- The Washington Times - Monday, February 28, 2005

The Lebanese are launching a velvet revolution in a region where bare-knuckled revolutions have not traditionally been padded with velvet. The people of Lebanon have exhibited remarkable courage and power in bringing down the puppet government in Beirut, whose strings were held by the repressive regime of Damascus.

Yesterday, Lebanon’s Prime Minister Omar Karami announced his government’s dramatic resignation as more than 25,000 demonstrators defied a government ban on protests, flooding the streets in Beirut in opposition to the government, Syrian occupation and the Feb. 14 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The protesters gave red roses to soldiers and police, who by and large allowed the demonstrations to proceed. “Syria out!” yelled the flag-waving protesters.

Remarkably, Mr. Karami, who had in effect taken his orders from Damascus, said, “Out of concern that the government does not become an obstacle to the good of the country, I announce the resignation of the government I had the honor to lead.” Lebanon’s democratic traditions and prosperity before the outbreak of civil war in 1975 bodes well for the country’s future.

Mr. Karami’s cabinet will apparently continue on as a caretaker government. If parliamentary elections are not held ahead of the scheduled May vote, Lebanon’s pro-Syrian president, Emile Lahoud, will appoint a prime minister. That prime minister can be subjected to a vote of no-confidence in parliament.

The turn of events in Lebanon are significant in and of themselves, but they also build on democracy’s march in the region. This weeknd, Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak announced constitutional reform allowing a presidential election, though the details are unclear. The government may only allow candidates from officially registered political parties to run, which would eliminate many prominent opposition figures. Also, the tightly controlled media will likely continue to strictly limit the public debate. Still, a vote would represent considerable improvement over the “referendums” that Mr. Mubarak has held in the past to try to legitimize his 24-year rule. Egypt’s announcement follows the democratic elections in Afghanistan and Iraq, and by Palestinians.

Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, is holding municipal elections and the country’s foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, said Sunday the government may allow women to vote in future elections. The ongoing municipal elections could grant marginalized Shi’ites a degree of local power in that country.

These advancements demonstrate that President Bush’s firm support of democracy is showing tangible results, despite considerable obstacles. Mr. Bush had specifically called on both Egypt and Saudi Arabia to lead democratic reform in the region by example. The president’s strategy is beginning to look more than merely plausible, even to some of his sharpest critics. We support the president’s Middle Eastern democracy project because the status quo has been the primary cause of the current plague of global terrorism — and because we have not heard proposed a more plausible method to end that still growing, mortal threat.

But we are also mindful that should full representative governments emerge in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and elsewhere in those troubled lands, there is no certainty that they will behave consistent with our national security interests. The administration should make at least as much effort to shape the attitudes of those future democracies, as it is making to bring them into being in the first place. Betting on democracies is the best bet available — but it is not a sure bet.

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