Whether or not Syria plotted the carbombing that killed Rafik Hariri, the popular former prime minister who became a uniting force for Lebanon, his murder has generated a fierce anger that has created nationalistic outrage directed at Lebanon’s longtime occupier:
Sunni marched with Shia, and Druze with Christian, as the factions that slaughtered each other in the 1975-1990 civil war paid their respects as one.
West Beirut’s alleyways echoed to the wailing of mourners as Mr Hariri’s funeral cortege snaked through crowds, showered with rice thrown in tribute from balconies.
Sheikhs and smart business executives, trendy teenagers and frail pensioners all massed together. Christian church bells rang out and muezzins called from mosques as the cortege approached Mr Hariri’s last resting place – a grave outside the vast, new Mohammed al-Amin mosque which towers over Martyrs’ Square. …
While anti-Syria slogans were chanted by thousands who blamed Damascus for the bomb that killed Mr Hariri and 14 others on Monday, his eldest son, Bahaa, begged for the funeral not to become a political rally but to remain a solemn display of mourning.
For one day, at least, the Lebanese have found their sense of national pride, and the target of their righteous anger has to wonder how much longer their troops can maintain their strategic foothold in Lebanon. The Syrians face military pressure unprecedented in the past three decades, now that Saddam Hussein no longer protects its eastern flank. With a united and hostile Lebanon to the west, a democratic Turkey to the north, 150,000 American troops massed on their east, and their favorite enemy Israel to the south, Bashir Assad has to either find a way to extricate himself quickly from his terror and military entanglements or face annihilation. Earlier today, Syria and Iran announced a military and diplomatic alliance, but Iran doesn’t help Syria. The Iranians would have to get through the US military that tore apart the most professional army in Southwest Asia, save for the Israelis themselves, in less than three weeks. Even Iran isn’t that stupid.
Even worse, the newfound nationalism and demands for a freely elected government independent from Damascus may well resonate with the Syrian populace, who just experienced the unusual sight of ex-patriate Iraqis voting in Damascus, while Syrians have yet to have a free vote in their lifetimes. The only way to ensure at least a short-term sense of security is to make peace with Israel quickly and get the hell out of Lebanon, and hope that he can keep his subjects cowed long enough to slow democratic reform enough so that he can keep ahead of it, hopefully to be seen as leading it. Failing that, Assad needs to slow it down to the point where he can bail out to one of the decreasing list of Arab nations that would offer him refuge after the revolution.
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