Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Pepper Spray

Israeli border police officers use pepper spray as they detain an injured Palestinian protester during clashes on Land Day after Friday prayers outside Damascus Gate in Jerusalem's Old City, March 30, 2012. Israeli security forces fired rubber bullets, tear gas and stun grenades to break up groups of Palestinian stone-throwers as annual Land Day rallies turned violent. Police said they made five arrests at Damascus Gate. Land Day commemorates the killing by security forces of six Arabs in 1976 during protests against government plans to confiscate land in northern Israel's Galilee region (Ammar Awad/Reuters via Big Picture).

Monday, November 5, 2012

STL Suspect Hussein Oneissy at Wissam Hassan Assassination?

Lebanese commentators are abuzz about allegations that a Hizballah operative indicted by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon for the assassination of former Premier Rafic al Hariri, was seen at the scene of the assassination of ISF Information Branch chief, Gen. Wissam al Hassan.
On November 2nd, Akhbar el Nasher reported on a tweet by journalist Maria Maalouf in which she wrote that Future MP Nohad Mashnouq had informed her that video images captured at the scene of the crime showed Salim Ayyash at the scene.
On Novemeber 3rd, a Youtube video published by Radio Sawt Beirut showed what claimed to be Hussein Oneissi at the scene of the explosion.  Meanwhile, journalist Nadim Koteich revealed via twitter that high ranking politicians within the March 14 movement had information that the assassinated Hassan had obtained images of one of the STL indictees and was monitoring his movements, and that that information had been shared with the President's office in Lebanon. 

The assassination of Gen. Hassan has been widely blamed on the Assad regime, with some noting that the operation would've requried the involvement of a local group allied with the regime, the most proficient of which is Hizballah.  The Information Branch, which Hassan headed, was credited with the disruption of major terrorist cells affiliated with the Assad regime, as well as a large number of Israeli agents and cells.  Most recently, Hassan was believed to have been behind the arrest of former Lebanese minister, and close Assad associate, Michel Samaha, who has confessed to transporting explosives across the Syrian-Lebanese border for use in terrorist and assassination operations at the behest of the Assad regime.
In addition, the Information Branch was seen as a uniquely singular organization in which Hizballah and other Assad organs in Lebanon did not have a controlling hand.  This status is believed to have been enshrined in the Doha Accord which came about after the Hizballah invasion of Beirut in May 2008.  Seen from this perspective, the assassination of Wissam Hassan has been viewed as a critical strike by Hizballah aimed at consolidating power in Lebanon amid instability in neighboring Syria and the theat of a strike on Iran's nuclear facilities.

Update: As suspected (pun intended) it was revealed that the person seen in the video was just of an unfortunate resemblence to Hussein Oneissi.  The STL revealed, after examining video evidence of the crime scene that no indictees were visible.  Here is the Naharnet article.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Lebanon's Flag at Half Mast

The Lebanese flag was raised at half mast at the Presidential Palace and the Grand Serail on Saturday in mourning for General Wissam al Hassan, who was assassinated on October 19th, 2012.  General Al Hassan was head of the Intelligence Bureau at the Internal Security Forces and was widely credited with the infiltration, capture and dismantling of numerous Isreali and Syrian clandestine cells in Lebanon.  Most recently, General al Hassan uncovered an extensive terrorism/assassination campaign ordered by Assad regime stalwarts, arresting former Lebanese minister Michel Samaha and issuing indictments against Syrian General Ali Mamlouk in the process.  The Assad regime has been widely blamed for this assassination, with some pointing a finger at Hizballah as a participant.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

A Farewell to Al Akhbar and Assad's Apologists

An image from a UN Supervision Mission in Syria video shows Syrian men pointing out blood stains on a bullet-riddled wall in the village of Al-Kubeir. The Syrian army killed at least 23 civilians in two protest cities on Saturday, a watchdog said, as an international outcry mounted over a massacre in a central village - AFP Photo/June 9 2012 (via Yahoo!News).

Below is the complete text of Max Blumenthal's farewell post to Al Akhbar.  He joins a significant number of leftist commentators who have finally realized that they have been used simply as cover by a barbarous Assad regime in its endlessly violent pursuit of repression over the Syrian people and their neighbors.  I recommend you visit Max's blog and read the post there in full, along with the accompanying hyperlinks.

