The Message From Lebanon: No Room for Trespassers

The Message From Lebanon: No Room for Trespassers
Linda Heard,

Lebanon desperately needed a hero and miraculously got one at the nth-minute when Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani adopted the role of mediator between the pro-Western government and the Hezbollah-led opposition. During six days of hard negotiations in Doha, Sheikh Hamad and his foreign minister were scrupulously impartial and ruthlessly determined to bring the main players together, reminding them to put the country’s welfare above inter-sectarian power plays.

Sunday was the culmination of Qatar’s efforts. Finally, after six months of stalemate during which the presidential palace had remained empty, Lebanon got a much needed new president. Army chief Michel Suleiman removed his uniform and took the oath of office before international dignitaries, including those from all 22 Arab League nations as well as Iran. Guest of honor at the proceedings was the man who brought Lebanon back from the brink — Sheikh Hamad.

Now that the ceremony and the celebrations are over President Suleiman’s first priority will be to appoint a new prime minister, who, under the constitution, must be chosen from the parliamentary majority. In theory, the new president could invite Fouad Siniora to retain his ministerial portfolio but he has indicated that he has no desire to stay on, which is just as well since he is someone with whom the opposition feels it cannot do business. He will, however, remain as caretaker until his successor is found.

President Suleiman’s message is one of unity, and, respected by all sides, he may be the right person to bring that elusive state about. Certainly, the 59-year-old Maronite Christian has already quelled the fears of Hezbollah and its supporters by, firstly, overturning anti-Hezbollah Cabinet decisions and, secondly, suggesting that Hezbollah’s military wing could eventually be merged with the Lebanese Army.

He has also been full of praise for the role of the resistance in keeping Lebanon safe over the years and, during his swearing-in ceremony, he called for a minute’s silence to remember Lebanon’s martyrs.

Moreover, he had earlier proved there was substance to his words during Hezbollah’s take-over of Sunni-dominated west Beirut when he directed the army under his control to maintain a neutral stance. Naturally, this was unpopular with pro-Western elements within the government, who had hoped the army would rush to their aid, and it probably didn’t go down very well in Washington either, especially since the Bush administration had recently promised to help modernize the Lebanese military.

Further, he has sought to extend a hand of friendship to Damascus by calling for the restoration of diplomatic links, and stressing that the peoples of Lebanon and Syria are brothers.

Today, Lebanon is infused with optimism and hope. Stocks are soaring, the capital’s downtown area is once again open for business after being turned into a tent city for anti-government protesters, and the tourist industry has galvanized in preparation for the summer season.

The Lebanese are experts at bouncing back from adversity. It is almost as though there had never been a recent war with Israel or 18 months of political stalemate that had crippled the country’s economy. There is probably no other nation that could dust itself down and celebrate a new dawn with such alacrity.

I don’t wish to put a damper on the euphoria, but if there is to be a new dawn signaling a new era of peace and prosperity then it should be celebrated with the caveat “foreign powers keep out.” A new Lebanese government should not be seduced by sweet words of comfort from Washington, France or Iran when the only blood running on Lebanon’s streets is Lebanese.

Lebanese leaders need to sort out their real friends from faux allies concerned only with Lebanon as a step toward implementing their greater agendas. Hezbollah is without doubt coming to terms with the fact it might not always be able to count on Syria, which is currently talking peace with Israel, while it is no secret that Siniora, Saad Hariri and Druze leader Walid Jumblatt feel the US has let them down.

Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri used President Suleiman’s swearing-in ceremony to give Washington a parting shot after thanking the Arab League, Russia, Italy, Spain and France for helping to quash the crisis. “I thank the United States nonetheless,” he said, “seeing that it seems to have been convinced that Lebanon is not the appropriate place for its plan for the Greater Middle East region. This plan in our opinion has no proper place for the birth pangs or the birth of a New Middle East.”

In fact, this new Lebanese reality brought about thanks to Arab intervention may signal a new Middle East, although not the one US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her boss had in mind. For once, Arab nations have closed ranks to problem-solve and it has worked.

It has worked so well that Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal has called Arab League chief Amr Moussa to congratulate him on his role in achieving Lebanese accord and to request the same paradigm be used to put Hamas and Fatah together. Provided Qatar and the Arab League keep up the impetus this could mean the start of something big, not only for Lebanon but also for the region at large.


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