Monday, March 14, 2005

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Calling and raising Hezbollah

Last week I said that the re-appointment of Lebanese PM Omar Karami would trigger more protests. It turns out that was a mild understatement. The Associated Press reports that the anti-Syrian proestors in Lebanon have responded to the reappointment -- and Hezbollah's pro-Syrian rally from last week, which was undoubtedly a factor in Lebanese President Emile Lahoud's decision to reappoint Karami -- with the largest demonstration of people power yet:

Hundreds of thousands of opposition demonstrators chanted “Freedom, sovereignty, independence” and unfurled a huge Lebanese flag in Beirut on Monday, the biggest protest yet in the opposition’s duel of street rallies with supporters of the Damascus-backed government.

Crowds of men, women and children flooded Martyrs Square, spilling over into nearby streets, while more from across the country packed the roads into Beirut — responding to an opposition call to demonstrate for the removal of Syrian troops from Lebanon.

“We are coming to liberate our country. We are coming to demand the truth,” said Fatma Trad, a veiled Sunni Muslim woman who traveled from the remote region of Dinniyeh in northern Lebanon to take part....

Monday’s protest easily topped a pro-government rally of hundreds of thousands of people last week by the Shiite Muslim militant group Hezbollah. That show of strength forced the opposition to try to regain its momentum.

Publius Pundit has much, much more on this.

UPDATE: Neil MacFarquar reports on the protest for the New York Times. The telling section:

The most notable element in the rally was that it did represent a broad cross section of Lebanese from all around the country.

"They can say that they represent a wide spectrum of Lebanese factions, including some Shiites, and they have been able to bring the Sunnis into the streets, which is not easy," said Ghassan Salame, a former minister of culture and political science professor, speaking by telephone from Paris. "They have an upward momentum now after a week that was full of uncertainty." ....

"This will counterbalance last Tuesday, and now we can sit and talk," said Mazen al-Zain, a 30-year-old financial analyst, noting that he himself was a member of an illustrious Shiite clan from southern Lebanon. "What is really important after today's gathering is that we all sit down at the same table."

posted by Dan on 03.14.05 at 11:40 AM


The good thing is that this keeps pressure on Syria to avoid backsliding. There are also reports that there were Sunni Muslims at the rally, which is a good thing.

Yet, I would suggest that further mass demonstrations by either Hezbollah or even the opposition should be avoided unless there is an attempt to cancel/postpone the elections or unless Syria attempts to avoid pulling out. Mass demonstrations in a country as divided as Lebanon can lead to violence and that would be bad, also its probably hurting the country's economy.

posted by: erg on 03.14.05 at 11:40 AM [permalink]

"This will counterbalance last Tuesday, and now we can sit and talk,"

The New York Times has a quote from a demonstrator today. That is probably the best way to proceed. Hezbollah will start losing its popularity if it follows a pro-Syrian line, the opposition may see old wounds reignited if it tries to force disarmament on Hezbollah.

The opposition parties are finally showing some organzitational ability --- maybe they can even match HEzbollah's turnout machine.

posted by: Josh on 03.14.05 at 11:40 AM [permalink]

All I can say is that it is pretty much unprecidented in the region for so much political back and forth without somebody getting shot. Jaw-jaw is better than war-war.

posted by: Mark Buehner on 03.14.05 at 11:40 AM [permalink]

Interesting as these developments are, one big question is being overlooked : who killed Harriri ? Syria must remain the prime suspect, but I'm sure there are others.

None of the opposition had much time for Harriri when he was alive. Its certainly possible that another group was involved.

There must be an indepedent inquiry into this -- not influenced by Syria, not by opposition parties.

posted by: Marshall on 03.14.05 at 11:40 AM [permalink]


Robert Fisk (yes, I am considering the source) says the UN has conducted an inquiry, and is concluding that Lebanese and Syrian intelligence services are conducting a massive cover up.

