Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov

Lebanon waits to see if Bashar Assad goes

Lebanon's experience in resolving interfaith issues and getting out of the Civil War may serve as a positive example for Syria. A correspondent of the Lebanese newspaper Al-Jumhuriya Omar Al-Sulh talked about this in a live video feed of Pravda.Ru under in the framework of "A Point of View" project with the head of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Federation Said Gafurov.

Lebanon is a Mediterranean state with a population of four million people bordering Syria in the east and north, and Israel in the south. State power is organized in accordance with the division of the society into religious communities. In 1975, the Lebanese civil war broke out between the Muslim and Christian communities. It lasted 15 years, killing over 150,000 people. The bloodshed ended in 1990 after the signing of the Taif Accords. In 1976, at the request of the government, Syrian troops entered the country and were later withdrawn in 2006. In 1978 and 1982 Israel Defense Forces invaded Lebanon. IDF forces remained in the southern Lebanon until 2000. Following the withdrawal of the troops, a clear border was drawn between Israel and Lebanon, the so-called "blue line," but the Shebaa Farms to the north of the Golan Heights remained a disputed territory.

The "Lebanese model" of the government (confessionalism) that has been in existence for over half a century was established in 1943, when Lebanon gained independence from France. In order to provide a more or less equal access to the supreme authority for all religious denominations, the following order has been established: the president must be a Christian Maronite, the prime minister must be a Sunni Muslim, the Speaker of Parliament - a Shia Muslim, and the government should be equally represented by Christians and Muslims. Political parties originated in Lebanon in accordance with the confessional division, most of them are religious in nature. Christian, Sunni, Shiite, and Druze parties compete for the seats in the parliament within the pre-defined confessional quotas.

Today's Syrian crisis impacts the live of Lebanon, as the political forces of the country are split into two camps, those who support Bashar al-Assad, and his opponents, Al- Sulh described the situation in the country. He explained that the two camps were formed back in 2005, when the issue of the withdrawal of Syrian troops was being resolved. Some joined the rally on March 8 protesting the withdrawal, while others joined the second rally on March 14 in its support. Therefore, even the coalitions in the parliament are called "Coalition of March 8" (the party of "Hezbollah" and Christians) and "Block of March 14" (the Sunni parties). Tension remains in the border areas in the north of the country, for example, many people are leaving the area of ​​Tripoli, and the Russian Embassy in Beirut is guarded by armored equipment.

The country's parliamentary elections were scheduled for May of this year, but they did not take place due to the fact that the Parliament has failed to adopt a new law regulating the elections. "Therefore, the parliament extended its powers for 19 months. President Michel Suleiman appealed the decision, but an alternative solution to the problem has not been found," Al-Sulh said. He believes that there are no protests among the population because all the parties in the Parliament came to a consensus, and the president is a neutral figure in the politics of Lebanon.

The reason for this behavior is clear - everyone is waiting to see how things develop in Syria. "If Bashar al-Assad remains in power, his supporters in Lebanon will seize power, and vice versa," said Al-Sulh. This is despite the fact that in Lebanon, for the first time since 1943, there is a "monochrome" government, that is, most of the ministers belong to the unit "March 8", the journalist emphasized. Even in this format a single assessment of the relations with Syria has not been reached in two years.

There is another reason behind the wait-and-see policy. There is a significant experience of a difficult exit from the Civil War that taught to protect the fragile peace in a multi-confessional country. It was preserved thanks to the position of the international community that for centuries had supported the balance of power between the Muslims (Sunnis and Shiites are now roughly equal) and Christians. Although the Christian population (Maronites) accounts for about 30 percent today (55 percent in 1932) , the number of seats in the parliament is still divided between Christians and Muslims equally. This is not disputed because there are Christians in Muslim parties in Lebanon, and vice versa, that is, there is no clear delineation of the parties along the religious lines, said Al- Sulh.

In Syria, according to the journalist, there is a clear distinction, and the conflict began on religious grounds between Sunni and Shia (Alawite), and Drusen. Gafurov agreed that the war in Lebanon has never been religious, while in Syria priests are being killed. But in Syria there was a split in the Sunni majority. "After all, the Sunnis in Syria account for 80 percent of the population. Many of them support the Assad regime, mostly business people, those who played an important role in the economy," said the Russian orientalist. He believes that there is another difference from the Lebanon war. "Bashar al-Assad refused to arm his supporters, fighting only with his army (a conscript army in Syria), but not the people." In Lebanon, the army took a neutral position, while the parties or religious formations were at war. Al-Sulh agreed that the Syrian army will hold as long as Assad holds.

Gafurov stressed that he sympathized with the Syrian president as he gave priority to a peaceful, political solution to the conflict. However, according to Al- Sulh, Assad made ​​a big mistake when at the onset of the unrest in the city of Daraa he used weapons against the protesters. He should not have succumbed to provocations and should have negotiated. And then it was too late, and forces from abroad intervened, including Saudi Arabia and Turkey dreaming of the Great Caliphate and the Ottoman Empire. Al-Sulh believes that over the years of the "Arab Spring" an army of fighters was formed in the Middle East that needs to apply its forces. They are hired by Saudi Arabia for $100 a month. As long as they get paid, it will be difficult to stop the conflict in Syria. If the conflict is stopped there, this army will move to Tunisia. According to the journalist, there are 12,000 Islamists, and if you add up all the countries of the Middle East, this number may reach 100,000 militants.

However, despite these differences, the Lebanese experience can be useful in resolving the Syrian conflict. For example, it could be a return to the presidential election in the parliament, as it was done in Lebanon, Gafurov said. "While under the Constitution in Lebanon the president must be a Maronite, he is elected by the Parliament that may choose to be loyal to the Muslims or the Christian." The story is the same in Germany, in India, so if at least one of the members of the parliament votes against, it is considered to be bad. They have to be able to negotiate," said Gafurov. In Syria it was the same under Hafez Assad, but at the demand of the opposition some amendments were made to the Constitution and the country has moved towards the direct presidential election. Al-Sulh agreed and brought up the current president of Lebanon Michel Suleiman as an example. "Iran and Saudi Arabia have agreed to put forward his candidacy. He is a neutral person, and cannot make drastic decisions, but there is peace," said the journalist.

Speaking about Russia's role in resolving the Syrian conflict, the parties agreed that Russia supports not Bashar al-Assad, but the choice of the Syrian people. "The Arabs have always loved Russia because they never fought with it." First they were against Russia because they did not like Assad, but now the situation has changed, and people appreciate that Russia is looking for a peaceful solution to the problem, and does not regard it as only protecting Orthodox Christianity or Christians. Everyone understands that the conflict cannot be resolved by war," said the Lebanese journalist. "Russia has returned to the level of the USSR. There was a time when no one took Russia into account, the Americans did what they wanted in Iraq and Afghanistan, but now everyone realized that someone can say "no." Obama began consulting with Congress, with the Security Council, which means that America has to reckon with Russia."

Al-Sulh has moderate hope for the negotiations in Geneva, and believes that Assad will remain in office until the international community decides his fate. The Russian orientalist, unlike him, believes that there is no need to deprive Syria of the right to be an independent state, and we need to let the Syrians hold 2014 presidential election.

Lyuba Lulko


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