03 December 2007

The game is not over

Did a US-Syrian deal make Suleiman the candidate of choice? Did March 14 capitulate? Wrong questions and conclusions for two reasons:

First, this isn't about the United States, and what it can do for Lebanon. This has always been about what the Lebanese can do for themselves. Sadly, after two years of patchwork politics, it turned out the Lebanese, March 14 included, are not capable of much. Last month, those in March 14 banking or counting on American and European support in their defensive fight against Syrian aggression, realized that at the end of the day, as Kouchner repeatedly reminded them, they were on their own. The best they could get was a president elected through a majority vote, enjoying international support but ruling over something that resembles Somalia. It was Jumblatt, now grudgingly promoting the "Better Suleiman than Chaos" solution, who said Lebanese democracy cannot survive with a regime like Assad's acting with impunity. We, Lebanese, who placed hope in March 14 leaders, even as we berated them every time we felt they strayed from the right path, knew all along that the battle against the Assad regime was not a battle between equals. The coalition that was born after the Hariri assassination had the odds stacked against it from the start. This isn't Middle Earth. This is the Middle East.

Second, the real battle was never about the presidency. Note that even after March 14 accepted Suleiman as a lone candidate, the other camp is still demanding "guarantees". The real issues have always been Hizbullah's weapons, the Hariri tribunal and the latter's implications on the Assad regime. A Suleiman presidency may comfort the Assad regime, but it will not change the parliament's majority. If anything, it might reinvigorate parliament, unless March 14 is stupid enough to offer more concessions. In other words, the Assad regime has not won. Not yet.

March 14's greatest mistake was to let its opponents neutralize their weapons: the parliament's majority, and the cabinet. Both institutions were made ineffective, thanks to Nabih Berri and March 14's own mistakes. The climax was made to be the presidential election, but March 14 found itself close to a rushed and costly resolution.

It is not over yet. We have not reached the end, and the battle has not been lost. You and I may not have faith in those leading the fight. But this is Lebanon, folks. And as someone once said, your glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time you fall.

That said, it is time for some of us to stop equating "March 14" with our vision for Lebanon. Our country never had the revolution that Bush said we had, and that we believed we had. If it did happen, it only lasted a day. Suleiman cannot end what has not started. The onus is on those who on March 14th, 2005 believed they walked for independence, to generate a true revolution.

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Lebanon Time-Line

Introducing Lebanon

Coolly combining the ancient with the ultramodern, Lebanon is one of the most captivating countries in the Middle East. From the Phoenician findings of Tyre (Sour) and Roman Baalbek's tremendous temple to Beirut's BO18 and Bernard Khoury's modern movement, the span of Lebanon's history leaves many visitors spinning. Tripoli (Trablous) is considered to have the best souk in the country and is famous for its Mamluk architecture. It's well equipped with a taste of modernity as well; Jounieh, formerly a sleepy fishing village, is a town alive with nightclubs and glitz on summer weekends.

With all of the Middle East's best bits - warm and welcoming people, mind-blowing history and considerable culture, Lebanon is also the antithesis of many people's imaginings of the Middle East: mostly mountainous with skiing to boot, it's also laid-back, liberal and fun. While Beirut is fast becoming the region's party place, Lebanon is working hard to recapture its crown as the 'Paris of the Orient'.

The rejuvenation of the Beirut Central District is one of the largest, most ambitious urban redevelopment projects ever undertaken. Travellers will find the excitement surrounding this and other developments and designs palpable - and very infectious.

Finally, Lebanon's cuisine is considered the richest of the region. From hummus to hommard (lobster), you'll dine like a king. With legendary sights, hospitality, food and nightlife, what more could a traveller want?

Introducing Beirut

What Beirut is depends entirely on where you are. If you’re gazing at the beautifully reconstructed colonial relics and mosques of central Beirut’s Downtown, the city is a triumph of rejuvenation over disaster.

If you’re in the young, vibrant neighbourhoods of Gemmayzeh or Achrafiye, Beirut is about living for the moment: partying, eating and drinking as if there’s no tomorrow. If you’re standing in the shadow of buildings still peppered with bullet holes, or walking the Green Line with an elderly resident, it’s a city of bitter memories and a dark past. If you’re with Beirut’s Armenians, Beirut is about salvation; if you’re with its handful of Jews, it’s about hiding your true identity. Here you’ll find the freest gay scene in the Arab Middle East, yet homosexuality is still illegal. If you’re in one of Beirut’s southern refugee camps, Beirut is about sorrow and displacement; other southern districts are considered a base for paramilitary operations and south Beirut is home to infamous Hezbollah secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah. For some, it’s a city of fear; for others, freedom.

Throw in maniacal drivers, air pollution from old, smoking Mercedes taxis, world-class universities, bars to rival Soho and coffee thicker than mud, political demonstrations, and swimming pools awash with more silicone than Miami. Add people so friendly you’ll swear it can’t be true, a political situation existing on a knife-edge, internationally renowned museums and gallery openings that continue in the face of explosions, assassinations and power cuts, and you’ll find that you’ve never experienced a capital city quite so alive and kicking – despite its frequent volatility.