“Syrian weapons are being used – most unfortunately – against our camp, while the rulers of Damascus continue to repeat that they are here in Lebanon in order to defend our camp. This is a murderous lie, a lie which pains us more than anyone else… But we wish to inform you that we will fight in defense of this camp with our bare hands if all our ammunition is spent and all our weapons are gone, and that we will tighten our belts so that hunger will not kill us. For we have taken a decision not to surrender and we shall not surrender…” 

 –open letter from the residents of Tal al Zataar refugee camp to the world, July 13, 1976

I recently learned of a major exodus of key staffers at Al Akhbar caused at least in part by disagreements with the newspaper leadership’s pro-Assad tendency. The revelation helps explain why Al Akhbar English now prominently features the malevolent propaganda of Amal Saad Ghorayeb and the dillentantish quasi-analysis of Sharmine Narwani alongside editor-in-chief Ibrahim al-Amin’s friendly advice for Bashar Assad, whom he attempts to depict as an earnest reformer overwhelmed by events.

When I joined the fledgling Al Akhbar English website last fall, I was excited to contribute my writing on the Israel-Palestine situation and US foreign policy to a paper that I considered one of the most courageous publications in the Arab world. At the time, the Syrian uprising had just begun, and apparently, so had the debates inside Al Akhbar, which reflected the discussions within the wider Lebanese Left. Almost a year later, the results of the debate have become clear on the pages of the paper, where despite the presence of a few dissident voices, the apologia for Assad and his crimes has reached unbearable levels.

I considered responding on my blog to some of the more outlandish ravings published at Al Akhbar, but eventually decided my energy would be better spent on covering the topics I knew best — and which I could discuss with the authority of journalistic experience. Meanwhile, my frustration and embarrassment mounted as one Ghorayeb screed after another appeared on the site, each one more risible than the next.

Following her vehement defense of the Syrian dictator’s use of surgery metaphors to refer to his security forces’ brutal crackdowns, Al Akhbar English featured Ghorayeb’s daftest work to date: an attack on Arab Third Wayers (supporters of the anti-imperialist, anti-authoritarian political tendency) in which she asserted that “the real litmus of Arab intellectuals’ and activists’ commitment to the Palestinian cause is no longer their support for Palestinian rights, but rather, their support for the Assad leadership’s struggle against the imperialist-Zionist-Arab moderate axis’ onslaught against it.”

Ghorayeb’s rant, rightly condemned by As’ad Abu Khalil as an “outrage,” was of a piece with the Syrian regime’s long record of exploiting the Palestinian struggle to advance its narrow self-interests. For me, it was the final straw. Had Al Akhbar’s editorial leadership provided a platform to Ghorayeb and other apologists because of the quality of their writing or because of their willingness to defend the regime behind the cover of leftist ideology? This had become a salient question.

I was forced to conclude that unless I was prepared to spend endless stores of energy jousting with Assad apologists, I was merely providing them cover by keeping my name and reputation associated with Al Akhbar. More importantly, I decided that if I kept quiet any longer, I would be betraying my principles and those of the people who have encouraged and inspired me over the years. There is simply no excuse for me to remain involved for another day with such a morally compromised outlet. And so, instead of preparing to throw up in my own mouth each time I click on one of the pro-regime op-eds appearing with regularity on Al Akhbar English’s home page, I am washing my hands of the whole operation.

I can not disagree with anyone who claims that the United States and the Saudi royals aim to ratchet up their regional influence on the backs of the shabby Syrian National Council while Israel cheers on the sidelines. Though it is far from certain whether these forces will realize a fraction of their goals, it is imperative to reject the foreign designs on Syria and Lebanon, just as authentic Syrian dissidents like Michel Kilo have done. Yet the mere existence of Western meddling does not automatically make Assad a subaltern anti-imperial hero at the helm of a “frontline resisting state,” as Ghorayeb has sought to paint him. Nor does it offer any legitimate grounds for nickel-and-diming civilian casualty counts, blaming the victims of his regime, or hyping the Muslim Threat Factor to delegitimize the internal opposition.

In the end, Assad will be remembered as an authoritarian tyrant whose regime represented little more than the interests of a rich neoliberal business class and a fascistic security apparatus. Those who have thrown their intellectual weight behind his campaign of brutality have cast the sincerity of their commitment to popular struggle and anti-imperial resistance into serious doubt. By denying the Syrian people the right to revolution while supporting the Palestinian struggle, they are no less hypocritical than the Zionists who cynically celebrate the Syrian uprising while seeking to crush any iteration of Palestinian resistance. In my opinion, the right to resist tyranny is indivisible and universal. It can be denied to no one.

