The Political Situation in Lebanon with an Eye on What is Happening in Syria

April 11, 2011 // 12:00pm1:00pm

May Chidiac, a prominent Lebanese media and national figure, provided a firsthand account of the challenges facing Lebanese politics and the implications of unrest in Syria. She also offered her insight into the roles of Hezbollah and the United States in these two concurrent situations.

On April 11, the Middle East Program and the Lebanese Information Center hosted a meeting on "The Political Situation in Lebanon with an Eye on What is Happening in Syria," with Chidiac. Haleh Esfandiari, Director of the Middle East Program, moderated the event.

Chidiac began by briefly reviewing the 2005 Cedar Revolution in Lebanon during which Lebanese people protested against the heavily Syrian-influenced Lebanese government, demanded an inquiry into the assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, and called for political freedoms. She recalled how the movement resulted in the withdrawal of Syrian forces and created space for Lebanon's first real elections, although the movement was marked by many assassinations.

In her discussion of Hezbollah, Chidiac described the group as an extension of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps and argued that the former's main interests remain rooted in the promotion of the Iranian Revolution, not in Lebanon's national interests. She noted that Hezbollah's use of intimidation and violence are ways by which it undermines the Lebanese government and seeks to cause chaos by ensuring that UN Security Council resolutions regarding disarmament are not enforced.

Chidiac commented that the U.S. policy of rapprochement regarding Syria's President Bashar al-Assad has led to his ability to act without fear of criticism. She then spoke of the current protests against al-Assad and that his rule is now being challenged by his own people. She noted that al-Assad is no different than his father, Hafez al-Assad, because Syrian security forces have been deployed to use violence against unarmed protesters. Chidiac reviewed the list of threats that the al-Assad regime has used to detract attention from its own abuses, including the Israeli threat, the Golan Heights issue, and Western imperialism. She observed that al-Assad knows, but does not want to acknowledge, that the protests against him have nothing to do with those perceived threats, but are actually aimed at his regime.

The Cedar Revolution, Chidiac argued, now serves as an inspiration for the current uprising in Syria because Syrians have seen that they can create free and democratic change. However, Chidiac recounted al-Assad's attempts to maintain power by offering minor reforms, continuing to detain dissidents, and soliciting international support by leveraging the certainty of his regime against the uncertainty of whatever might come after him.

Chidiac closed by stating that any reduction of Syrian influence in Lebanon is welcomed and that Lebanon is at its own crossroads and must not give in to intimidation and pressure. She also commented that the United States should engage Lebanon by taking several steps: ensure enforcement of existing UN Security Council resolutions, help Syria and Lebanon enforce a border demarcation, expedite the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, urge Israel to comply with its UN Security Council obligations to respect Lebanese sovereignty, and engage and empower Lebanese civil society.

By Sara Girgis, Middle East Program

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