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World Council for the Cedars Revolution

Aug 11th
Home arrow News Content arrow Blog arrow Blog Items arrow Extremism In Lebanon arrow If Arab world is to change, it will start in Lebanon, says parliament deputy
If Arab world is to change, it will start in Lebanon, says parliament deputy PDF Print E-mail
Written by The Irish Times   
Tuesday, 07 October 2008

Lebanese MP Samir Franjieh
Lebanese MP Samir Franjieh

Samir Frangieh tells Lara Marlowe in Paris he fears another Israeli attack more than a Syrian troop invasion

WHEN HE talks about his native Lebanon, Samir Frangieh’s words are bittersweet. The deputy in the Lebanese parliament feels betrayed and disappointed at the failure of the 2005 “Cedar Revolution”, which was supposed to turn the country into a western-style democracy. But that is balanced by the impression that the worst is over, that Lebanon may be coming to an accommodation with its demons.

Frangieh was an adviser to Rafik al-Hariri, the former prime minister whose assassination on February 14th, 2005, provoked mass street demonstrations against Damascus. “For me, this evolution towards a new Arab world was the equivalent of the fall of the Berlin wall,” he says over coffee in Paris. “Lebanon is the public square of the Arab world, the place where all debates take place. The battle we are leading in Lebanon concerns the entire Arab world,” Frangieh continues.

“If the Arab world is to change, it will start in Lebanon. Now Europe is going back on its support for the Cedar Revolution, with huge implications for the region. If the Cedar Revolution disappears, we’ll go back to before, to an Arab world of backward, Islamicising regimes and military dictatorships.

“If [the pro-western movement] March 14th falls in Beirut, in the weeks that follow Hamas will take control of all of Palestine, and attempts to distance the Iraqi Shia from Iran will fail.”

Frangieh was in Paris for consultations with French officials, including the foreign minister Bernard Kouchner, advisers at the Élysée Palace and members of the National Assembly and Senate. One reason for western reluctance to support Fouad Siniora’s pro-western government, he notes, is the presence in southern Lebanon of thousands of European peacekeepers in Unifil.

“Since it was created [following the 2006 Israel-Hizbullah war], the Europeans want to protect their soldiers, so they are in effect protecting Hizbullah,” Frangieh says. “Spain, Italy and France are trying to be on good terms with Syria, to make sure their soldiers aren’t attacked. They are de facto hostages, which sometimes leads to pressure being exerted on us.

“The Spanish, Italian and French foreign ministers have all gone to Damascus. We don’t mind them talking to Syria, but not about Lebanon, and not to the detriment of Lebanon.”

Frangieh minimises the importance of recent bombings in Damascus and the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli, and fighting between fundamentalist Sunni Muslims and Alawites there. He fears another Israeli attack on Lebanon far more than a Syrian attempt to move soldiers back into the country. UN Security Council resolution 1701 called for the disarming of Hizbullah, but that never happened.

Lebanon’s two powerful neighbours have scores to settle with the little country. Damascus was humiliated by the withdrawal of its troops in 2005, and the Israeli army wants to avenge its defeat by Hizbullah in 2006.

Frangieh says the only solution is for Hizbullah to disarm. “They are receptive, but the Iranians are not. We are at risk from two wars: between Israel and Hizbullah, or an Israeli-American war against Iran.”

Frangieh is not pessimistic. “We are reaching a final point in this crisis,” he says. He praises President Michel Suleiman, who was elected in May, as a “wise, prudent man” who has good relations with both sides in Lebanon. Suleiman launched an internal dialogue between all Lebanese groups on September 16th; the second round will continue on November 5th.

Frangieh says Hariri “achieved through his death what he wanted in life: he made Beirut a place where people come together; he reconciled them with each other. He wanted a Syrian withdrawal; with his death he achieved that”.

© 2008 The Irish Times


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