No two people can argue over the fact that Lebanon is the most affected by what happens in Syria, whether positively or negatively, as it has been the case ever since the emergence of Al-Assad’s regime in Damascus and its persisting ambition – both in secret and in public – to subdue its small neighbor, affiliate it with its policies and alliances and push Beirut to emulate its standards. This is true from the simplest details to the general political principles, and what falls between them in terms of security, sovereignty and economy.
This behavior did not change during the fateful crisis affecting the Syrian regime. Its need for its Lebanese allies and men even increased, in order to show it was not alone and isolated in its struggle for survival. It thus mobilized the latter and made them issue statements going in line with its defense of its wrath and its refusal to cooperate with its citizens’ overwhelming desire for change, either by threatening that its fall would cause wide-scale regional collapse from which Lebanon would not survive, or by casting accusations of extremism and terrorism against the protesters.
However, this old and renewed use of the Lebanese affiliate has so far failed to provoke any position by the Syrian opposition toward the Lebanese issue and branches, except for what the head of the National Council Borhan Ghalioun was quoted as saying in regard to the severance of the relations with Hezbollah and Iran following the victory of the Syrian revolution, due to their support of Bashar al-Assad’s regime and its provision with oppression means. Nonetheless, this position remains in the context of a reaction to a specific situation, and does not stem from a long-term policy.
In the meantime, asking the Syrian opposition – with its various branches – about a clear position in regard to the future of the relations with Lebanon is not at all a theoretical question. This is due to the fact that the Syrian regime will inevitably collapse within a few weeks or months, as its fate has been sealed and will not be changed by the optimistic statements and deadlines set for its safe exit from the crisis, exclusively being issued by its Lebanese mouthpieces.
It is not too early to say that we did not hear the Syrian opposition’s decisive say in regard to Lebanon’s independence and the recognition of its border and entity as a final nation for its people, which completely contradicts the Syrian behavior throughout the last four decades and what it caused in terms of tragic repercussions on Lebanon. Hence, the Lebanese can hope to be rid of the nightmare of tutelage over their system, politics and constitutional institutions and interference in their affairs – whether big or small – and aspire to see the turning of the page of political assassinations and security explosions by proxy and the handling of their politicians as though they were puppets controlled by Damascus whenever and however it wants.
The Lebanese, or at least the vast majority among them, want to hear reassuring words saying that tutelage will not be replaced with another, that the followers will not be substituted with new ones, and that Lebanon will be left alone to allow its people to determine what they want for it. They want to know that the cross-border alliances will stop along with the cross-border armament, and that the Lebanese state will be able to demarcate its final border and draw up its independent policies without any threats.
The Syrian opposition will have to prove it is standing midway between all the Lebanese, even if it is supported by some of them for the time being, and that it will be able to overcome the Syrian popular mood which tends to downplay the importance of the independent Lebanon. At this level, it would be understandable for some in Lebanon – who became accustomed to taking the road toward Damascus – to feel orphaned once Syrian changes, and will try to compensate their loss by generating commotion, if not more. But what is certain is that they will not be able to turn the clock backward.
Hassan Haidar is a frequent writer in the London-based Dar Al Hayat, where this article first appeared on Jan. 5, 2012