Democracy in Lebanon!

There seems to be an orgy of self-congratulation in the media about the arrival of democracy in Lebanon. How wonderful. It’s like the Ukraine.

Readers of this blog know the Ukraine situation was more complex than the people’s movement beating the Russian-backed authoritarian regime story declared in the West.

The situation in Lebanon seems to me to be more complex still.

I want to call your attention to a piece by Ghassan Makarem that you might have seen. That supplies some needed context.


There seems to be an orgy of self-congratulation in the media about the arrival of democracy in Lebanon. How wonderful. It’s like the Ukraine.

Readers of this blog know the Ukraine situation was more complex than the people’s movement beating the Russian-backed authoritarian regime story declared in the West.

The situation in Lebanon seems to me to be more complex still.

I want to call your attention to a piece by Ghassan Makarem that you might have seen. That supplies some needed context.

Here is some more, to counter the story in the west, which is that an outpouring of democratic fervor after the assassination of Hariri has led to the defeat of the Syrian authoritarian regime.

First, no denying that Syria controls events in Lebanon and that its military presence there is substantial. But everyone – even the left writers I’ve been reading – seems to ignore Israel in all this. Which strikes me as odd, since Syria’s entry into Lebanon was in the context of Israel’s war in that country. Remember that war? I think it was called Operation ‘Peace for Galilee’? Remember the Sabra and Shatila massacres? Remember the Israelis bombing Beirut?

And how and under what circumstances did Israel leave Lebanon? A major factor was the armed resistance of Hizbollah, which is now a legitimate political party in Lebanon with a lot of support in poor Shia communities. Hizbollah has support from Syria and Iran, and that fact is something that Israel in particular has never liked. Hizbollah has long been an inspiration to the Palestinian resistance in the Occupied Territories and some have pointed out that the second intifada was born out of desperation with the farce of the Oslo accords but also inspiration from the example of Hizbollah.

Canada’s national newspaper the Globe and Mail’s editorial on the topic made a cold war analogy, in which they said that the flowering of democracy in the Middle East (implication being thanks to the American invasion and occupation of and mass murder in Iraq) could be like the ‘Arab 1989’. Well there is one sense in which that analogy does apply – the USSR’s control of the countries to the west of it was brutal and authoritarian and, like Syria, motivated by the fear of being invaded by powerful neighbours – Western Europe for Russia, Israel for Syria. Of course this kind of geopolitical ‘buffer state’ thinking does nothing for the people who live in the buffer states other than make them pawns and their lives miserable. But being able to see that a state has a security concern is important.

Syria’s conflict with Israel is not just over or in Lebanon. Israel is occupying part of Syria: the Golan Heights, which it took in the 1967 war at the same time that it took Gaza, the West Bank, and the Sinai. After the potential destruction of the world, it gave back the Sinai. It continues to hold the rest, and it wants Syria to give up its claim on the Golan.

It would be silly to think that given the relationship between Israel and the US that some of the pressure that the US has been applying since even before the Iraq invasion has to do with the wishes of its ally Israel to humiliate Syria. If Syria is forced out of Lebanon, it is hard to see how Lebanon won’t fall back under Israel/US influence. Such a regime would be in a good position to put the squeeze on Hizbollah – forcing them to disarm first, maybe taking away their status as a political party. Maybe re-start the civil war. Maybe provide a pretext for another intervention. There are plenty of options. And you can ask the Palestinians in the refugee camps, or in the occupied territories, how much of a flowering of democracy this all is. Puts a damper on the Globe and Mail’s vaunted ‘Arab 1989’. But then again, there are some who believe the world has gotten more dangerous and more unequal since 1989 too.

[I owe a lot of these thoughts to Rafeef Ziadah, though I’d have to take blame if it’s due for anything].

Justin Podur

Author: Justin Podur

Author of Siegebreakers. Ecology. Environmental Science. Political Science. Anti-imperialism. Political fiction. Teach at York U's FES. Author. Writer at ZNet, TeleSUR, AlterNet, Ricochet, and the Independent Media Institute.

One thought on “Democracy in Lebanon!”

  1. Did you see the cover of the
    Did you see the cover of the “National Post” after the Lebanese government left office?

    It read “Power to the People.”

    Inside it had a whole photo essay topped by the headline “You Say You Want a Revolution.”

    I think you can predict what “revolutions” were celebrated.

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