With the popular uprising in Syria completing its first month, protests against Bashar al-Assad’s regime have spread to encompass most Syrian regions and cities, including now the capital, Damascus. On Friday, April 15, crowds from surrounding suburbs swarmed the city, heading downtown to Abbasiyyin Square where the police fired on protesters and closed all roads and entrances leading toward the square.
For the last several days, Syrian workers have gathered in front of their embassy here to demonstrate on behalf of the embattled regime in Damascus. Pity those poor wage laborers who have no choice but to wave the flag, lest they lose the privilege that entitles them to piece together a measly living in a country where they’re largely condemned.
The Lebanese seem to be keeping mum after Bashar al-Assad’s speech this afternoon. Sure, there are no doubt plenty of opinions to go around, but why bring unnecessary attention to Lebanon’s own problems?
If the Saudis and other Gulf Cooperation Council members thought that sending more than a 1,000 additional troops to quell the uprising in Bahrain would prevent it from influencing the rest of the region, they miscalculated. The repercussions are already being felt here in Lebanon.
After two months of Arabs spontaneously taking to the streets to protest against their regimes, there's another kind of uprising going on here in Lebanon. The setting isn’t even an Arab street, but rather Beirut's Rafiq Hariri International Airport; and the occasion isn’t a protest, but rather a “flash mob” executing a traditional Lebanese song and dance routine, “Dabke.”
As the remnants of Lebanon's March 14 pro-democracy has taken to the streets of Beirut and other Lebanese cities to protest against what has now become a government led by Hezbollah and its allies, it's worth remembering why the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) matters.
Last week Tunisians deposed their president for life, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. So now we have the week of tear gas in the Middle East, with Arab security services and militaries pitted against their countrymen. In Egypt, riot police are firing tear gas at protesters, and the same is so in Algeria, where demonstrators are faced off against a regime that presided over a civil war costing the lives of a quarter million people. In Lebanon, where the Lebanese Armed Forces have used tear gas against demonstrators, it’s a little different. In Beirut and other cities the remnants of the March 14 pro-democracy movement have taken to the streets in a “Day of Rage” to protest what is essentially a coup d’etat engineered by a terrorist organization, Hezbollah.
The perennial Middle East crisis known as Lebanon has entered a new phase with the fall of Sunni prime minister Saad Hariri’s government. The proximate cause of the government’s collapse was the withdrawal from Lebanon’s coalition Shiite and opposition ministers aligned with Hezbollah. They object to Hariri’s support for the U.N.-authorized Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) investigating the 2005 assassination of his father, former prime minister Rafik Hariri. It’s little wonder —the Party of God’s general secretary Hassan Nasrallah fears that the STL will soon indict members of Hezbollah.
As Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri was in Washington to meet with President Obama this morning, Hezbollah and its allies withdrew from the Lebanese cabinet, setting the table for what many fear is an inevitable escalation of violence in the eastern Mediterranean. The Obama administration promises to support Hariri, but at some point the 39-year-old prime minister needs to know what Washington really wants—whether that’s to ensure stability in Lebanon, or to gamble on the possibility of handing Hezbollah a defeat. For Hariri, his life and maybe his country depend on him getting the right answers.
Many here in the United States have been quick to dismiss the significance of the State Department cables released by WikiLeaks as little more than foreign policy gossip. Unfortunately, this is not how it’s playing in the rest of the world, particularly in the Middle East. In that conspiracy theory-rich region, nothing the Americans do is by accident.