Throughout the past weeks, as my sense of anguish mounted, I have thought about the bravery of the Lebanese leftists who fought beside the Palestinian fedayeen at Sidon, halting the US-approved Syrian invasion of Lebanon, which Hafez al-Assad had designed in part to break the back of the Palestinian national cause. And I recalled stories of the Lebanese activists who broke through the Syrian army’s blockade of Tal al Zataar to provide food and supplies to the Palestinian refugees defending their camp against imminent destruction. The long history of sacrifice and courage by the Lebanese and Syrian people in support of the Palestinian struggle — and in defiance of self-interested autocrats — crystallizes an important fact that should not have to be repeated: Palestine will never be free as long as the Arab world lives under the control of dictators.

At Al Akhbar English, Ghorayeb has attempted to advance the opposite argument: that supporting Assad regime is synonymous with support for the Palestinian struggle, and possibly more important. This is what prompted her to falsely claim that “Syrian officials do not meet with their Israeli counterparts,” ignoring the fact that Syrian and Israeli officials dined together at a 2007 commemoration for the Madrid peace talks, and that the Syrians offered the Israelis negotiations over the Golan Heights “without preconditions,” a position the regime maintained until as late as December 2009. Outside of negotiations with Israel, it is unclear what concrete steps Syria’s government was willing to take to regain the Golan.

In the same column in which she praised the Assad regime for blocking Syrian access to Israeli websites and for refusing to give interviews to Israeli reporters, she cited an Israeli professor and an article in the right-of-center Israeli news site, the Times of Israel, to support her points. Apparently the Syrian people must do as Assad says, but not as his apologists in Beirut do.

Besides exploiting the Palestinian cause, the Assad apologists have eagerly played the Al Qaeda card to stoke fears of an Islamic takeover of Syria. Back in 2003, Assad accused the US of deliberately overestimating the strength of Al Qaeda in order to justify its so-called war on terror. “I cannot believe that bin Laden is the person able to outmanoeuvre the entire world,” Assad said at the time. He asked, “Is there really an entity called Al Qaeda? It was in Afghanistan, but is it there anymore?” But now, in a transparent bid for sympathy from the outside world, Assad insists that the Syrian armed opposition is controlled almost entirely by Al Qaeda-like jihadists who have come from abroad to place the country under Islamic control. In his address to the Syrian People’s Assembly on June 3, the dictator tried to hammer the theme home by using the term “terrorists” or “terrorism” a whopping 43 times. That is a full ten times more than George W. Bush during his speech to Congress in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.

Echoing Assad, Ghorayeb has referred to the Syrian army’s pornographically violent crackdowns on what by all accounts is still a mostly homegrown resistance as “the regime’s war against the foreign sponsored terrorists and insurrectionists,” calling for “a security solution to root [them] out.” At the Al Akhbar’s Arabic site, Jean Aziz predicted a complete Salafi takeover of Syria if Assad falls. Meanwhile, Ibrahim al Amin claimed that the Syrian opposition “cop[ied] the modus operandi which was devised by the leadership of al-Qaeda,” then uncritically quoted an unnamed regime source who insisted that “a hardline majority of the armed groups have come to be led by non-Syrians.” Similarly, Narwani assertedthat a shadowy 5000-man ultra-Islamist militia has been operating inside the city of Homs with “plans to declare an Islamic Caliphate in Syria” — Creeping Shariah! She based her remarkable assertion on a single conversation with an anonymous journalist.

In joining the Assad regime’s campaign to delegitimize the Syrian opposition by casting it as a bunch of irrational jihadis (ironically, they seem to have little problem with Hezbollah’s core Islamist values), Assad’s apologists have unwittingly adopted the “war on terror” lexicon introduced by George W. Bush, Ariel Sharon, and the neocon cabal after 9-11. Not only have they invoked the scary specter of The Terrorists (gasp!) to justify morally indefensible acts of violent repression, like pro-Israel hasbarists, they have resorted to rhetorical sophistry to dismiss the regime’s atrocities as necessary evils, unfortunate accidents (what al-Amin called “mistakes”), or fabrications of the regime’s opponents (see Ghorayeb on “unsubstantiated allegations of war crimes.”) I wonder, as I do with Zionist fanatics, if there is any limit to the carnage Assad’s apologists will tolerate in the name of the greater cause.

