Socialist Worker

A pale shadow of democracy

Issue No. 1942

It’s a remarkable irony that the methods that helped bring down one empire are now being used to expand another.

Paula Dobriansky, US under secretary of state for global affairs, said last week: “There was a rose revolution in Georgia, an orange revolution in Ukraine, and most recently a purple revolution in Iraq. In Lebanon we see growing momentum for a ‘cedar revolution’ that is unifying the citizens of that nation to the cause of true democracy and freedom from foreign influence.”

Pause for laughter at that phrase “freedom from foreign influence”. It is a real tribute to the fact that our rulers are quite without shame that George Bush and Jacques Chirac should unite in calling for Syria to withdraw its troops from Lebanon.

Iraq presumably is free from “foreign influence” despite the presence of 150,000 US troops. And France has regularly dispatched armies to its former empire in Africa, most recently to the Ivory Coast.

But we should take hypocrisy for granted when dealing with the likes of Bush and Chirac. The interesting question is whether or not Washington neo-conservative dreams are coming true.

Does the reaction in Lebanon to the assassination of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri mark the beginning of a wave of democratic revolutions comparable to those that swept away Stalinism?

Some opponents of the Iraq war are beginning to think so. “We need to face up to the fact that the Iraq invasion has intensified pressure for democracy in the Middle East,” says the Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland. But in reality, Lebanon’s “cedar revolution” is the pale shadow of a genuine democratic struggle.

Last Saturday’s Financial Times carried an interview with Michael Nafkour, a corporate events manager who has been organising the protests in Martyrs Square calling for Syrian withdrawal. “It has become fashionable for Beirut’s middle class to visit the square in the evenings and join in the few mass demonstrations that have taken place since the assassination,” the article noted.

Imperial technique

“Democratic revolution” has degenerated into a technique of imperial rule, a means by which Washington can ally itself with local elites and engineer regime change. This is the proper register in which to judge the events in Lebanon, and here we must mark up a real success for the US—and Israel.

Then Syrian president Hafez al-Assad sent his army into Lebanon in April 1976 to stop the Lebanese left and the Palestinians winning the civil war in that country. He took this action with the support of the US and the acquiescence of Israel.

But, after the chaos and carnage caused by Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982, Assad promoted the rise of the Shia militias that, led by the radical Islamists of Hizbollah, ultimately drove the Israel Defence Force out of the country.

Israel has long denounced the axis between Syria and Hizbollah as a strategic threat. And Hariri’s assassination gave Ariel Sharon and his allies in Washington the opportunity they needed.

Indeed, so convenient was it that you can’t help wondering whether the perpetrators weren’t some idiots in Syrian intelligence but those masters of dirty tricks in the Israeli secret service, Mossad.

Hariri was closely linked to the Saudi regime. He built up a $4 billion business empire by becoming the main building contractor to the Saudi royal family. So Hariri’s killing isolated Syria in the Arab world.

When the current Syrian president, Bashar

al-Assad, flew to Riyadh last week to meet Crown Prince Abdullah, the ruler of Saudi Arabia, he was told in no uncertain terms to pull his troops out of Lebanon. At the weekend Assad caved in and announced a phased withdrawal.

Washington has undoubtedly scored a victory that has shifted the regional balance of forces in favour of the US and Israel. But it’s not at all obvious how this will help the Bush administration where it really matters—in Iraq.

There, for all the hoopla about the “purple revolution”, the US faces a population that (outside the Kurdish areas) is overwhelmingly opposed to the occupation. Last week the 1,500th US soldier to die in Iraq was killed. For some reason, that didn’t get much publicity.

For more on the Middle East read Ghasan Makarem and Chris Harman in this issue.


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Article information

Alex Callinicos
Sat 12 Mar 2005, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1942
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