Across the Bay

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Ballots over Beirut

Make sure to read Lee Smith's latest in the Weekly Standard:

It is unclear, then, how this grouping could be described precisely as being the anti-Syria opposition, or Aoun as pro-Syrian. Aoun, for his part, made common cause with several politicians who had profited handsomely from Syrian control, but he is hardly, as Jumblatt describes him, a "little Syrian tool."

"This was all propaganda," says Khazen. "As though people voted in favor of a pro-Syrian figure. The Western media was as responsible as the Lebanese media for spreading this nonsense. For the voters this was a nonissue. Syria had no role, no agenda, no candidates."

Still, Syria will continue to have an interest in Lebanon, as will other states, including France, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United States. The Lebanese are accustomed to the fact that foreign powers will always play a role in this small country, but those interests with any luck will now begin to be articulated through legitimate bilateral relationships, not political assassinations. And it is up to Lebanese officials to leverage those interests in order to serve Lebanon.

After a 30-year hiatus, the Arab world's original democracy is practicing real politics--deal-making, coalition-building, horse-trading. Of course, after so long under the gun, the Lebanese are entitled to expect something more than just politics. The national unity on display after the assassination of Rafik Hariri was a useful narrative. It galvanized both the Lebanese and an international community that looked on with sympathy and admiration for a country where Christians and Muslims marched together peacefully to determine their own political future. "People have a lot invested in the idea of national unity," says Lebanese analyst Elie Fawaz. "But the fact is that the Lebanese have unequivocally expressed that they are unified in their opposition to violence as a means of settling political issues."

Simply because Muslims and Christians don't march hand in hand every day doesn't mean that civil war is in the offing. The test of a democracy is not how much people agree on the same things, but how much space is given for debate and the contest of competing interests. To put it another way, as Aoun told me, "Lebanon's national unity, democracy, is expressed through a diversity of opinion." As with national unity, many Lebanese have had overly high expectations of Aoun, first when he took on Syria and again now. He's neither the country's savior nor its sole liberator; rather, he's an important, indeed singular, element in Lebanon's renascent democracy.

On the issue of labels ("opposition" or "pro-Syrian" vs. "anti-Syrian"), see Stacey's last post. There's been a lot of sloppiness in this regard. Case in point I think has been John Kifner's reporting for the NYT (which was also noted by Mickey Kaus on Tuesday. Hat tip, Kyle).

For nice post-election analysis, see Michael Young's piece for TCS, and his latest op-ed in the DS, which also reflected on George Hawi's assassination.