Syrian Turmoil Stirs Concerns About Impact on Lebanon

Article Summary
As the Syrian crisis continues its downward spiral with no hints of the regime relenting or the opposition backing down, Talal Salman writes that observers in neighboring Lebanon fear their country could be pulled back into the vortex of sectarian conflict from which it only recently emerged.

[Today], the Lebanese are at the heart of the nightmare that has gripped their Syrian brothers in a bloody cycle. Syria had always been a safe haven [for the Lebanese people] during their days of hardship. [But those days] dragged on to become an era of civil wars [fought] under different slogans and goals, and by the various forces that drove the lucrative [intra-Lebanese] clashes, despite the bloodshed they caused to victims who cannot be limited to a particular party, movement, or political front.

The Lebanese recall chapters of their tragic [past] as they watch -- with their eyes and hearts -- the [new] daily reality [in Syria]. [This reality] is changing the face of a state that once appeared resistant to penetration. It has also shaken the pillars of national unity of a fraternal people whose [deep] sense of Arabism has always stopped them from drifting toward religious extremism or confessional fanaticism, and has foiled all attempts to lure the minorities away from the national consensus under the pretext of racial [difference].

It is no exaggeration [to say] that the tragedy unfolding in Syria has dominated the psyche of the Lebanese [people], and has provoked their fears of the threat they may face should the events on the ground -- supported by direct Arab intervention through funding and arms, and international incitement targeting the unity of Syria’s people and [existence], rather than its regime -- spiral into a civil war.

This is why the Lebanese did not find Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s acknowledgement that Syria is facing the threat of division a trivial matter or a hastily arrived-at conclusion. In fact, they understood Assad’s admission as the real conviction of the regime, which has persistently refused to deal [appropriately] with the protest movement. [This movement] has expanded as a result of the unjustified use of force, the growing number of victims, and the decline of the image of the state resulting from the extraordinary damage inflicted on the army. [This army] has always been a source of pride for the Syrian people because of its historic role in defending Palestine -- whether through volunteer [soldiers], combat units, or trainers of commando fighters, or by serving as a staging ground for early liberation operations.

In fact, [Assad’s] acknowledgement of the [existing] threat of division [in Syria] comes too late, especially after developments [on the ground] have created an explosive situation, and divided cities and regions between the regular [army] forces and what the regime describes as “armed gangs” without specifying their political identity -- that is, if such an identity existed. Furthermore, human relations among one people, who share the same destiny, have been destabilized.

Interestingly, [Assad’s] admission comes after his call for holding a referendum on a new draft constitution, and after he has been overtaken by developments on the ground. That is, if we were to assume that [the referendum] will be held on schedule March 6; [that the regime] will succeed in persuading citizens to participate, so as to ensure that the results will be [considered] legitimate; and that the text [of the referendum] will meet the [Syrian people’s] legitimate demands. Today, [these demands] seem to exceed all [current] proposals and suggestions, which may also have been accepted six months ago, or perhaps in the early days of the deadly mistake committed in Deraa.

The situation in Syria has exceeded the limit of widespread insecurity, and has become, in some aspects -- at the border with Lebanon, Jordan, and particularly Iraq, as well as Turkey with its declared hostility [toward Syria] -- more like a civil war.

Syria’s borders with surrounding countries (with the exception of the Golan Heights, which has been occupied by Israel since June 1967) appear to be “open” to everyone wishing to take part in the Syrian affair, be it a Salafist organization; armed groups affiliated with Al-Qa’eda; offshoots of the Muslim Brotherhood -- which enjoys exceptional support from Turkey and Qatar -- or [members] of the original Muslim Brotherhood international organization. This includes all sides that support [the Brotherhood] and benefit from the experiences of its prominent clerics, who do not hesitate to declare as infidels Muslims who do not agree with what they say. [If the Syrian borders are open to all of these groups,] what about others?

Certainly, the opposition masses at home -- whose size is doubling and the severity of their positions increasing due to the regime’s insistence on [recourse to a military] solution, and its repeated promises of a national dialogue, the appropriate conditions for which have not become available until today -- are becoming more radical. This is especially so since they have been left to twist in the wind, and [are being exposed to] systematic daily incitements pouring over them from satellite channels, radio stations, newspapers, and the Internet. Meanwhile, the regime is holding on to its archaic rhetoric, which does not offer any promise of serious and comprehensive change, but rather vague promises no one cares to listen to or accept.

Naturally, the regime’s intransigence in refusing to hold dialogue with its opponents -- who are growing in number and strength with each day of open [hostilities] in most parts of Syria -- will increase the sphere of foreign intervention. This is probably what the Syrian president sees as a threatening source of division.

It is well known that many forces -- some wearing Arab kefiyyeh [traditional Arab headdresses] though possessing Western inclinations and identities, as well as many countries that have voiced their hostility [to Syria] -- want to bring down all of Syria rather than just its regime. But the question is: Has the regime prepared the people of Syria to [bravely] confront such a threat, as they have in previous experiences in which they defeated the conspirators and protected “the beating heart of Arabism”?!

The “Friends of Syria’’ conference to be held next Friday [Feb 24] in Tunisia does not seem to qualify as [the right place in which] to formulate the desired solution [for the Syrian crisis], especially since [the conference] has been the object of a serious dispute between the parties who have called for it, and whose goals vary to the point of contradicting one another. [Furthermore], the newfound understanding between some Arab states -- particularly Egypt and Tunisia -- could serve to minimize its harmful effects. There are [currently] over thirty cards being played, including the very extreme Turkish card, and the French card that was offered as an alternative to silence. This despite the fact that the general tendency is to support the “Arab initiative” earlier put forward by the Arab League, which rejects foreign intervention -- perhaps because [any other kind of plan] is a practical impossibility.

Today, the danger is threatening Syria -- its people and the state -- and not only its regime.

Perhaps this danger -- which is apparent to any sane person -- has prompted Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah to warn against the language of incitement to sedition, and to make repeated calls for dialogue, in order to confront what is being plotted against Syria -- [that is,] what they in Damascus see as an invitation to divide [Syria], and what we in Lebanon see as a threat to national unity.

Clearly, concern for civil peace in Lebanon cannot be expressed in such inflammatory speeches as the ones given at the Biel ceremony held on the occasion of the seventh anniversary of the assassination of the martyred Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. [Such speeches] harm Lebanon without benefiting in the least the opposition movement in Syria.

We, at the moment, are living in the heart of danger. Employing the Syrian crisis for political and sectarian [gains] in Lebanon will [in no way] safeguard national unity. The issue is much more serious and complicated than that.

Found in: syrian crisis, syrian, sectarian conflict, sectarian, lebanese-syrian relations, foreign intervention, arab league, arab

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