In the true spirit of the Israeli occupation, which refused to allow reporters into Gaza to document the horrors of Operation Cast Lead, and which has stripped journalists of their press credentials as punishment for their perceived “anti-Israel bias,” Narwani spent several thousand words breathlesslycomplaining about “Western journalists” who “head straight for the Syrian activist, the anti-regime demonstration, the man with the gun in a ‘hot spot.’” Narawani’s justifications for keeping the foreign press corps away from the scene of Assad’s crimes were disturbingly similar to those of Danny Seaman, the Israeli Government Press Office director during Cast Lead, who said, “Any journalist who enters Gaza becomes a fig leaf and front for the Hamas terror organization, and I see no reason why we should help that.”

Then there was Narwani’s attempt to spin the regime’s artillery assault on the neighborhood of Baba Amr. Her analysis, if you can call it that, immediately reminded me of US military propaganda following the attack on the Iraqi city of Fallujah, a “shake-and-bake” artillery assault that included the firing of white phosphorous shells on a city center in order to, as Ghorayeb might have said, “root out” the terrorists. “While the dominant narrative in the international media assumed an unprovoked army attack on a civilian population,” Narwani wrote of the indiscriminate assault that flattened the Homs neighborhood, “there remains little evidence to back this scenario, particularly after information emerged that the neighborhood was an armed opposition stronghold, most of the population had vacated the neighborhood in advance, and reports of activists exaggerating violence trickled out.”

Like the neocon chickenhawks who cheered on America’s invasion of Iraq from the offices of Washington’s American Enterprise Institute, none of Assad’s apologists appear to have done any journalistic fieldwork to support their opinions. Ghorayeb and Narwani seem to have confined themselves to Beirut, where Ghorayeb consults the writings of V.I. Lenin and Paulo Freire to back up her hallucinatory portrayal of Assad as a subaltern freedom fighter, while Narwani cobbles together a scattershot of YouTube clips and hearsay from journalists she hangs out with to justify the regime’s very own “war on terror.”

Al-Amin’s sourcing is even more dubious. In a column about supposed armed infiltration from Lebanon to Syria, for example, he cited “records of investigations with those detained for transporting and smuggling weapons and explosives…” Perhaps al-Amin could clarify his cryptic language. In particular, he might explain whether he was referring to notes of interrogations of imprisoned opposition members that he received from regime sources. If so, can he confirm that these interrogations did not involve torture?

My issues with Al Akhbar are not limited to its opinion section. A profile originally published at Al Akhbar’s Arabic site (later translated into English) of Bassel Shehadeh, the video journalist killed inside Homs, did not even bother to note that he was killed by the Syrian army — “bullets” were said to be the cause of his death. And it was the only coverage I could find about his death in the paper, which has too often presented events in Syria in curiously vague terms, especially when they concern the regime’s misdeeds.

According to a close friend of Shehadeh who was also covering the opposition in Homs and across Syria, “Bassel was an essential part of the Homs revolution. He was close to the leadership of the Homs resistance, and he lived on the front lines.” Before he decided to return to Syria to support the uprising, Shehadeh was a Fulbright scholar studying at Syracuse University’s fine arts program. He put his studies on hold to train activists inside the besieged city of Homs, believing all along that his history of good luck in the midst of danger would somehow protect him from death.

As a Christian who fiercely rejected sectarianism, Shehadeh’s very presence shook the Syrian regime. After he was killed, the army shelled the Christian neighborhood of Hamidyeh to prevent his funeral, then a gang of shabiha attacked a memorial service for him in Damascus that would have presented a rare display of Christian-Sunni solidarity. It was this sense of solidarity that appeared to threaten the regime the most. As Shehadeh’s mother reportedly said, “They feared him in life, and they feared him in death.”

A few years ago, while visiting the offices of the Nation Magazine, a publication I frequently write for, I reflected on what it might have been like to be working there during the 1930’s when its editorial leadership supported Stalin and willfully ignored his crimes. What were the internal debates like, I wondered, and how would I have reacted? The past few weeks at Al Akhbar have brought those questions back into my thoughts, and they are no longer hypothetical. The paper’s opinion pages have become a playpen for dictator enablers, but unlike the 1930’s-era Nation Magazine, there is less excuse for their apologia. Indeed, given the easy accessibility of online media produced by Syrian activists and journalists, there is no way for Assad’s apologists to claim they did not know about the regime’s crimes.

At this point, I have no excuse either. I am no longer a contributor to Al Akhbar. It is time to move on.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Nobody Believes Iran Crazy or Israel Existentially Threatened

An excellent and concise piece by Michael Young in the National, covering all angles of the debate surrounding Iran and Israel's push for a strike.  Below is the article in full:
A procession of American officials has been visiting Israel lately, to persuade the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to bomb Iran before international sanctions have had time to take hold. The arguments against an operation are familiar, but they also speak to an underlying malaise in how the world views Israel. 

