Across the Bay

Monday, February 28, 2005

People Power

PM Karami's cabinet has resigned. The popular pressure has managed to topple a cabinet without a single act of violence or bloodshed. It's a proud moment for the Lebanese people.

Apparently, it was a sudden decision, as it seems that Speaker Berri wasn't told in advance. Naharnet says that the Syrians have dropped Karami "like a hot potato." Well, who wants to hang on to a sinking ship?

Walid Jumblat hailed the resignation and is now looking forward to the next step: "The people have been victorious but we should now form an impartial government to supervise the elections."

No matter how you look at it, it's a significant victory for the people and the opposition, as everyone -- including Berri apparently -- was expecting the cabinet to stay on. Just goes to show you how limited the wiggling room is becoming day by day in Lebanon.

The people relished in the victory, as this story quoted by Publius Pundit illustrates:

The announcement of the government’s resignation came after a day of protests in Martyr’s Square, a few blocks from parliament. The protesters danced to patriotic songs, waved hundreds of Lebanese flags, and handed out red roses to the hundreds of soldiers and police around them.

Led by banking and business associations, much of Lebanon also observed a one-day strike in memory of Hariri on Monday, allowing lawyers in black robes and doctors in white gowns to join the demonstration.

Protesters also prayed in front of candles at the flower-covered grave of Hariri, which lies at the edge of the square.

“You can tell from the looks in the soldiers’ eyes, and from their smiles, their true stand,” said Hamadeh, who was in the square before going to parliament. Hamadeh himself was the target of a bomb attack in October that killed his driver.

This is the same army that former PM Karami threatened would splinter should Syria pull out.

Ed Morrissey, Sissy Willis, and Jim Geraghty (all via Instapundit) have more. This is from Ed Morrissey's post:

In other words, if Assad thought that Karami's departure would satisfy the Lebanese, he has made another mistake. Assad or his intelligence services have provided a spark with the Hariri assassination that has turned into a firestorm of Lebanese nationalism, one that has united all of the factions in demanding a complete and immediate Syrian withdrawal. Momentum has turned into an avalanche, one that threatens to bury Assad and his Ba'athists in Damascus.

This is Assad's worst nightmare come true. With the Syrians, especially the Kurds in the northeast, watching the Iraqis vote in the first free multi-party elections ever on their east and the Lebanese on their west showing how fragile the Syrian grip on power truly is, the Assad government may wind up facing similar demonstrations in the streets of Damascus, demanding free multi-party elections -- which would end Assad's grip on power, unless he got in front of the effort immediately.

Will Assad get ahead of history and lead Syria out of Lebanon and into a freely-elected, multiparty democracy? Or will he dither and stand pat and attempt to survive the avalanche headed his way? These are the choices that the Anglo-American strategy of democratization have left with Assad. His father would choose the latter; Bashar might just be smart enough, like Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, to opt for the former. Either way, he only has weeks, possibly even days, to make his choices before the choices are made for him.

This has been the dream of the Syrian optimists and activists, like Ammar Abdulhamid, that Bashar would realize that this is his only real option and jump on the bandwagon. But considering his dismal track record, I wouldn't count on it. He's still trying to negotiate a deal by making "gestures" on Iraq (that have backfired), letting Islamic Jihad plan and execute operations in Israel and claiming responsibility from his turf, and discussing redeployment to the Bekaa, while assuring the world that the US will come knocking at his door once they realize how much of a key player he is!

But let's see if the Syrians take to the streets. The Egyptians did it, the Iraqis did it, and the Lebanese did it, and the Syrians saw all of them do it. As Walid Jumblat put it (via LBC): "Democracy has swept the world, and it is now coming to our region. It has already arrived, and there is no turning back."

In that light, Stephen Green's advice is rather apt: "Don't worry about Washington, Baby Assad. Worry about Beirut -- and maybe Damascus."