Friday, February 18, 2011

Remember Lebanon: The Counter-Example to Egypt's Revolution?

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By Barry Rubin

It is completely understandable that Arabs, having waited decades for the democratic moment, are rejoicing at events in Egypt and elsewhere. One wishes them well and hopes that this all works out in a new Middle East of democracy, peace, progress, and rising living standards.

Yet everybody--and I repeat everybody--has acted as if this is the first time a massive uprising of people have demanded freedom and democracy in the Arabic-speaking world. In fact, just a little over five years ago the same thing happened in Lebanon. In the Beirut Spring, as it was called, a far higher proportion of the total population--arguably 50 times more--than in Egypt rallied to demand the end of Syrian control and the return of democracy Lebanese-style.

There are two important lessons here that should well be heeded.

First, an equally huge crowd demonstrated on behalf of Hizballah and continued Syrian control. That is, it is possible to generate mass support on behalf of anti-democratic movements and for Islamism. This phenomenon of the "reactionary masses" is well known in modern European history but has been forgotten in the West today. Indeed, in Egypt many of those demonstrating for "freedom" define freedom as having a Sharia-dominated society at home and a radical foreign policy, including support for terrorism.

Second, the Lebanese experiment failed, and it failed due to the results of free elections (along with a bit of strategic violence). Nobody--and I repeat nobody--has pointed out that at this very same moment as Egypt was celebrating, Lebanon was succumbing to the rule of Hizballah, Iran, and Syria. It decayed into the present situation despite the fact that Lebanon has the strongest record of democracy of any Arabic-speaking country.

Events in Lebanon mark another advance for the Iran-Syria-Hamas-Hizballah bloc with support from the Turkish government. This, too, is being ignored in the celebrations that history in the Middle East can only go in one direction.

Might the comparison be worth considering?

At least the New York Times has finally noticed that Hizballah and its allies are taking over Lebanon's government. That's progress of a sort. Note that Hizballah isn't going to turn Lebanon into an Islamic republic and suppress the Christians and Sunni Muslims. What it wants is control over Lebanon's foreign and military policy. Now it has achieved that goal and Lebanon--as the great minds of the West don't even notice--is now a satellite of Iran and Syria.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His books include Islamic Fundamentalists in Egyptian Politics and The Muslim Brotherhood (Palgrave-Macmillan); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East, a study of Arab reform movements (Wiley). GLORIA Center site: His blog, Rubin Reports,

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