By striking Iranian nuclear facilities, Israel could provoke dire consequences. Iran would be likely to retaliate, perhaps with missiles, while instructing Hizbollah to fire rockets into Israel from Lebanon. Conceivably, Syria would get involved, if only to neutralise protests against the Assad regime. Iran could block the Strait of Hormuz for a time, pushing oil prices up and harming fragile western economies. 

This catalogue of horrors is not improbable, despite reported Israeli assessments that Iran and Hizbollah might not react in spectacular ways. True, none of the parties relishes the prospect of war. Iran's regime is wary that if the Americans were to enter the fray, they might destroy Iranian military infrastructure. Hizbollah gains little by turning its Shiite supporters once again into Tehran's cannon-fodder. As for Syria, a devastating Israeli riposte against its army could actually be the straw that breaks the Assads' back. 

Several negative outcomes could ensue for Israel as well. Not only might the country find itself in a war on several fronts; if it were to drag a reluctant Obama administration into a regional conflagration that it does not want, this could severely strain an already uneasy relationship with the United States. That's because the backlash of higher oil prices could plausibly lose Mr Obama his re-election, while undermining shaky financial recoveries globally. 

But once initiated, a war could lead to this worst-case scenario. That is why few countries are willing to risk paying an onerous price for Israel's security. Even less so when the chances are that the Israelis can, at best, delay Iran's nuclear programme and unify a self-destructively divided leadership in Tehran. 

This tells us something more profound. Whether the Netanyahu government likes it or not, its uncompromising behaviour in negotiations with the Palestinians in recent years has lost Israel much goodwill internationally. Notwithstanding the ineffectiveness of the Palestinians, themselves split between Fatah and Hamas, Mr Netanyahu has never been able to live down his refusal to indefinitely suspend settlement construction in the West Bank. 

Israel's prime minister outmanoeuvred Mr Obama on peace negotiations last year, but to what end? Never has Israeli policy seemed so futile. The country evidently cannot make even minimal concessions to facilitate peace. It hasn't a clue about what to do with the millions of Palestinians whose destiny it controls directly or indirectly. Israel's own Arab citizens are increasingly alienated. The country is moving rightward. And Mr Netanyahu's government has had deep misgivings about the Arab uprisings, implicitly affirming that Israel feels secure only in the presence of Arab dictatorships. 

Israeli leaders are agitated because so few governments accept that Iran poses an existential menace to Israel. If Iran were to build nuclear weapons, this would generate considerable regional instability. An arms race would ensue. A reinvigorated, nuclear Iran, especially one that is isolated internationally and insecure at home, might seek out foreign quarrels to bolster its domestic cohesion. But would such a country threaten Israel existentially? Not when Israel can obliterate Iran several times over. 

A decision has not yet been taken in Washington on what happens if the latest sanctions on Iran fail to halt its nuclear programme. But the unprecedented force of the sanctions shows how little the Americans want a clash. And that reluctance makes me legitimately wonder whether the US would not, in the end, prefer to contain a nuclear Iran rather than endorse precarious military action that could expand into a regional war and aggravate the world economy in the process. 

When the chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, General Martin Dempsey, described Iran as a "rational actor" last weekend while in Israel, he was saying something else: that he did not buy the contention that Iran would beyond doubt employ nuclear weapons against Israel on the basis of the Islamic Republic's religious ideology. That may be obvious to many, but purported Iranian irrationality, a product of the regime's Islamic messianism, has been at the heart of the rationale for why the "the mullahs must not get the bomb". 

If the Iranians are rational, then presumably they are as receptive to the principles of deterrence as anybody else. The United States and the Soviet Union embraced deterrence for four decades during the Cold War. Israel can do the same, many in Washington believe, not least when it holds a decisive military edge over Iran and will benefit from an American nuclear umbrella as further consolation. 

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton irritated the Israelis in July 2009 when she declared that the US would extend a "defensive umbrella" over the Gulf if Iran acquired nuclear weapons. The phrase implied that the US could live with that eventuality, as it has in India, Pakistan and North Korea. Ms Clinton backtracked, but that seemed more a tactical than a strategic retreat. Mr Obama hasn't issued a final word on Iran, but he apparently does not regard preservation of Israel's nuclear monopoly in the Middle East as a vital American aim. 

