian groups, including Hamas have their head-quarters in Syria and they also receive a lot of their funding now from Iran. It's all very inter-twined. Syria occupied Lebanon for 30 years and they believe that Lebanon should be part of Syria as it was during the Ottoman era. They are simply not willing to give it up.

The Lebanese are wonderful people, who are both the best(multi ethnic/religious with democratic traditions and what used to be a vibrant service economy) and the worst(terrorist training camps and wars + fighting among themselves) of the Mid-East. Everyone has tried to control them at some point, and yet they have survived. Such a very small country (about the size of Connecticut), with 18 sects and Christian leadership. If they ever "get it right" - and prove that all these many sects and religions can live together in harmony, freedom and democratically - it will change the Mid-East. Everyone will want what Lebanon has, and ME leadership will be under extreme stress to provide it.

The US Media has done a really poor job of reporting the crisis in Lebanon. I guess there aren't enough dead bodies on a daily basis to make it interesting.

hot:

and he is one hot mp. lebanees girls love him

Anonymous:

Great piece! Lebanon is horribly underreported. This man seems to give some hope. he is gooood luck to :)

Baqi Barzani:

I totally agree with Angelo. If foreign intrusion comes to an end in into the internal affairs of countries such as Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon, a tangible solution can easily be found to their dilemmas.

Let me briefly indicate to Iraq. The people of Iraq can reach political reconciliation and settle their differences among themselves. Our problem is not the masses of Iraq. Our key frustration is the unwelcome presence of thousands of armed Turkish, Iranians and Syrian troops seeking to destroy our country for the sake of their own political motivations in the region. If the US really aspires to win this war, the only thing she has to act is sealing the borders and preventing foreign infiltration.

angelo:

All the turmoil in Lebanon can be traced back to the Palestinian problem. If other Arab countries and "politically inspired" militias would stay out of the Palestinian issue and let Palestinians speak and choose agreements for themselves, a solution would have been reached by now. Palestinians know what they want - peace, an independent nation and fair compensation for the land they were bullied off. Palestinians don't need and don't want Hezbollah, Egyptian fundamentalists and other outsiders involved in their cause. These outside groups (and yes, Muslim "brother" nations as far away as the GCC and Iran) like to envision themselves as Palestinian saviours, but all they do is serve their own interests at the expense of Palestinians by delaying resolution. It is convenient for them to keep their own populations' attention focused on Palestine so they don't look too closely at their own lack of human rights and internal wealth disparities. They don't represent or speak for Palestinians. Getting back to Lebanon, we should talk about Lebanon becoming westernized - they were the most democratic of all the Muslim countries before their civil war. We should say Lebanon is trying to regain its democratic tradition. Syria and Hezbollah can't keep instability going in the region without access to Lebanon's border with Israel - that's why they won't get out of Lebanon. Shame on those Lebanese who take money from Hezbollah at the expense of their national autonomy. Shame on those Lebanese who think Syria has their interests at heart. Shame on those in Israel who are delaying resolution of the Palestinian issue and shame on Arab militias and countries who intentionally keep this wound from healing. Are you going to lament Sabra and Shatilla by continuing war and losing yet more souls or lay those souls to rest and let peace develop for those who are still alive?

Anonymous:

very thought provoking and detailed article. thank you for it.

Vic van Meter:

So I'm going to sound completely ignorant and such when I say this, but you can't blame me. The American media has REALLY messed with this situation and we hear a lot that I don't think is all completely laid out. So I'm going to say what my understanding of all this is, and anyone in the area correct me if I'm wrong.

Lebanon's border with Israel is a huge piece of contention in the Middle East, especially with both Egypt and Jordan having normalized relations with them. Not counting Palestine, whose border issues are pretty well known, that leaves Syria and Lebanon as border countries who still maintain an official stance of adversity. Therefore, if you're thinking geopolitical, it makes sense for Syria to want Lebanon puppet to it and not to the United States. If Lebanon goes independent and starts cooperating with the west, then one can expect that eventually Hezbollah will be disarmed and even Israeli-Lebanese relations will be normalized.

THAT'S going to take a while, probably, after Israel took the bait from Hezbollah and launched an invasion that ultimately led to a lot of sound-bites and video clips for Hezbollah. This was obviously Hezbollah's motive, and I don't need to know a whole lot about the situation to know that. What I knew about Lebanon before the Israeli invasion was that it was westernizing, that it had driven out Syria in lieu of internal independence, and that its people were slowly starting to turn away from the finger-pointing games in foreign politics to get their house in order. Which, honestly, I think every nation on this planet needs to start doing.

