Monday, January 16, 2012

Difficult Conversations: Syria as seen from Lebanon

Joseph El-Khoury

Few Lebanese can pretend to be fully objective when it comes to events in Syria. The emotional baggage from the 'Pax Syriana', the infamous Status quo imposed by the Assad's regime on the country, still runs deep in the Lebanese psyche bringing significant bias to any cold-hearted analysis.

From the mid 1980s onwards the Syrian regime through its instruments of domination and deception determined the balance of power between the various religious sects; and also within these sects.  The winners and losers from this orderly distribution of musical chairs that followed the chaos of the civil war are the same principal actors of the current political stage, characterised by the confrontation between March 8th and the March 14th alliances (pro- and anti-Hezbollah respectively). Ever since that fateful day in 1976 when troops under the banner of the Arab dissuasion forces rolled across the border at Masnaa, we have had a pro-Syrian camp and an anti-Syrian one. Neutrality was not an option, and contrary to the politically correct discourse, it is that dichotomy that trumps all others, including the divergence of position vis-a-vis Israel and the Palestinians.

And Syria; from Lebanon; for all intent and purposes is Assad's Syria; with its figures, its slogans and its modus operandi.

My compatriots can pretend, on both sides of the argument, that their interest in the future of Syria is primarily motivated by a sense of justice and deep empathy for those dying in  the uprising that has raged on in March 2011. Te truth is that their position on this matter is neither selfless nor shaped by facts. For most Lebanese It is pre-established and unshakeable.

Personally, I am from that generation that was at the receiving end of that mixture of humiliation, pain and fear that simply won’t go away; and invariably I seek some form of retribution. Still, which opinion is not shaped by personal experience; and who can argue with a straight face that it is unreasonable to wish for the demise of the Baath regime or at least a radical overhaul?  My position is unashamedly based on its track record since 1970, not March 2011, in Syria and also in Lebanon. For me, it avoids the distraction of arguing over whether the demonstrators in Deraa were armed infiltrators who shot first or those in Homs are trained Jihadists with Salafi ambitions.

Even if Assad can claim support among sections of the population, including minorities and the business classes, his assessment sheet should make disappointing reading for any outsider sympathisers. With the threat of an Islamic Emirate internally and the challenge of an Arab-Western a coalition externally, after 40 years of totalitarian rule a self proclaimed secular progressive regime has failed at delivering its socialism, freedom and unity; at home and abroad.

As for us Lebanese; the neighborhood is changing and a radical adjustment is on the cards.