Syria’s Friends in Lebanon Are Slowly Slipping Away

Article Summary
Syria’s has been slowly losing its grip on Lebanese politicians since the Michel Samaha affair, which saw Lebanon's former Information Minister charged with plotting terrorism to destabilize his country on behalf of Bashar al-Assad. Rosana Bou Moncef writes that Syria's traditional allies are embarrassed, and the political tides are turning.

President Bashar al-Assad’s media appearances — which he has used to emphasize his determination to “resolve the situation” in Syria and encourage his supporters — lack the power to persuade the majority of his allies in Lebanon. These allies have secretly, if not yet explicitly or publicly, admitted that since the Syrian regime has not proven its effectiveness and ability to resolve the crisis after almost a year and a half, all hopes and expectations to do so at present are taken away. This is especially true given that the Syrian army has suffered from a number of defections and losses. The Syrian president’s speech did not have the strong impact of previous speeches, even though his theory of a conspiracy against the Syrian-Iranian alliance was warmly welcomed by those allies.

Some political observers have said that Nabih Berri and Najib Mikati’ s positions last week — linking what is taking place in Lebanon to Syria and the desire of some parties to export the Syrian crisis to Lebanon — can be interpreted in a certain way as an indirect accusation against the Syrian regime. However, the more developed positions expressed by Lebanese President Michel Suleiman have shown great detachment. Suleiman has explicitly expressed his position regarding the Syrian regime since the beginning of the crisis, by saying that “a true friend is someone who tells you the truth, and not someone who believes you,” according to relevant sources.

Syria’s dissatisfaction with Suleiman’s positions was expressed to Lebanon through media outlets. A number of Syria’s allies are still playing the same role they did in the past, when they were forced to directly and publicly deliver messages — without having to wait for a position from Syria — by launching harsh campaigns against the president. These allies have started to examine the situation in a new light, realizing that radical change in Syria is inevitable. Furthermore, they have now realized that the fact that the revolution has not yet succeeded does not mean that the regime has.

Some of them have felt more comfortable than ever and are criticizing Assad in front of reporters, by comparing him to his father. They said Assad’s father — who was able to lead Syria despite its contradictions — gave the country a lot by controlling Lebanon. They then added that numerous mistakes were committed, which resulted in the collapse and destruction of Syria. Finally, they diminished the importance of Hezbollah’s victory over Israel in 2006. These critics said that regardless of the aggressor, it was the people who defeated a country that possesses heavy aircraft, tanks and armies.

Moreover, the case of former minister Michel Samaha, who gave indisputable proof that the Syrian regime is involved in what is happening in Lebanon, has embarrassed Syria’s allies in Lebanon. Previously, accusations against the Syrian regime were unsubstantiated and evidence was scarce. The judicial case against Samaha — or the lack of a case for some — is an important indicator that Syria still enjoys considerable influence in Lebanon and has hegemony over Lebanese decision-making. This is further evidenced by the fact that the regime was able to freeze this case until further notice and to work on releasing Samaha, under any pretext or legal fabrication.

Other parties say that the slowdown of this investigation aims at preventing the country from drowning in the repercussions of the Syrian crisis, and represents an attempt to calm things down. They emphasize that this is not a step backwards, since any wavering on positions that have already been announced based on evidence would not only violate the Lebanese judiciary — which has already been violated by the Fayez Karam case and other similiar cases — but would also violate major institutions and the entire state. However, even if this hypothesis turns out to be true, since the Lebanese environment has long been divided and subject to internal controversies, there will always be winners and losers. Furthermore, the allies of the Syrian regime are more and more convinced — without any illusion that a solid victory is possible — that the survival of the Syrian regime is dependent on a significant deal between the major powers, particularly in light of outstanding issues between the United States and Russia, as well as Iran.

Found in: samaha, bashar al-assad

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