- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 1, 2005

The dramatic political uprising in Lebanon and subsequent resignation of the country’s prime minister has put some opinion makers in the Middle East in a quandary. Many Arab nationalist are wont to give unwavering support to countries’ sovereignty, even in the face of governments’ egregious human rights abuses. There is also a professed respect for the general will of the people. Those two considerations should put scholars, columnists and others squarely in the camp of the Lebanese opposition — creating a convergence of thought between the U.S. government and opinion-makers in the Middle East. Lebanon’s opposition, after all, is calling for the withdrawal of foreign (specifically Syrian) troops and has been supported by massive demonstrations in Beirut.

There is also, however, a strong (and probably stronger) impulse to oppose U.S. influence in the region, even if that U.S. role is in keeping with other considerations and values. Also, any development that could be seen to benefit Israel at the expense of Palestinians is viewed with the utmost skepticism. Those considerations have put many opinion-makers into rhetorical contortions.

The Lebanese media, which is notably free from government interference, has been enthusiastically supportive of the people’s resistance to Syrian troops and virtual occupation. The Israeli press, unsurprisingly, has as well. In the rest of the Mideast, there has been a spectrum of opinion, with many writers expressing concern over the possibility that upheaval in Lebanon could create an opening for greater U.S. influence in the region and the loss of a base for Palestinian “resistance” or terrorism.

The London-based daily al Hayat called for a prompt Lebanese-Syrian agreement to prevent other actors (mainly American) from playing a more active future role in an unstable Lebanon and beleaguered Syria. “If a settlement is reached, it will make U.S. pressure unjustified and will stop some from claiming the U.N. Security Council liberation of Lebanon from Syria. On the contrary, if Syria affirms that Shabaa farms belong to Lebanon, this will give the right to the Arab world to call for an Israeli withdrawal from the area in accordance with resolution 1559, which stipulates the pull-out of foreign forces.”

A column by Mounzer Sleiman featured on Al-Jazeera’s Web site goes a step further, and takes direct aim at Lebanon’s opposition: “A loose coalition of former warlords, marginalised [sic] former officials and aspiring opportunists are maneuvering to be considered candidates for parliament seats in the upcoming election. They have no common ground except to use what they perceive to be ‘favourable [sic] international winds’ to sail the fragile Lebanese ship towards a confrontation with Syria.”

To a large degree, though, the events in Lebanon, which have been widely broadcast all over the region by Arabic stations, speak for themselves. Satellite television stations Al-Jazeera (based in Qatar) and al-Arabiya (Saudi owned and Dubai-based) covered the resignation of Lebanon’s prime minister live. In addition, al-Arabiya televised an interview with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in which he called for the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon. Al-Arabiya subsequently said that, following that interview, some of its staff members in Beirut were threatened and the Syrian state-run newspaper Tishrin ran a front-page article denouncing the station.

The coverage of Lebanese events is bringing a home-grown Middle Eastern revolution to the homes of millions across the region. It is also exposing some of the ugly forces behind Lebanon’s repression. Those images are worth more than 1,000 painfully contrived words.

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