Syria comes to terms with the `Cedar Revolution'

The Independent - United Kingdom;
Mar 02, 2005

Robert Fisk Middle East Correspondent


THEY SLEPT in tents. They slept on the pavements last night. Lebanon
is cold in winter. Not as cold as Ukraine but the frost that has lain
over Lebanon these past 29 years is without temperature. Never has the
red, white and green Lebanese flag been used as so poignant a symbol
of unity. Only a few hundred metres away from the encampment, Rafik
Hariri was killed. And so, the Lebanese are supposed to believe, the
murder of the former prime minister has unleashed the "Cedars
Revolution". The cedar tree stands at the centre of the Lebanese flag.

With the resignation of the pro-Syrian Lebanese government, the
equally pro-Syrian president Emile Lahoud was looking last night for a
"caretaker" government - without much success. Hariri's sister Bahiya,
an MP in Sidon, was not interested in being Lebanon's first woman
prime minister, and the elderly Rashid el-Solh didn't want the job,
despite his Lebanese aristocratic origins. The dearth of contenders
showed how tragic the Lebanese body politic has become.

It is still not clear whether the rubric "Cedars Revolution" started
in Beirut or in the mouth of a US State Department spokesman but its
implications are still clear enough: the Syrian army must go and -
more important - the Syrian army's intelligence service must leave
Lebanon.

Hence everyone is waiting to see if a "caretaker" government will care
for Lebanon or for Syria, whose protege, General Lahoud, is now the
lonely man in the Baabda presidential palace in the hills above
Beirut.

Today, the "opposition" - Christian Maronites, Sunni Muslims and Druze
though not, to be frank, many Shia Muslims - will gather at the palace
of the Jumblatt family in the Chouf mountains at Mukhtara where Walid
Jumblatt, the new would-be tiger of Lebanese freedom, has ensconced
himself for his own protection. No recent member of the Jumblatt
family has died in his bed, indeed, it was Walid's claim that the
Syrian Baathists murdered his father, Kamal ,in 1977 that set off this
unprecedented revolution in the Arab world.

The Lebanese people, according to Walid Jumblatt, have struck down the
Syrian-sponsored Lebanese government. The Lebanese people want the
truth: Who killed Rafik Hariri?

"One voice .... one flag ...'' Mr Jumblatt said yesterday. He wanted
"the removal of foreign elements (sic) from Lebanon'' and the end of
"foreign interference'' in Lebanese affairs.

But neither Walid Jumblatt nor the Lebanese are naive. They know US
support for Lebanese "democracy'' is fuelled by Washington's anger at
Syria's alleged support for the insurgency against US troops in Iraq.

Mr Jumblatt himself showed his own feelings about the US involvement
in Iraq when he said last year that he wished a mortar fired at the
hotel in which US Assistant Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz was
staying in Baghdad had hit Wolfowitz himself.

That remark cost Jumblatt a US visa. Mr Bush wants Hizbollah
guerrillas to disarm. So do the Israelis. Indeed, the Israelis want
the Syrian army and intelligence service to leave Lebanon.

So the Lebanese opposition are demanding the very same goals as the
Israelis. But Mr Jumblatt wants to protect Hizbollah - which finally
drove the Israeli army out of Lebanon in 2000: "We've got to engage
with Hizbollah,'' he said yesterday. "They are Lebanese.'' And he also
sent a message to Damascus: "We should speak frankly to the
Syrians. We want them to leave Lebanon. But we want good relations
with the Syrians.''

But here lies the problem. Syria will always be Lebanon's larger Arab
neighbour. Its Muslims and Christians live together today on the
scales of a dark negative. The Christians will not demand control of a
country if the Muslims do not claim to be part of an "Arab
nation". But if a `liberated' Lebanon - a la Washington - declared
itself for "the West", then the country could fall apart; as it did in
the 1975-1990 civil war.

It is tempting for the Lebanese camping on "Liberation Square" as they
call it, to believe they are part of a great movement for
democracy. But Lebanon has always been betrayed by foreign
cheerleaders.

Last night, even Selim el-Hoss, many times a former prime minister and
one of the few truly honest politicians in Lebanon, made it known he
did not want to lead a caretaker government. So here's a question that
no one asks too directly in Lebanon: What is the future of Rustum
Ghazali?

"Amu Rustum" is the head of Syrian military intelligence in Lebanon -
he lives in the largely Armenian town of Aanjar in the Bekaa Valley
and has remained silent these past three weeks, even though President
Bashar Assad of Syria has condemned Rafik Hariri's murder.

It would be good to hear from "Amu Rustum". Mr Hariri, in the months
before his death, received an abusive phone call from General Ghazali.

What was said?

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress