The bad news for the liberals in Lebanon is that Hezbollah staged an enormous rally in support of Syria’s military occupation and intelligence agencies.
Here’s the good news. Hezbollah and Syria already lost this fight. Before the rally even began Syria had already agreed to withdraw its troops to the border. And it’s under increasing pressure to withdraw to the other side of the border.
Meanwhile, Hezbollah is scrambling to keep up with world opinion, which is almost unanimously united against it and the Syrian regime.
Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah emphatically backed Monday’s decision by the Syrian and Lebanese presidents to withdraw troops according to the 1989 Taif Accord, not U.N. Resolution 1559.
So Hezbollah is actually contradicting what the people at its own rally are shouting. It, too, supports a Syrian troop withdrawal. The only difference is in the details. Granted the details are key. But if the leaders of Hezbollah felt as confident as they’d like us to think from the size of that rally, they wouldn’t agree to any withdrawal at all. The dissidents set the terms of debate. The pro-Syrian rally was an attempt at damage control.
The best part of the whole deal is that hundreds of thousands of Lebanese are having a loud, public, and so-far peaceful political argument. Middle Eastern politics is notoriously ruthless, illiberal, violent, and closed. Lebanon has been one of the more progressive Middle Eastern countries for some time, but it has been decades since anything like this has happened.
The whole point of democratizing the Middle East is to tame the jihad into a mainstream religious-right political party. If Hezbollah wants to shout at people at big scary rallies, it’s fine by me as long as they keep away from the semtex.