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Middle East Comment from a Traveling Journo

The View from Beirut

‘The Doctor needs to go. When the Assads leave, Lebanon will be free.’ So said my driver in clouds of cigarette smoke as we sped from the airport into downtown Beirut. I met a lot of people with the same sentiment: a weaker Syria means a stronger Lebanon.

This is interesting for two reasons. Firstly, because no matter what side they’re on, the Lebanese regard a Syria without Assad as a weaker Syria. And they’d be right. I’m no apologist. What Assad’s security forces are doing is unforgivable – and he’s squandering the one chance Mubarak and the like didn’t have. But the Alawis have made it their mission to divide Syria over the past forty years in what is basically a coalition of the wealthy – Shi’a, Christian and Sunni elites all in a shaky partnership of economic convenience. And Assad is at the head. If he goes, that partnership breaks down. Whilst I certainly don’t agree that a heterogeneous country needs an autocrat to rule it, sectarian politics die hard.

Second, although that taxi driver may be keen to see the back of a regime which has caused chaos in his country, instability in Syria will further weaken already contested borders. The Sunni working class – which has formed the backbone of these protests – may see a similarly under-represented ally in the Lebanese Sunni. Indeed Lebanon in its entirety will be left even more exposed to Syrian claims at re-establishing ‘Greater Syria.’ It won’t do an already unstable Lebanon any favours to have a leaderless country with a political landscape so deeply entrenched along sectarian lines on its somewhat porous border. A weaker Syria will mean a weaker Lebanon.

No one is sure what is going to happen. Beiruties are for their part just soaking up the sun in their usual fashion. The bars and pools of the capital seemed a world away from the dramas unfolding so close by. Generally the Lebanese would love to see Assad fall. But not all ‘rebels’ are the same. They should be careful what they wish for.

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Filed under: Middle East

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Middle East Comment from a Travelling Journo

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