Tuesday, April 27, 2010

As if they’d never left

NOW Lebanon
New Opinion
26 April '10

(Another insightful article from NOW Lebanon.)

Five years ago today, after a brief ceremony in the border town of Aanjar that tried to paint a patina of respect on a total of 29 years of military and security “presence”, the last Syrian soldier left Lebanese soil. Until that moment, and for more than a decade after the Lebanese civil war ended, it was hard for first-time visitors to Lebanon to determine who actually ran the country.

From the moment they landed at Beirut Airport to when they reached their hotels, tourists would see that the walls and roads of Beirut were dotted with portraits of former Syrian President Hafez al-Assad, sometimes alongside those of his then-Lebanese counterpart, Elias Hrawi, but in many instances alone.

Even more mystifying to the neophyte would have been the three days of mourning for Assad’s son and heir, Basil, who was killed in a car accident in Damascus in January 1994. Soon after, a statue of Basil in uniform on one of his beloved horses was erected at the entrance to the Bekaa town of Chtoura.

And all the while the Syrian army lived in abandoned buildings and controlled the strategic intersections around Beirut and the rest of Lebanon. There was very little respect or courtesy from the occupying army. Shopkeepers would be careful not to fall foul of their neighbors, while at the checkpoints, petty extortion was practiced on commercial vehicles. Elsewhere anxiety was added to humiliation as drivers would be “asked” to give lifts to Syrian soldiers. Then there were the summons for those who dared speak out against the presence. They could range from a verbal reprimand to abuse and intimidation that could last for days.

The events leading up to the withdrawal have been well documented. Rafik Hariri, the man who had come to represent post-war Lebanon, had been murdered in an outrageous assassination that took the lives of 21 others, and this time the Lebanese were not going to take it like they had with previous killings. They took to the streets, blaming Syria for the murder. This time, with the US army camped in Iraq and a US administration that would not brook any insolence from the region’s despots, there was no crackdown on the huge and unprecedented demonstration of people power, arguably the biggest in modern Arab history.

(Read full article)

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