But without going too far on the tangent, Hezbollah provoked Israel with what seems like a rather stupid and dangerous move. And Israel, obviously not led by people who think things like this out, took the bait. Nothing, and I mean NOTHING, could help convince the Lebanese, especially Shia Lebanese, that Israel is a worse for them than Syria than a full-blown military invasion. Israel played the wrong hand, strengthening their position when they should have paid attention and strengthened the Lebanese oppositional government's. That oversight was all the political work they needed for some fresh reasons to hate Israel and the west.

But now is where things get hazy. Syria's been largely kicked out, though I'm assuming it has fingers in Lebanon like America has fingers in Puerto Rico. Even if the Puerto Ricans kicked the Americans out, they wouldn't disappear for years. So from what I understand, Syria started mobilizing their contacts and fanatics inside Lebanon to start carrying out their hitlist of opposition PMs. If they eventually wore out the majority, coupled with the political gains from fighting Israel, they could take back control of Lebanon with the full backing of the Lebanese government.

Sometimes, Syria and Hezbollah are lumped together, as if one uses the other as a tool. I've never seen evidence for this outright, though I admit I haven't really looked yet. It might be a jump of logic that Syria and Iran are staunch allies and Hezbollah functions through Iran. I do know Hezbollah receives funding from Iran (whether it's really a government sponsorship or personal donations are where I'm unclear on that) and that Hezbollah follows the dictates of Khomeini and currently Khamenei. Whether the two are independent of one another, function in concert, function in cooperation, or are really part of the same organization is where it's really muddy.

It's unfortunate, but in America, if you read a lot of different news sources (and if you read Al-Jazeera's English version, you can be really messed up like me) you can be very confused as to WHO exactly is killing the PMs. And that's where I'm most muddy. Is Syria acting in political interest and then Hezbollah working for Islamic fundamentalism in general and the two just happen to meet in the middle? Or is this more connected?

All I know is that between Israel, Syria, and Hezbollah, Lebanon has been pretty well screwed. If they can pull this out and finally tell the rest of the world to screw off while they turn their country into something they are satisfied with, it'll be an independence story on par with the greatest we can remember.

I mean, even Americans got help from the French. Lebanon, if the Lebanese pull this off, can make Lebanon for the Lebanese without owing anything to anyone. Lebanon's best chance to do this is to survive long enough to oust the pro-Syrian government, do what they can to draw down Hezbollah, make sure Israel knows that they still don't like them, and start everything with a blank slate. Lebanon needs a direction and they have to pick it without anyone telling them what to do.

They started that way when they tossed out Syria. They're on the right road. It's just going to be a hard road, and one that they'll inevitably not make with everyone alive.

Then again, I might be wrong. If you've got clarifications or competing information, I'm really trying to get reliable news on this. It's just hard, suspiciously harder than getting information on just about anything else.

Baqi Barzani:

Competing in politics in undemocratic countries is very challenging and perilous, especially remaining independent. In countries where lawlessness governs, it simply implies playing with your own life.

Countries with feeble central administrations have oftentimes been used as proxy battlefields. Just like Iraq, Lebanon is another case in point.

Lebanon’s decades of hardship, democratic gains and freedom were all neutralized following the war between Israel and Hezbolla.

Starting from scratch again. Good luck Lebanon!

Mike:

Bakshi writes"

'"I'm effectively a prisoner" he says, in a U.S.-v-Iran proxy war waged on Lebanese soil.'

That doesn't sound like what he is saying at all. He seems to be a a prisoner due to the fact that pro-Syrian operatives are trying to kill ant-Syrian MPs.

The guy seems to view America as an ally from whom he expects assistance. Only a liberal pundit like Bakshi could twist his words to create the impression that Ahdab feels that he is stuck be tween two morally equal powers. Bakshi finally finds someone who is pro-American and he changes the storyline up to make the guy appear neutral.

Bakshi is a joke.

Nada:

Vic Van Meter--Believe it, it's that bad. Day to day life is still fine, and we enjoy visiting with our families there, but for the so-called "pro-West" pols, their days are numbered.

Without the March 14 MPs as the majority, a Syrian puppet president WILL be elected, which is the end game of the opposition and Syria. Have you ever read transcriptions of Bashar Assad's speeches?

Take a look at the MPs and major figures who have been assassinated since February 14, 2005--every single one of them defied Syria, its presence and mukhabarat (intel operatives) in Lebanon after Rafiq Hariri was murdered. Now they're dead. One journalist was severely maimed. As soon as they step foot out of their house, BOOM, another car bomb or shooting. And who benefits from killing off March 14 MPs? Syria and its Lebanese puppets.

