March 8, 2005 | Washington Times

Democracy in Lebanon

By: Dr. Walid Phares.

Syrian withdrawal helps repave the way.

The sight of Lebanon's youth in Beirut's Martyr Square stunned many in the West and emboldened many more in the Arab world. The revolution was deeply rooted in the country's long traditions of pluralism and democratic expressions, despite past wars.

There is no doubt about it, the Arab world and its surroundings are feeling the shock of Afghanistan and Iraq's elections. Without hope, the peoples of the region won't be able to sustain change and progress on the road to freedom. The Middle East needs a project for democracy, established in its own midst, by its own cultures and aimed at its own future.

This launching pad has to speak its languages and understand its problems. It must have an experience in democracy and a capability of exporting it within the region. The basis for Mideast and Arab democracy has to be able to teach it, broadcast it, model it into art, technology and culture. It has to be a bridge with the rest of the world, and it has to be able to extend around the world as well. It must be from the East but relate to the West. It needs to have understood the dangers of terrorism, but yet capable of renaissance after being liberated.

Lebanon's institutions produced democratic elections for half a century before the war ravaged its institutions as of 1975; before it lost them to terrorism, Syrian occupation and jihadism.

For 50 years, its democratic strength came not only from its institutions, but because of its political culture. Without an advanced educational system, Lebanon's democracy wouldn't have taken off. Simply put, it was Lebanon's human resources that produced a viable democratic experiment.

What made this small country into the cultural capital of the Arab world, the banking center of the region and a main educational pillar didn't vanish. True, Lebanon is occupied and ruled by an elite in decline, but nevertheless it has a vivid and thriving civil society.

Despite the political and security oppression, universities are still producing generations of free men and women. Against all odds, its cadres are developing the most attractive artistic and cultural programs of the Arab world. This society remains after all, the nervous center of Arab-speaking intellectual life. It is precisely from that tip of the iceberg that one can witness Arab and Mideastern democracy re-emerging.

Iraq crossed a benchmark of democracy, but it is struggling with its present jihadist threats and also its Ba'athist past. The Arab world is witnessing small steps in Egypt and spasms in Saudi Arabia, but it is still under the onslaught of radical Islamists with their powerful propaganda machine. Women are still suppressed, and minorities agonizing. Lebanon, on the other hand, is a launching pad that can muster enough indigenous resources to mount the information campaigns, educate the cadres and provide a safe haven to the international coalition to establish its strategic credentials.

Lebanon, if enabled to function freely, can provide:

1. A sophisticated web of audio-visual and printed media, unparalleled in the Arab world. It can outnumber and overwhelm the subversive media in the region. On that ground alone, Lebanon can win a whole segment of the war on terror.

2. It can provide a center for training and educating entire generations of cadres who would be able to lead into democratization.

3. It can stimulate an economic recovery in the region and revive financial connections between the emerging democracies in the region.

4. It can use the resources of its vast and influential diaspora to inject both economic initiatives in the Arab world and the Middle East.

5. It can serve as one of the most important strategic centers for security cooperation between the United States, the countries of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Arab hinterland.

6. It can develop the seeds of a culture of peace, which is needed to initiate a real cultural of peace between Israel, the emerging Palestinian democracy and the Arabs.

7. It can stimulate emancipation of women, minorities and multi-ethnic democracies.

8. It can play a significant diplomatic role in the cooperation between the countries of the region and the West, as it has done in the past, but under more important strategic circumstances.

The “Cedars Revolution” has paved the way. Removing the Syrian occupation from Lebanon now will allow its civil society to join the international campaign against terrorism and help win the war of ideas.

– Walid Phares is the secretary-general of the World Lebanese Cultural Union and a senior fellow with Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. He is also the Middle East terrorism expert for



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