As an aside, has anyone seen a time when Fisk, France, Saudi Arabia, the US have all lined up together on the side of Democracy? Wow!

posted by: Appalled Moderate on 03.14.05 at 11:40 AM [permalink]

erg -- It must be noted that the Sunnis have been heavily involved in the protests since the beginning, along with the Druze and Christians. The Shiites were the ones who mainly went to the Hizb'allah rally, though we now know that about half of those protestors were bussed in from Syria, UN Palestinian refugee camps, and consisted of illegal Syrian workers.

posted by: Robert Mayer on 03.14.05 at 11:40 AM [permalink]

Saudi Arabia is not lined up for democracy. They're just ticked off that Hariri (who had Saudi nationality) was killed. France is also probably ticked off because Hariri was a friend of Chirac's. As for the US. my cynicism leads me to believe that the US would be less enthuasistic if the pragmatic case for pressuring Syria was not so high.

Fisk's comments are interesting. I always classified him as a wacko anti-American type, but he may have enough journalistic enthuasism to be interested in a big story like this. If true, it would put great pressure on Hezbollah to renounace Syria.

Syria really should have taken a lesson from the Ukraine -- even a well-laid plot like poisoning is likely to come out, let alone a ham-handed attack like this.

posted by: Marshall on 03.14.05 at 11:40 AM [permalink]

Though we now know that about half of those protestors were bussed in from Syria, UN Palestinian refugee camps, and consisted of illegal Syrian workers.

Where we do know this from ? There may have been some people from those groups, but we know that Hezbollah has a well-oiled machine in Lebanon, we know it has widespread support in the Shia area, and we know the Shia are far more distrustful of Israel than Syria (the result of the Israeli military occupation till 2000). It doesn't seem suprising to me that Hezbollah could turn out that many people, given that it has turned out more people in the past several times. Refering to vague conspiracy theories on the demonstration is unnecessary.

Similarly, we know the opposition has wide support for its demand that Syria leave, what they lacked was the organizational strength of Hezbollah. They demonstrated organization today to back up their popular support.

posted by: josh on 03.14.05 at 11:40 AM [permalink]

Speaking of organization, I heard on the BBC that Hariri's media outlets were instrumental in getting people to the rally just as Al Manar (Hezbollah TV) did the same for it.

And yes, a time when people are simply demonstrating (peacefully !!) is a vast improvement over fighting.

posted by: Marshall on 03.14.05 at 11:40 AM [permalink]

The new opposition demonstrations was indeed very impressive but a couple of points are in order:

Opinion polls indicate that the Lebanese are seriously divided about what's happening. Here (via Abu Aardvark) is a post by Asa'd AbuKhalil about a recent Lebanese poll:
The poll indicates that the Sunnis are evenly split about the opposition and overwhelmingly opposed to disarming Hezbollah. The Sunnis hold the demographic balance between Shia and the Christian/Druze. It was interesting that the latest demonstrations had a significant Sunni presence but there are probably many Sunni who would be ready to march in any counter-demonstration as well.

Secondly the Syrian presence isn't the only thing impeding Lebanese democracy. Also important is the gerrymandered Lebanese electoral system which benefits the Christians at the expense of the Shia. What happens if Hezbollah and Amal start demonstrating for genuine democracy and a larger share of power for the Shia? That is the irony of the situation. The supposedly "pro-democracy" demonstrators represent factions which benefit from the undemocratic features of the Lebanese constitution.

posted by: Strategist on 03.14.05 at 11:40 AM [permalink]

My calculation: Assuming a 35% increase over the demonstration from the previous week, and assuming this were to continue at the same rate every week, in 30 weeks, the entire world will be demonstrating.

posted by: erg on 03.14.05 at 11:40 AM [permalink]

have any of you ever been to lebanon? or to any arab country, for that matter?

you know, it is really strange to read people saying the exact same thing they read on the news. if you had any experience in the middle east you would know how out of touch most of these comments sound.

