An Echo in the Funerals at Dusk

Adel Al-Toraifi,
Arab News — 24, February, 2005

In one of his darker poems Khalil Hawi wrote:
How heavy is the shame,
Do I bear it alone?
Am I the only one to cover my face with ashes?
The funerals that the morning announces
Echo in the funerals at dusk.
There is nothing over the horizon,
Save for the smoke of black embers.
Hawi, a poet of renown and professor at the American University of Beirut, killed himself in the late evening of June 6, 1982, at the age of sixty, on the balcony of his home in west Beirut. He had picked a dramatic occasion for his death: Early in the day Israeli armored vehicles had barreled into Lebanon. “Where are the Arabs?” Hawi had asked his colleagues on the university campus before he went to shoot himself.
The story of Hawi comes back to haunt us as we confront the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri last week, not only because both men died at the age of sixty, but also for their loyalty to their country and in the way they died.
It’s difficult to imagine how some people could pay such a high price for their dreams of peace and dignity. But in countries of much sectarianism like Lebanon, political ambitions, even those which are for the nation’s benefit, are always dangerous.
Lebanon is a classical example of Middle Eastern identity problems and Beirut is not just another Middle Eastern city, but a city of great demands. The long line of politicians and nationalists who risked themselves for its sake reflects such demands. Somehow, Hawi and Hariri would be perceived distinctively because neither of them wanted to sacrifice their fellow Lebanese for their own goals; instead they sacrificed themselves.
The devastating Civil War years, from 1975 to 1990, killed more than 44,000, leaving about 180,000 wounded; many thousands more were displaced or left homeless or emigrated. Much of the once-magnificent city of Beirut was reduced to rubble and the town divided into Muslim and Christian sectors, separated by the so-called Green Line.
Driven by Saudi efforts at reconciliation, the Lebanese came together to sign the Taif Agreement in 1989, after several rounds of failed cease-fires. The agreement has been the common political ground until now for Lebanon’s stability. Similar to a special regime created by the French in 1861, it provided a framework of peace, security and good government. It also allowed the rapid development and reconstruction of the present Lebanese Republic, although the interpretation of that agreement has varied among Lebanese politicians in the past decade.
Hariri, who played such an extraordinary role in the preparation of the Taif Agreement, was prime minister for 10 of the 15 years since the end of the civil war and was the driving force behind the massive multibillion dollar reconstruction program there. His last term in office, which ended with his resignation last October, was marred by a cold relationship with Syria.
The great wellspring of goodwill following the first years of the reconstruction had parried the contentions of the civil war.
But what seemed to be a smooth transition to unity revealed a growing controversy in the act of extending pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud’s term in office by a further three years last September.
It’s the first time that the Taif Agreement would be used by both pro-Syrian politicians and the opposition to bolster their positions. The roots of the conditions that may have influenced the assassination of Hariri date back to the year 2000 when Hikmat Shihabi, the Syrian military chief-of-staff and a great ally of Walid Jumblatt, the famous Druze leader, was accused of earning millions of dollars from Syrian purchases of Soviet-built arms during the 1980s.
Jumblatt, who had worked with the Syrians as an ally since the early 1980s, later felt deserted by the Syrians and began forging electoral alliances with the Christian Kata’ib and National Bloc parties and negotiated a “political charter” with the Maronite leader Amin Gemayel, who had returned to the country in July 2004. Moreover, he began calling for a “correction” of Syrian-Lebanese ties and condemned Syrian interference in the political process.
This move of Jumblatt, who now leads the opposition, is not as innocent as it seems. Regardless of the true intentions of those leading the opposition, the important thing is that it was motivated by genuine public disappointment in the current Lebanese situation.
The Lebanese state in the post-Taif era had become over-influenced by Syrian intervention in local politics. This involvement was accepted to some extent after the war. But continued Syrian influence reached an annoying level in the growing democratic system in Lebanon, forcing the emergence of a police state.
Under international pressure, the United States and France tabled a United Nations resolution last September against Syria. The United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1559 which calls on Syria to cease intervening in Lebanese internal politics, withdraw from Lebanon, and for the disbanding of all Lebanese militias.
How is Syria reacting to this international pressure?
Unfortunately, Syria is trying to react to the recent public criticism in Lebanon and international pressure with the same old policy: Forging alliances with unpopular Lebanese politicians; depending on Hezbollah’s power, which is loyal, to minimize the current opposition, and finally by trying to create a negative image regarding the American and French backing of the resolution by describing it as a pro-Israeli move.
What Syria is really missing here is a sense of the great disappointment among the Lebanese. The regional Arab reaction is not far from the international one. The Gulf foreign ministerial council called on Syria last September to adopt the UN resolution.
Marwan Al-Moashar, Jordan’s foreign minister, warned Syria and the Lebanese regime of negative consequences if they neglected the Security Council resolution. Even Hezbollah will not risk its power to stand in the way of a rising nation that is calling for actual independence.
History shows that much failure befalls those leaders who miss seeing the right time of to withdraw. Victories in politics are not simply measured by how many lands are conquered or wars won, but by minimizing the losses.
The big anti-Syrian demonstration called by the opposition and held this week in Beirut, shows that the Lebanese have reached for the first time a higher stage of national unity. This popular will and its outcome shall undoubtedly determine and influence the path of democratic reform in the region.
If Hawi was alive today with no doubt he would have said: “Why don’t the Arabs leave us alone?”
— Adel Al-Toraifi is a Saudi writer and political commentator based in Riyadh. He can be reached at:

Copyright: Arab News © 2003 All rights reserved.

The Middle East’s Leading English Language Daily
Thursday, 24, February, 2005 (15, Muharram, 1426)


About altoraifi
Al Toraifi is the current Editor-in-Chief of Al Majalla, the leading Arab magazine. A specialist on Saudi foreign policy, he is recognized as a commentator and participant in televised programs for CNN, NBC, BBC and Al-Arabia TV. Awarded the post-graduate International Conflict Prize 2008 from Kingston University for outstanding work, Mr Al-Toraifi is currently a PhD candidate at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

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