Patching & Camouflage
By: Elias Bejjani
LCCC Media Chairman

The most recent American media spin on a plan for a post-Saddam Middle East has been fairly captivating to world observers. The plan entails a comprehensive democratic change that will spare no Middle Eastern or Arab country. The United States, according to leading current and former officials, will make sure that all current regimes will be replaced with democratic substitutes. The envisaged regimes will honour human rights, freedom of speech, and most importantly will be democratic and free from the influence of fanatic religious fundamentalist ideologies. The new and reshuffled Middle East could very much become a reality after toppling Saddam Hussein and his regime.

It is also interesting to see that many political analysts have interpreted the recent political changes in Turkey as the first stage of this American road map to democracy for the Middle East. The peaceful marriage between Turkish secularism and moderate Islamic political parties has inspired many analysts. They believe that this Turkish example, through which Islamic parties have accepted to rule through a secular constitution and abide by its clauses, will be promoted and implanted in many other Middle Eastern countries. In the same context, the Saudi ruling family surprised even its own people by announcing that an elite group of its princes met with Saudi opposition groups and worked through a difficult, but constructive dialogue on designing mechanisms to modernize the Kingdom's regime. The Saudi opposition groups have already started their own radio and TV station from Belgium with the blessings of the US.

In this regard, similar changes, albeit on a much smaller scale and in a more discrete way, are observed in Egypt, Syria, and the Palestinian self-autonomous state, although driven by different motivations and timing. Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak has begun to groom his son Jamal as a potential heir to Egypt's presidency when the circumstances arise. Palestinian Chairman Yasser Arafat bowed to US and Israeli pressures and reluctantly agreed to amending the Palestinian constitution in a bid to create a new post of Prime Minister that will inevitably strip him of his unlimited powers and turn his position into a symbol and a figurehead void of any true authority.

On the Syrian-Lebanese front, the transformation has taken a different route, albeit more evident and specific. Syria is apparently striving to follow this US-motivated wave of change regardless of the cost. The prime objective of the Syrian regime is to preserve its own Alawi-Baathist base and maintain the stranglehold it has on the puppet government in occupied Lebanon.  The Syrian-Lebanese agenda of appeasing the US has been unfolding quietly and deliberately shielded from the media glare. The only exception was the recent minor redeployment of the Syrian army out of North Lebanon.  

We wonder if Syria has started to prepare its hostage, Lebanon, for the impending Iraqi war and its consequences. We also wonder if the US-Middle East roadmap to democracy is going to specifically include Syria and Lebanon, which are the most notorious countries in the whole world for abuse of authority, repression of civil liberties, infringements on human rights, and a blatant disregard for any political opposition.  Some political analysts believe that Syria has promised pro-Arab officials of the US State Department to patch up and upgrade not only its own regime, but also the one it has installed in occupied Lebanon since 1990. The Syrian dictator has started his deceitful plan to brush up and polish the two regimes in a bid to fulfill the American criteria for the path to democracy.

In a similar vein, it is easy to understand the sudden cancellation by Maronite Catholic Church Patriarch Sfeir of his visit to the United States that was scheduled for March 7 of this year. Cardinal Sfeir was subjected to tremendous Syrian pressures, veiled threats, and intimidations to postpone the visit. These scare tactics include the recent arrest and 3-hour detention of an American Maronite priest serving a Maronite Parish in the US at Beirut airport. The priest was released after he was extensively questioned about the activities of Lebanese-American opposition groups in the US, their sources of finance, and their relationship with Cardinal Sfeir.

Analysts believe that the advice of pro-Arab US State Department officials that was whispered lately to the Syrian and Lebanese regimes goes something like this: "Quickly initiate some democratic changes or both regimes will be toppled". The advice seems to have found open and eager ears in both countries. Accordingly, Syria has acted to take advantage of the regional tensions and prevailing odds, hoping that the US will buy into these superficial and essentially deceitful changes.  In support of this view, four unannounced "changes" suddenly took place in Lebanon that run counter to all positions previously taken by Syria and its Lebanese puppet regime: The deployment of a few hundred Lebanese army soldiers in South Lebanon to positions that were previously under UN control; The widely publicized and theatrical Syrian Army redeployment out of North Lebanon; The revival of the controversial naturalization judicial suit; The Medena Bank bankruptcy scandal whose course was immediately reversed when Lebanon's politicized judiciary was suddenly allowed to step in and forcefully raise charges of money laundering.

The Lebanese Army deployment in South Lebanon was artificial and deceitful since Hezbollah still fully controls South Lebanon. According to Lebanon's Information Minister, Ghazi Aridi, Hezbollah alone decides on the timing, kind of weapons used, location, and circumstance of attacks it carries against Israel from Lebanon. The sudden revival of the naturalization suit that had been dormant for the past eight years will be an excuse for many opportunistic politicians to join the new government and abandon the legitimate opposition. These politicians who work under the "Taef umbrella" have never really been part of the true opposition. The carrot and stick policy used in referring the Madena Bank to the judiciary, then immediately withdrawing it, was seen by many observers as follows: A stick to many pro-Syrian groups and individuals (including Hezbollah) who fund themselves through money laundering, and a carrot to the money Mafia through rehabilitating Lebanon's bank sector in order to make it attractive to the influx of Arab money made nervous by tensions in the Gulf.  

The Syrian regime and its appointed Lebanese officials have ignored the reality and potential consequences of the current regional and international status quo. They have deluded themselves to the extent that made them believe that the 1990 US-Syrian deal could be replicated in 2003.  In 1990, Syria agreed to join the American-led military coalition against Saddam Hussein only after it was permitted to invade Lebanon's last free enclave and was given full control over the country. The Syrian regime and its Lebanese acolytes also overestimated the power of the pro-Arab US State Department officials who in reality have very little, if any, influence over the American road map for democracy in the Middle East.

We warn Syria's policy makers and their installed puppets in Lebanon that their deceitful patching up of their two rotten regimes will not work this time and that the magic will turn against the magician. The wave of change is so strong that it will definitely engulf all the inhumane and savage regimes of the Middle East, especially those that exist against the will of their oppressed people. This wave of change will not spare the regimes in Damascus and Beirut whose officials and politicians should use the little wisdom they have left, which we believe amounts to very little, collect their personal belongings, and depart before it is too late.

The Lebanese have always wondered why the free world has sat idly for the last 30 years while Lebanon gradually drowned under the sands of the totalitarian dictatorial Syrian regime.  Still, the Lebanese never lost their hope, self-confidence, or faith! They have been fighting back bravely with all available means and resources, as they have done for the last 7,000 years of their deeply-rooted history. Judgment Day is near for those who betrayed Lebanon! The time of reckoning is upon them. They are doomed and we shall overcome.

Long Live Free Lebanon