for god's sake, the world is not black and white. if individual people have flexible opinions, what makes you think that entire movements do not? that entire nations do not? I am sure lebanon is divided, but there are not along the lines that CNN or FOX keep saying. it is not good vs. evil... You know, Hizbollah called for syria to leave Lebanon too.

as for fisk's article, if you read it, he never said that syria was involved in the murder of hariri, but that they moved cars from the scene. which seems pretty normal, and does not prove they were involved. and, mind you, he is one of the most respected, honest journalists in the world today. with experience coming out of his ears.

posted by: honestly speaking on 03.14.05 at 11:40 AM [permalink]

The illegal occupation of Lebanon by the Syrians has long been ignored by the world. They are now getting their day to determine their own destiny. Let's hope their march toward freedom is relatively bloodless. Good Lebanon.

posted by: Ryan Scott on 03.14.05 at 11:40 AM [permalink]

Robert Fisk... most respected... 9 out of 10 Afghan refugees don't agree...

If American troops actually do go to Lebanon for whatever reason, there's a 50-50 chance he'll print that they accidently landed on Cyprus.

posted by: Cutler on 03.14.05 at 11:40 AM [permalink]

9 out of 10 afghan refugees can't read a word, let alone english. or have even heard or fisk.

60% of americans think bush was appointed by god.

what difference does popular opinion make? popular opinion can be wrong.

but follow his record and read what he says, you might disagree with his opinions, but you can't deny he knows what he is talking about.

though, you know, neocons, they are always right!

posted by: honestly speaking on 03.14.05 at 11:40 AM [permalink]

oh, and israel's illegal occupation of the golan has been completely ignored by the world. it is high time that they leave.

and of course, if we are in the mood for ending occupations, i agree that syria should go. but too, the palestinians have a right to be free, and so do the iraqis. i guess that everyone should go home.

and end the double standard of being an occupying power calling for other occupations to end.

posted by: honestly speaking on 03.14.05 at 11:40 AM [permalink]

oh, and an article:

Lebanon, As Complex As Ever
By Dr. James Zogby | Morocco TIMES 3/11/2005

The continuing signs of ferment in evidence in the streets of Beirut are being heralded in the US as signs that “another Middle East domino is falling.” The Bush Administration has been quick to latch on to the demonstrations as a validation of the President's democracy campaign.

But as horrific as the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri was and as inspiring as the mass mobilization of the “Cedar Revolution” has been, the demonstrations don't tell the whole story of what is happening in Lebanon today. A recent poll of 1,250 Lebanese, representing all religious groupings in the country, establishes that while an emerging consensus exists on some questions, on several key issues a deep sectarian divide still plagues the country. And these issues must be tended to if Lebanon's unity and internal security are to be insured. The poll was conducted during the last week in February 2005 by a Lebanese polling firm, Information International, in conjunction with Zogby International.

First, the good news. Hariri, who was large in life, has achieved icon-like status in death. Substantial majorities of Lebanese from every group have been “angered,” “sad,” or “shocked” by his killing. Large groups from each of Lebanon's communities also now say that even though they previously did not support Hariri's “vision for Lebanon,” they now do so and will even now vote for candidates who are “close to former Prime Minister Hariri” in the upcoming parliamentary elections. Speaking of the upcoming elections, three-quarters of all Lebanese want them to proceed as scheduled.

Most Lebanese polled also believe that the assassination will strengthen the opposition and bring about the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1559. And more than 50% in each group say that the US and international reaction to the killing has had more to do with US enmity toward Syria than with support for Lebanon, per se.

This appears to be where the consensus ends.

On the critical matter of who they hold responsible for the assassination, there is a deep division. About one-half of Maronites and Druze feel that either Lebanese or Syrian authorities were involved. On the other hand, only 14% of Shiite Lebanese point their accusing finger in that direction, while more than 70% claim that either Israel or the United States were involved. Hariri's own Sunni community and Orthodox Christians are divided, with equal numbers pointing to Syria/Lebanon and US/Israel as the suspected culprit.

