Saturday, June 25, 2011
By Walid Choucair
There are many ironies at play in Lebanon, a country of ironies to begin with.
These ironies are becoming more apparent, and this is made easier by the intersection between the crisis in the region, and particularly Syria, and the fluctuations in the domestic situation in Lebanon, between the government and the opposition, which is open to all possibilities.
In the country of ironies, a leading member of the new majority finds no embarrassment in threatening the leading member in the new opposition with putting him and his allies in prison. This coincides with the sponsor of this majority and its regional ally, Syrian President Bashar Assad, issuing a general amnesty as the result of advice from countries that are maintaining a non-hostile position on the Syrian regime. They advised him of the necessity of releasing opposition figures from prisons, while calls are mounting by Arab and non-Arab countries, made openly and implicitly, to halt the crackdown and pull the security forces, the army, and the Shabbiha gangs from the street.
Even if the Syrian opposition considered the amnesty for crimes committed before 20 June 2011 insufficient, or a type of maneuver, as a way of hinting that Damascus was responding to the Western and Arab calls to halt violence and head toward dialogue, the leaders in the coalition making up the government of Najib Miqati in Lebanon see no reason for any maneuvering in their confrontation with their local rivals. They are not interested in giving any consideration to the stance of the international community, or the Arab states, and find no embarrassment in declaring their intention to confront their opponents, to the end.
If Assad is serious and carries out what he has committed himself to, based on what various Syrian officials have said, namely being more lenient with the Syrian opposition, then the hard-line stance by Syria's allies in Beirut against their opponents, and the escalation of the confrontation instead of moving toward dialogue, emphasizes this irony as well. The two developments, in any case, do not go together, but rather contradict each other. If the crisis in Syria and the fear of threats to the country's stability necessitate a cooling-off in Lebanon, in view of the need to reduce the repercussions of this crisis for the domestic situation in Lebanon, what is the interest in seeing the new majority, or some members of it, declare this escalation?
Another irony is the following: How can one reconcile the statement by Syria's foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem, that "we'll forget that Europe is on the map," with the efforts by the Lebanese prime minister, a close friend of the Syrian leadership, to prove his commitment to the best possible relations with the West, and his attempt to find a formula that satisfies the European Union, whose ambassadors asked the other day that "the Special Tribunal for Lebanon continue its work without obstacles, and in cooperation with the Lebanese authorities"?
If the new government must observe the requirements of the Syrian confrontation with Europe, can it forget the 220 million Euros that the EU provides to Lebanon in the form of loans and grants, while Syria suspends political geography, and while Miqati is making efforts to secure the cooperation of Europe and the US, out of a fear that Lebanon will be isolated?
Will the ironies in Lebanon lead to scenarios that resemble what is taking place in several Arab countries, among them Syria, namely seeing demonstrations led by the opposition? Such demonstrations protest what the leader of the Change and Reform Bloc, General Michel Aoun, looks set to obtain, by threatening imprisonment or exclusion, and this would lead to an "uprising," not against the regime, as in Syria and other countries, but against the government and the forces holding power. What would happen if this scenario included the decision, by those who can make such a decision, to adopt a method of bloody confrontations that are taking place in several Arab countries, against protestors? This would be repeated in a country that prides itself on having no need for a revolution for freedom and democracy, as it has a pluralistic regime and already enjoys a considerable degree of freedom.
Logically, the opposition would not stand by idly if it is targeted.
If these ironies and scenarios indicate anything, it is this: It is not necessarily true that Lebanon can rest assured that it is isolated from the repercussions of the ongoing Arab uprisings and the political, security and popular unrest, because it has a different type of regime. This resting assured is opposed by some groups' desire to move backward, by exercising power in a way that is at odds with the country's particular characteristics. In this case, Lebanon's acceptable level of democracy and high level of freedom, compared to its neighbors, expose the country to violations by domestic leaders who are attracted to these neighbors, instead of being a part of Lebanon's fabric.
The Lebanese ironies and scenarios they generate might find an outlet in the new government, as a compensation for scenarios that involve the street, and they might bring down the coalition that causes them, if the same excesses continue.
This commentary was published in al-Hayat on 24/06/2011