 Israel may yet strike Iran, but at its own peril if Washington disapproves. This makes an assault far less likely, Israeli bluster aside. Mr Netanyahu has simply failed to convince anybody that Israel makes a believable victim. Not with him in charge anyway.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

A Lebanese Fisherman in Syria

A Lebanese fisherman shows the marks on his back after he was arrested by Syrian forces with his nephew Maher Hamad in Arida town in northern Lebanon January 22, 2012. Syrian forces killed a Lebanese fisherman and wounded another when they seized a boat suspected of smuggling off the Lebanese-Syrian coast on Saturday (Reuters Pictures via Daylife).

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Cedar Revolution Happened - Live with it

The above image [one of thousands] is dedicated to Culture Minister Gaby Layoun, a member of the Aounist FPM, who has moved to have the "Cedar Revolution" removed from Lebanese history books.  For now, you can read up on the story here.  For later, say 2013 later, you can do your part by voting against the FPM candidates in your parliamentary district.

After all, free elections and the institution of a tutelage-free democracy, are a legacy of the "Cedar Revolution".

Friday, January 27, 2012

A True Fraternity Between Lebanon and Syria

Lebanese and Syrian protesters burn a Hezbollah flag during a protest in solidarity with Syria's anti-government protesters, in the port city of Tripoli, northern Lebanon January 27, 2012.

Michael Young discusses Lebanon within the broader Arab Spring revolutions, as well as blossoming of a dream countless have died for: that of a healthy, fraternal relationship, based on mutual respect and sovereignty, between Lebanon and Syria. Excerpts from the article below:
On Wednesday the Syrian National Council, which is leading the opposition to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad from abroad, made a significant gesture toward Lebanon. 

In a statement the council promised, if it took power in Syria, to turn a “new page” with Lebanon. The rapport between the two countries would be built on a foundation of respect for sovereignty and parity, as well as support for ethnic and religious diversity and pluralism. The council promised to review bilateral agreements between Beirut and Damascus—above all the Syrian-Lebanese Treaty of Brotherhood, Cooperation, and Coordination, signed in 1991—and abolish the Higher Council that was set up through the treaty.

The Syrian National Council also undertook to terminate the role that Syria’s security services have played in Lebanon, and more broadly to end Syrian interference in Lebanese affairs. It said that it would demarcate the Lebanese-Syrian border, especially in the Shebaa Farms area, and affirmed that it would create a committee to investigate the matter of Lebanese held in Syrian prisons.


The relationship between Syria and Lebanon has been an orphan of the public debate over the Syrian uprising, indeed over Arab uprisings in general. The narrative of emancipation throughout the region has been focused internally, as one of populations rejecting authoritarian leaderships. There has been little room for a consideration of another type of subjugation, namely of one Arab state by another.

That is a reason, perhaps, why the Lebanese Independence Intifada of 2005 seemed to provoke so little interest last year among those taking to the streets against their regimes. And yet so much in that revolt against Syria was replicated elsewhere in the Arab world—from the way public space was used to stage protests, to the discussion of how to place instruments of state repression under democratic control, to the optimal way of approaching international intervention.

Anyone observing the barbarity of the Syrian leadership today cannot help but spare a thought for the Lebanese, who spent 29 years in one way or another under the Assads’ thumb. There were many in Lebanon who sided with Syria during that time; the violence inflicted by Lebanese on fellow Lebanese during the civil war was appalling. But a large number of those suffering during that period—the tens of thousands killed, injured, maimed, kidnapped or humiliated by Syria or its epigones—did not merit their fate, nor were they ever consulted about what Lebanon’s affiliation with Syria should be like.


The nature of Syria’s relations with the Lebanese, Palestinians, Iraqis, Jordanians and Turks will be essential for assessing the success of the Syrian uprising. Syria’s opposition still must triumph and then establish a democratic government. Yet given the Assads’ proclivity for destabilizing those around them, a new order in Damascus must make it a priority to place regional relationships back on an even keel.

To its credit, the Syrian National Council has taken the first step. Now it’s up to Lebanese democrats to push in the same direction from their end, to ensure the rapid start of a dialogue between governments once that becomes possible. Beirut and Damascus are intertwined. It’s a about time that both sides benefit in equal measure.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Qatari Aid to Syrian Refugees in Wadi Khaled

People unload trucks carrying Qatari aid to be distributed to Syrian refugees in the northern Wadi Khaled area. (Antoine Amrieh/The Daily Star)