by Gerry Foley / April 2005 issue of Socialist Action
At this writing, the anti-Syrian bloc appears to have taken the lead in the referendum of the streets on the question of the withdrawal of the Syrian army from Lebanon.
The March 14 demonstration called by the anti-Syrian opposition was credited by the international press and its own supporters with bringing a million people into the streets of the Lebanese capital. If accurate this turnout would amount to about one-fourth of the population of Lebanon.
The New York Times correspondent reported: “Nearly every available space around the square was filled with people flying the Lebanese flag, in what was
probably the largest demonstration ever seen in Lebanon.”
The anti-Syrian demonstration marked a sudden reversal of the victory of the pro-Syrian Hezbullah in the streets the week before, on March 8, when it was
estimated that a half-million people had come out in support of Syria. In the wake of that mobilization, the pro-Syrian president, Emile Lahoud, reappointed the pro-Syrian premier, Omar Karami, who had resigned
earlier in the response to a succession of anti-Syrian mass rallies. Karami easily mustered a parliamentary majority.
Hezbullah’s display of its mass support did force the U.S. rulers to change their line on the Iran-backed radical Shiite organization. Only a couple days after
they had finally bullied the European Union into declaring Hezbullah a terrorist organization, the U.S. administration found it advisable to take a more
diplomatic line, seeking to “encourage” the organization to take a “political” road and abandon its powerful militia.
The leadership of the Islamist group immediately rejected Bush’s invitation, arguing that disarming their militia would leave Lebanon defenseless against
Israel. In fact, it was Hezbullah’s guerrilla warfare that forced Israel and its local allies to abandon a wide strip of southern Lebanon that they had occupied
for many years.
The confrontation between the two massive demonstrations on March 8 and March 14 demonstrated what the real issue was in the conflict. The target of
the U.S. and its Lebanese allies is Hezbullah, as the Islamist organization has clearly recognized. Hezbullah has been protected by Syria and financed by
the Islamist regime in Iran. Its power is based on the rise of the Shiite population in Lebanon, which is by now by far the largest community in the diverse nation, representing half or close to half of the population.
As in the Middle Eastern countries historically ruled by Sunni Muslims (Lebanon was actually ruled by a coalition of different sects but the predominant Muslim component was Sunni), the Shiites were at the
bottom of the society. Thus, the rise of the Hezbullah represents to a certain degree a social revolution. The Hezbullah is in a constant state of war with
Israel in the border area, and a major thorn in the side of the Zionist state. More fundamentally, it is the point of the threat to Israel posed by Iran, which
the Zionist rulers consider the greatest menace they face in the region.
Now, after the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq, the Zionist rulers claim that the Hezbullah have become the paymasters and the long distance commanders of the Palestinian resistance. Some of the best-informed experts on the Middle East maintain that what finally prompted the U.S. to invade Iraq was Saddam Hussein’s support for the Palestinian resistance, the obvious implication being that the U.S. rulers are anxious to crush the Hezbullah.
It is a more serious obstacle to their plans for the region than the regime of Assad Jr. in Syria, which has been yielding step by step to U.S. pressure. The
impressive popularity of the Hezbullah among the Shiite masses of Lebanon is clearly linked to its intransigence against U.S. imperialism and the Zionist
Actually, the regime of the present Syrian president’s father, Hafez al-Assad, sent the Syrian army into Lebanon to put an end to the chronic civil war that
had wracked the country for 15 years. The immediate beneficiaries were the organizations of the previously privileged Christian elite, which were threatened by being overwhelmed, by the Palestinian militias in particular.
The right-wing Christian organizations’ alliance with Israel subsequently soured their relations with the Syrians. There have been signs of a comeback by
right-wing Christian organizations in the demonstration against Syria. But now there seems to be an alliance of all the minority sects—Christians, Sunnis, and Druses—against the pro-Syrian regime and its Shiite supporters.
The Druses are a syncretistic sect, which has its origins in Islam but is not considered Muslim by either the Sunni or the Shiites. It has been centered
in the mountains, as have the Christians, and the proximity of the two communities led to particularly violent battles between them in the last phase of the Lebanese civil war.
The Hezbullah leaders have warned that the opposing demonstrations threaten to re-ignite the civil war. That is certainly a danger. The country has not been
so divided since the civil war. But the geopolitical issues are complicated by fears of the repressive Syrian regime and its secret police, which are very
widespread among the population.
There is obviously a crying need for a new kind of political leadership of the anti-imperialist movement, which would be independent of any dictatorial regime and could inspire the enthusiasm and trust of the masses not only in Lebanon but throughout the Middle East.