This may be where the division begins, but it extends into other areas as well. For example, while almost two in five Maronites and Druze believe that the assassination will lead to a Syrian withdrawal, only 7% of Shiites agree. Almost 60% of Shiites, on the other hand, now worry that in the wake of this assassination measures will be taken that will result in a deterioration of the Lebanese security situation, an attitude shared by only about 15% of Maronites and Druze.

How best now to proceed with securing Lebanon? Only Maronites see a Syrian withdrawal as key with one-half agreeing with this as the solution. About one-third of Shiites and Sunnis and less than one-fourth of Orthodox agree. Many Lebanese, in particular Orthodox, Sunnis and Shiites, see the solution to Lebanon's security in “reinforcement and deployment of the Lebanese army and security forces all over Lebanon.” And while 60% of Druze see the disarming of Lebanon's militias as necessary for the country's future, only about one in seven Maronites, Orthodox, and Sunni agree. Not surprisingly, only 5% of Shiites agree, since the “disarming" provision of UNSC 1559 specifically has Hizbollah in mind.

The lesson in all of this is that as important as the demonstrations may be, those not demonstrating and their views must be factored by policy makers into the complex equation of how to move Lebanon forward.

While it has become clear that the Syrian military presence in Lebanon has run its course, a Syrian withdrawal by itself doesn't solve the Lebanon puzzle. Intense US pressure to implement the other half of 1559 may provoke counter demonstrations that fragile Lebanon may not be able to easily digest.

A cautionary note: before we begin celebrating falling dominos and claiming credit for them, it is important to know where they might fall and what might come after they land.

posted by: honestly speaking on 03.14.05 at 11:40 AM [permalink]


Fisk's article is here. It's long on speculation, a touch short on hard news. If it wasn't Fisk -- who has good sources, the trust of the locals, and no pro-American bias -- I wouldn't think much of the story.

But the story clearly states the UN report indicates the Lebanese security forces are covering up the truth, and that relatives of Hariri have been told that the report may implicate high levels in the current Lebanese and Syrian governments. By the evidence of the photograph, it also throws into question the official cover story -- that the assassination was a suicide bombing, and instead implies that the assassination was a carefully plotted attack.

What is happening in Lebanon? Really, I don't think I know. It smells to me like the educated elite has had enough of the Syrians, and are working to throw them out. Generally, revolutions in the West have occurred when this type of event happens, regardless of what the lower classes believe. In this case, the polling, while instructive, may not determine what actually happens.

One last thought -- Lebanon may prove an inspiration to the elites of Iraq, both in confronting the Sunni insurgents, and in uniting to persuade the US to go home. It is a possible outcome and one that has some justice in it.

posted by: Appalled Moderate on 03.14.05 at 11:40 AM [permalink]

It smells to me like the educated elite has had enough of the Syrians, and are working to throw them out. Generally, revolutions in the West have occurred when this type of event happens,
regardless of what the lower classes believe.

Well, 800 K people in the march (not the 1.2 million plus figure, that is as absurd as Hezbollah's 1 million figure) is a lot of people to be just the educated elite, although the educated elite are a big part of Lebanon.

In this case, the polling, while instructive, may not determine what actually happens.

Lebanon also needs to fix its gerrymandered political system in the near future so that groups get votes in accordance with their population.

One last thought -- Lebanon may prove an inspiration to the elites of Iraq, both in confronting the Sunni insurgents, and in uniting to persuade the US to go home.

I'm not sure how. Hezbollah is a well-organized political group and can be dealt with political in a way the Sunni insurgents probably cannot be.

In terms of persuading the US to go home, it would be practically impossible for the US to stay in Iraq the moment Sistani or someone else asked us to leave. Because Iraq has a great deal of oil wealth, Iraqi politicans are more independent of the US.

posted by: erg on 03.14.05 at 11:40 AM [permalink]

Spengler on the spectre of illiberal democracy and Lebanese civil war that has the potential to envelop Iraq...

