Reuters reports that the pro-Syrian Lebanese government has resigned under pressure from the unprecedented demonstrations of dissent in the streets of Beirut today, giving an opportunity for activists of liberty to wrest control of Lebanon from Damascus for the first time in decades:
Lebanon’s Syrian-backed Prime Minister Omar Karami, under popular pressure after the assassination of an ex-prime minister, said Monday his government was resigning.
“Out of concern that the government does not become an obstacle to the good of the country, I announce the resignation of the government I had the honor to lead,” Karami told parliament in Beirut.
The government came under fire in parliament Monday over the assassination of Rafik al-Hariri in a huge bomb two weeks ago, while streets away thousands defied a protest ban to demand it stand down.
The debate had been expected to close with a no-confidence vote in the government, but after a lunch break Karami took the podium to announce the resignation of the government.
The collapse of the puppet government in such a short period of time gives testimony to the depth and power of the spontaneous freedom movement inspired by the truly stupid assassination of Rafik Hariri earlier this month. The resignation of Karami and the withdrawal of his government exposes the Syrian power behind the green curtain at Anjar, and protestors lost no time demanding that Damascus get the hell out:
“Today the government fell. Tomorrow, it’s the one huddled in Anjar,” opposition leader Elias Atallah told the crowd to cheers, referring to the Syrian intelligence chief based in the eastern Lebanese town of Anjar. He said the opposition will continue its actions until all demands are met.
The protesters went further, immediately shouting for the resignation of pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud.
“Lahoud, your turn is coming!” they said.
Others in the sea of red, white and green flags chanted, “Syria Out!” and “Freedom, sovereignty, independence!”
Lahoud’s six-year term was renewed in September by Parliament, under apparent Syrian pressure to change the constitution, which banned further terms. A U.N. resolution demanded Lebanon hold presidential elections, Syrian troops pull out of Lebanon and Syria stop interfering in Lebanese affairs.
“The battle is not over. It is just beginning. We want to know who killed Prime Minister Hariri,” opposition legislator Faris Saeed said, addressing the crowd. The crowd responded loudly and in unison: “Syria! Syria!”
In other words, if Assad thought that Karami’s departure would satisfy the Lebanese, he has made another mistake. Assad or his intelligence services have provided a spark with the Hariri assassination that has turned into a firestorm of Lebanese nationalism, one that has united all of the factions in demanding a complete and immediate Syrian withdrawal. Momentum has turned into an avalanche, one that threatens to bury Assad and his Ba’athists in Damascus.
This is Assad’s worst nightmare come true. With the Syrians, especially the Kurds in the northeast, watching the Iraqis vote in the first free multi-party elections ever on their east and the Lebanese on their west showing how fragile the Syrian grip on power truly is, the Assad government may wind up facing similar demonstrations in the streets of Damascus, demanding free multi-party elections — which would end Assad’s grip on power, unless he got in front of the effort immediately.
Will Assad get ahead of history and lead Syria out of Lebanon and into a freely-elected, multiparty democracy? Or will he dither and stand pat and attempt to survive the avalanche headed his way? These are the choices that the Anglo-American strategy of democratization have left with Assad. His father would choose the latter; Bashar might just be smart enough, like Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, to opt for the former. Either way, he only has weeks, possibly even days, to make his choices before the choices are made for him.