Saturday, May 28, 2005

Lebanon - Birth of a Nation

The Wall Street Journal reports on the new Lebanon.

What is remarkable is that what began as an alliance of convenience between Christians, Sunnis and Druze to expel Syria has not only survived Syria's departure, but has deepened into an alliance of shared convictions. Saad Hariri, the son of Rafik and likely the next prime minister, is running an interdenominational slate of candidates in the parliamentary elections tomorrow. Across nearly the entire political spectrum, candidates advocate the same things: Eradicate what remains of Syria's influence in the army, intelligence services and the government; establish an independent judiciary; use the discipline of Lebanon's $34 billion debt to trim the budget and privatize state-owned assets.

"We need to keep this momentum for reform going," says Yassin Jaber, a Shiite parliamentarian. "To the Arab world, the revolution in Ukraine meant nothing. But Lebanon really means something. If we're going to be the ones carrying the message of change, we have to make sure the change is good." Even more surprising is how wide the support is for ending the confessional system. "Muslims as well as Christians consider that they need to rebuild a country based on freedom and democracy beyond the logic of communities," says Amin Gemayal, a Maronite former president whose community has the most to lose from ending the system.

How long before the Syrians and Egyptians want their freedom?

As the Journal notes, there is no going back.

But perhaps the apparent nonchalance of most Lebanese is warranted. Wherever I go here, the impression is of a people intent on making up for lost time, and determined never again to be dragged down by extremism. It is these Lebanese, one senses, and not Hezbollah, who are making the country anew, and who are doing so, at long last, in the absence of fear.

Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon, whose next?

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