Hundreds Of Thousands Of Shiites Stage

Hundreds of Thousands of Shiites Stage Pro-Syrian Demonstration in Beirut

Hizbullah’s call for a huge pro-Syrian demonstration in Beirut was answered by hundreds of thousands of protesters on Tuesday. The largely Shiite crowds were huge compared to the smaller anti-Syrian demonstrations held for the past week.

The anti-Syrian protesters had mostly been Christians, with some Druze and Sunnis. But Lebanon is probably only now 20 percent Maronite Christian (the most anti-Syrian group), and may be as much as 40 percent Shiite.

The simplistic master narrative constructed by the partisans of President George W. Bush held that the January 30 elections were a huge success, and signalled a turn to democracy in the Middle East. Then the anti-Syrian demonstrations were interpreted as a yearning for democracy inspired by the Iraqi elections.

This interpretation is a gross misunderstanding of the situation in the Middle East. Bush is not pushing with any real force for democratization of Saudi Arabia (an absolute monarchy) or Pakistan (where the elected parliament demands in vain that General Pervez Musharraf take off his uniform if he wants to be president), or Tunisia (where Zayn Ben Ali has just won his 4th unopposed term as president), etc. Democratization is being pushed only for regimes that Bush dislikes, such as Syria or Iran. The gestures that Mubarak of Egypt made (officially recognized parties may put up candidates to run against him, but not popular political forces like the Muslim Brotherhood) are empty.

In fact the Jan. 30 Iraqi elections were deeply flawed. 42 percent of the electorate did not show up. The elections could only be held by locking down the country for 3 days, forbidding all vehicular traffic to stop car bombings. The electorate had no idea for whom they were voting, since the candidates’ names were secret until the last moment. The Sunni Arabs boycotted or were prevented from voting by the ongoing guerrilla war, which started right back up after the ban on traffic lapsed.

The Lebanese have been having often lively parliamentary election campaigns for decades. The idea that the urbane and sophisticated Beirutis had anything to learn from the Jan. 30 process in Iraq is absurd on the face of it. Elections were already scheduled in Lebanon for later this spring.

Moreover, the anti-Syrian protests were not a signal that the Lebanese wanted to be like American-occupied Iraq. They were a signal that the Druze, Maronites and a section of the Sunnis had agreed to try to push Syria out. It was the US who had invited Syria into Lebanon in 1976. And it was a sign that Lebanon is still deeply divided, since the Shiite plurality largely supports Syria. Given the pro-Syrian sentiment in some Sunni cities like Tripoli, it may well be that a majority of Lebanese want Syria to remain in some capacity. If that were true, what would it do to Mr. Bush’s master narrative of the march of democracy?

The main exhibit for the relevance of Iraq to Lebanon is Druze warlord Walid Jumblatt’s statement to the Washington Post: “It’s strange for me to say it, but this process of change has started because of the American invasion of Iraq. I was cynical about Iraq. But when I saw the Iraqi people voting, eight million of them, it was the start of a new Arab world.”

It is highly unlikely that Jumblatt is sincere in this statement. He has seen Lebanese vote for parliament several times, and has campaigned, and Iraq was nothing new to his experience (like Lebanon, it is occupied by a foreign military power even during its elections).

It is worth recalling Jumblatt’s stance on Iraq and Paul Wolfowitz (for more on whom, see below):

November 19, 2003

US annuls visa for Lebanese politician who regretted Wolfowitz survived

BEIRUT, Nov 19 (AFP)

A leading Lebanese politician said Wednesday his US visa had been annulled after he expressed regret that US Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz was unhurt in a Baghdad rocket attack.

Walid Jumblatt, an MP who is leader of Lebanon’s Druze community, told AFP he had “received from the US embassy in Beirut a letter saying that the visa — valid until 2007 — has been cancelled” . . .

According to a letter sent by the US State Department to Jumblatt and published by Al-Mostaqbal newspaper, the visa was withdrawn as it “cannot be given to a foreigner who uses a privileged position to express his support for terrorist activity, tries to convince others of such support or supports a terrorist organisation.”

On October 27, Jumblatt described Wolfowitz as a “microbe” in comments that were described as “unacceptable” by the United States but were not condemned by the Lebanese government.

“We hope the firing will be more precise and efficient (next time), so we get rid of this microbe and people like him in Washington who are spreading disorder in Arab lands, Iraq and Palestine,” Jumblatt said.

One US soldier was killed and 17 other people were wounded in late October when a volley of rockets was fired at the Rashid hotel in Baghdad that houses US military and other staff and where Wolfowitz had been staying.

But despite the cancellation of his visa, Jumblatt remained defiant on Wednesday.

“I am sticking to my position, I refute … America’s imperialist policy,” he told France’s RFI radio in an interview.

He also accused the United States of causing “chaos” in Iraq and putting a “puppet government” in place in Baghdad.

“They (the United States) will now continue the repression of the Iraqi people who are rejecting them,” he added.”

I guess now that Jumblatt sees a way of getting the Syrians out of Lebanon by allying with Bush, all of a sudden America is no longer an imperialist cause of chaos. People who want to believe that remind me of PT Barnum’s dictum that one is born every minute.