The continuing signs of ferment in evidence in the streets of Beirut are being heralded in the US as signs that “another Middle East domino is falling.” The Bush Administration has been quick to latch on to the demonstrations as a validation of the President’s democracy campaign.
But as horrific as the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri was and as inspiring as the mass mobilization of the “cedar revolution” has been, the demonstrations don’t tell the whole story of what is happening in Lebanon today. A recent poll of 1,250 Lebanese, representing all religious groupings in the country, establishes that while an emerging consensus exists on some questions, on several key issues a deep sectarian divide still plagues the country. And these issues must be tended to if Lebanon’s unity and internal security are to be insured. The poll was conducted during the last week in February 2005 by a Lebanese polling firm, Information International, in conjunction with Zogby International.
First, the good news. Hariri, who was large in life, has achieved icon-like status in death. Substantial majorities of Lebanese from every group have been “angered,” “sad,” or “shocked” by his killing. Large groups from each of Lebanon’s communities also now say that even though they previously did not support Hariri’s “vision for Lebanon,” they now do so and will even now vote for candidates who are “close to former Prime Minister Hariri” in the upcoming parliamentary elections. Speaking of the upcoming elections, three-quarters of all Lebanese want them to proceed as scheduled.
Most Lebanese polled also believe that the assassination will strengthen the opposition and bring about the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1559. And more than 50% in each group say that the US and international reaction to the killing has had more to do with US enmity toward Syria than with support for Lebanon, per se.
This appears to be where the consensus ends.
On the critical matter of who they hold responsible for the assassination, there is a deep division. About one-half of Maronites and Druze feel that either Lebanese or Syrian authorities were involved. On the other hand, only 14% of Shi’a Lebanese point their accusing finger in that direction, while more than 70% claim that either Israel or the United States were involved. Hariri’s own Sunni community and Orthodox Christians are divided, with equal numbers pointing to Syria/Lebanon and US/Israel as the suspected culprit.
This may be where the division begins, but it extends into other areas as well. For example, while almost two in five Maronites and Druze believe that the assassination will lead to a Syrian withdrawal, only 7% of Shi’a agree. Almost 60% of Shi’a, on the other hand, now worry that in the wake of this assassination measures will be taken that will result in a deterioration of the Lebanese security situation, an attitude shared by only about 15% of Maronites and Druze.
How best now to proceed with securing Lebanon? Only Maronites see a Syrian withdrawal as key with one-half agreeing with this as the solution. About one-third of Shia and Sunnis and less than one-fourth of Orthodox agree. Many Lebanese, in particular Orthodox, Sunni, and Shia, see the solution to Lebanon’s security in “reinforcement and deployment of the Lebanese army and security forces all over Lebanon.” And while 60% of Druze see the disarming of Lebanon’s militias as necessary for the country’s future, only about one in seven Maronites, Orthodox, and Sunni agree. Not surprisingly, only 5% of Shia agree, since the “disarming” provision of UNSC 1559 specifically has Hizbollah in mind.
The lesson in all of this is that as important as the demonstrations may be, those not demonstrating and their views must be factored by policy makers into the complex equation of how to move Lebanon forward.
While it has become clear that the Syrian military presence in Lebanon has run its course, a Syrian withdrawal by itself doesn’t solve the Lebanon puzzle. Intense US pressure to implement the other half of 1559 may provoke counter demonstrations that fragile Lebanon may not be able to easily digest.
A cautionary note: before we begin celebrating falling dominos and claiming credit for them, it is important to know where they might fall and what might come after they land.
Who is responsible for the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq
The Syrian authorities
The Lebanese authorities
The Lebanese and Syrian authorities together
How will the assassination of former P.M. Hariri affect the security
The security situation will deteriorate