Gulliver in Beirut


After Tim Cavanaugh, it was the New York Times' turn yesterday to make a case for Lebanese democracy under the Syrian protectorate. It's perhaps a trifle late (the Syrians have been in Lebanon for 28 years), but certainly not too late. The Times piece also went further and mentioned Lebanon's importance as a relatively democratic outpost (when the Syrians leave us be, and our politicians check their ambitions) in a mostly dictatorial Middle East. Many of us here in Beirut have been making that case for some time, and with the UN Security Council passing a historic resolution yesterday calling for all "foreign forces" (hear Syria) to leave Lebanon, we might finally have gotten a hearing.

The Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad has blundered splendidly. He may have studied ophthalmology, but he was blind as a rock on this one. He succeeded, by insisting on extending Emile Lahoud's mandate (Lahoud is Lebanon's remarkably shameless president) despite warnings not to do so from the U.S. and France, in internationalizing the Syrian-Lebanese relationship. Bashar's father always made sure that was one mistake he didn't make. Thank heavens, the son is cut from different cloth.

And what's going on here? Across the square from my house, workers have erected a four-story-high portrait of Lahoud, momentarily allowing us to observe, like Gulliver in Brobdingnag (with some poetic license): "His skin appeared so coarse and uneven, so variously colored, when I saw him near, with a mole here and there as broad as a trencher. And hairs hanging from it thicker than pack-threads?" Banners have been put up (apparently on the initiative of the intelligence services, but also probably the Interior Ministry, controlled by Lahoud's son-in-law) hailing the great man, and speakers have been blaring patriotic songs from the square. Even as I'm typing a fireworks display has started. The feigned joy touches no one, but is typical of regimes that must manufacture support for fear of seeing the vast emptiness of the real thing.

I can hear a baby crying?