As Syria Pulls out, Lebanon Again in Flux ; Plans for a New Government Were Delayed Monday as Consensus Eludes Both Camps

By Nicholas Blanford Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, April 12, 2005 | Go to article overview

As Syria Pulls out, Lebanon Again in Flux ; Plans for a New Government Were Delayed Monday as Consensus Eludes Both Camps


Nicholas Blanford Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


As Lebanon saw plans for a new government collapse Monday, analysts warned that continued political turmoil could undermine the fragile spirit of national unity here.

While most rule out a return to the civil strife that engulfed Lebanon between 1975 and 1990, the impending Syrian withdrawal is shifting political fault lines as new alliances emerge and old loyalties wane.

The declining influence of Damascus has spurred some of Syria's once staunch political allies in Lebanon to begin breaking away. The Lebanese opposition, meanwhile, faces the stark challenge of forging fresh common cause among groups united largely by their opposition to Syria's presence.

"The dangerous element is if we return to the religious fault lines of 1975," says Nizar Hamzeh, professor of politics at the American University of Beirut. "If the changes occur along political lines, then that's fine. But if they emerge along sectarian lines, then whatever unity has been achieved will lose its flavor."

The political upheaval caused by an end to 15 years of Syrian domination continues to paralyze the creation of a new government, almost guaranteeing the postponement of key parliamentary elections scheduled for May.

Omar Karami, the acting prime minister, was due to announce the creation of a 30-member government Monday morning. But last-minute disagreements between loyalists over the composition of the cabinet and the electoral law for the upcoming vote has led to another delay. Mr. Karami resigned along with his government on Feb. 28 and the country has since endured political paralysis.

Much rests on the results of the elections. If the opposition triumphs at the polls, as it believes it will, that could lead to the ouster of President Emile Lahoud, Syria's most faithful ally in Lebanon, and a thorough shake-up of Lebanon's institutions, particularly the security services which are seen as too closely aligned to Damascus. The opposition was galvanized by the assassination in February of Rafik Hariri, a former prime minister, leading to a series of street demonstrations demanding an end to Syria's pervasive presence in Lebanon.

The protests and unrelenting international pressure forced Syria to commit to withdrawing all its troops and military intelligence personnel by the end of this month. The final stage of the troop withdrawal is well under way with a steady stream of equipment and soldiers returning to Syria.

Postponing the elections could lead to the fragmentation of the opposition and an erosion in its public support as the passions surrounding Hariri's murder subside. …

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