The beast that slouches toward democracy

Civil war in either Lebanon or Iraq might turn into a single conflict, given the Islamist parties' theological and Iran-centered political connections. Nasrullah's control of facts on the ground leaves Washington in apparent Zugzwang, a position in which a chess player is compelled to move, and any move loses. That is why Washington is talking out of both sides of its mouth about Hezbollah. Steven R Weisman quoted an unnamed US official in the March 10 New York Times to the effect that Washington was willing to accept Hezbollah into the Lebanese mainstream: "Hezbollah has American blood on its hands. They are in the same category as al-Qaeda. The administration has an absolute aversion to admitting that Hezbollah has a role to play in Lebanon, but that is the path we're going down."

...and an FT editorial:

A catastrophic strategy for Syria

With Hariri's killing, that scenario for action goes like this: Syria is a big source and supporter of terror and Mr Assad is an evil ruler presiding over an evil state. Syria has now promised to abide by United Nations resolutions and withdraw its forces from Lebanon where they have been stationed since 1976. And in this view, Syria possesses weapons of mass destruction both of its own making and some smuggled in from Iraq before the war. And, in addition to supporting Hizbollah's terror against Israel, it has murdered Hariri, or at least been complicit in it. Proof will follow.
What happens next if this line of reasoning prevails? First, the US, with the international community behind it, will insist Mr Assad lives up to his promises. Syria must also end its support of the insurgency in Iraq and terror in Israel. The expectation is that Syria will find these last demands unacceptable. Sanctions would then be imposed. If there is no backing down and the insurgency in Iraq continues, the US can use the military option. Bye bye Mr Assad.
The logical arguments against this course of action are overwhelming. Aside from an absence of legitimate reasons for war, the situation in Iraq makes taking on another enemy at this stage awkward since American forces are already heavily committed. Given Saudi Arabia's support for Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon, diplomacy is working. An attack against Syria would reverse this very positive movement and probably turn the region against us.
Proponents of intervention disagree. In their view, attacking Syria would end the insurgency in Iraq far sooner by eliminating the base. Iraqis could more quickly assume responsibility for their own security, freeing up US forces. The Syrian army would be defeated in days. Mr Assad would fall. After a short occupation, US forces could keep heading west back to the states with a relatively small residual force remaining in Iraq and Syria. Arab and Muslim troops might be brought in to help Syria's reconstruction.
That this argument proved influential once before, in relation to Iraq, suggests that force could be used again. Forcible democratisation as a solution to the intractable problems of the Middle East still has to carry the day in Iraq, though it might well. But war, not jaw, in relation to Syria would be a tragic if not catastrophic blunder.

Assad's choice

Washington has meanwhile wisely joined the international consensus on Hizbollah: that it is part of the fabric of Lebanon and possibly of a future, legitimately elected government. Now Hizbollah too needs to make up its mind. Is it a national force, part of the solution to Lebanon's political reconstruction? Or does it covet more its ultimately vainglorious role as a regional Islamist vanguard: part of the problem? Now is when it has to choose.

Spengler notes that Hizbollah has strong ties with Iraq's Shi'ites, in partiular with the Da'wa: "Regionally, the group has close religious ties to Iraq's new Shi'ite-dominated government, which makes threatening it risky - Nasrullah studied in Najaf with many of the Da'wa Party's clerics." So it looks like not only are they part of the problem, they have leverage and can dictate terms...

posted by: al on 03.14.05 at 11:40 AM [permalink]

I thought liberals were the only ones to believe in pluralism?

posted by: NeoDude on 03.14.05 at 11:40 AM [permalink]

The "great" Robert Fisk.

In reality a hack anti-American moonbat, precisely why the left loves him.

posted by: Cutler on 03.14.05 at 11:40 AM [permalink]

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