Mike:

The leaders of the Middle East need to take responsibility for their own countries.

If we have a hands off policy the press always writes articles saying America is causing all problems because we are not doing enough, unless the administration happens to be a liberal democrat administration then no critical articles are written what so ever.

If the American administration does try to help resolve the problems of nations like Israel or Lebanon and it's conflicts with neighbors America is accused of causing all the problems because we are doing too much and meddling for "selfish" reasons.

The people of Lebanon allowed their country to be divided into fiefdoms led by corrupt tribal leaders who saw their little kingdoms as their personal piggy banks. No wonder the chaos and the usurping of Lebanon's sovereignty by bigger neighbors like Syria who see the chance to exploit the lack of unity among the Lebanese mob bosses aka political leaders.

The whole Middle East is in a period of devolution because they can not adapt to modern economic systems which will deliverer the freedom and egalitarianism their oppressed people's long for.

What is holding evolution back? Such a leap forward inherently requires cooperation and transparency to be successful.

It probably will not happen until some nation's scientists find a replacement for oil and the sheiks running the whole show no longer have all the money in their and their relatives hands.

At the moment those Sheiks are easily able to misdirect the frustration of the masses toward the "Jews" a mythical imaginary all powerful enemy holding back every average Arab from his/her dreams when in reality the cause of the backward system in the Middle East is the concentration of wealth into the hands of a few Sheiks. An old Italian saying says, "It is hard for a man to climb a mountain with a ham on his back." Meaning when you are one of the few stinking rich from oil why develop any other economic base.

Absolute power corrupts absolutely. The Sheiks have all the power. The supposed Islam Judaism conflict is just a phony smokescreen a manipulation of mirrors by the princes of Saudi Arabia and their clones throughout the Middle East. No accident the Saudis funded Wahhibism institutes throughout the world, Wahhibism is the Saudi version the old European Catholicism that supported the theory of divine rights of kings. Those popes and Bishops were all on the payroll of the Kings or in collusion with them to divide the spoils

Someone please send us fusion or any other scientific energy conversion breakthrough that retires the Princes of Saudi Arabia back to their date farms herding goats. Then the Middle East will be free to evolve again.

Vic van Meter:

Is it really this bad?

I knew the Lebanese had been 'living in interesting times' since they demanded Syrian withdrawel. But usually, when you hear this kind of crazy thing in America, you don't trust your source. Since the invasion of Iraq, I look at pretty much any piece of news like this with a lot of skepticism. The president told us that secret laboratories were being driven around in trucks and that Saddam was collaborating with Al'Qaida. After hearing that from the government and hearing it echoed in the media, you distrust a lot of the news coming out of the Middle East as overblown.

So I've read quite a few times that the Lebanese MPs believe they're being assassinated by Syrian operatives and Islamic extremists. Not to scare the rest, mind you, which is an old European/American tactic. No, I'm literally hearing that the Syrians are going through and killing these unacceptable MPs because they will literally KILL enough to change the majority/minority balance.

I've heard some psychotic talk coming from the media (mostly about Iran). But if this is REALLY the case, then this is probably the most apalling political situation in the Middle East as a whole. At least Israel has the remnant of a soul left to ARREST the opposition. That's cold-blooded murder, when you're changing a political landscape by simply killing enough of the majority.

But like I said, I live in skepticism anymore. You guys actually IN the Middle East know more than I do. Is this seriously a Syrian operation of political assassinations? I didn't believe it the first time I heard it, but I hear a lot of interviews of the Lebanese saying that they're on some kind of Syrian hit list. I'm starting to seriously believe them, and that's pretty underhanded when you're just thinning out the majority through murder.

That'd be like me getting my buddies together to start killing Republican senators and representatives until the Democrats had a veto-proof margin. What's the word in the region? I certainly don't trust much news on this anymore. Is this for real?

Amar, you're there. Is this just a partisan finger-point or do most of the Lebanese seriously believe that their majority is being hunted? We don't get a serious amount of news here in America on the issue, the Lebanese struggle being swallowed usually by other tidbits. Can I get a little more information on this?

Manuela:

Lebanon is the perfect prey for many.This existentialism game started decades ago. It seems that the good guys have been outnumbered, but they don't surrender.Thanks Amar for an interesting piece.

Zvika K.:

The game of Lebanese politics:
http://www.doumagame.com/

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