February 01, 2007

The Autumn of the Arabs

Michael Young in Beirut’s Daily Star

In March 2005, Samir Kassir wrote a column titled, "Beirut, the springtime of the Arabs." Martyrs Square was then awash with people protesting Rafik Hariri's murder, and Samir felt confident enough to affirm: "Today, Beirut declares that death is not the only path open to the Arabs." Of the grim outfit ruling in Damascus, he noted, "Beirut's renaissance is by far more important than maintaining a regime that leaves only desolation in its wake."

Yet in the space of only two months, since early December last, the Lebanese capital has been transformed into a new Arab autumn. Sunnis and Shiites are increasingly wary of living in the same neighborhoods, while Christians are beginning to look to crossing points between the eastern and western halves of Beirut as barriers against instability from "the other side." Beirut's renaissance remains desirable, the impact of sectarian conflict on our city would have calamitous regional consequences, multiplied by its occurring in the Arab world's laboratory of modernity (another Kassir formulation); but no one has been able to alter the behavior of those purveyors of desolation of whom Kassir wrote, and who, in the end, liquidated him and vandalized his optimism.

There are countless ways to explain the ongoing Lebanese crisis, but the most essential one, it seems to me, is that it is a battle over the destiny of Beirut. Will the city ever return to being that shambling, ill-disciplined showcase of modernity that it has always said it was, a laboratory of bastardized Arab liberalism (but liberalism nonetheless)? Or will it fall back into the lap of a decaying Baath regime in Damascus, in league with an ambitious Iran, whose local allies deploy a language of death and the austere habits of those movements created by a security apparat?


After the rioting last week, several disturbing messages were sent to the Shiites: that access to Beirut from Shiite population centers in South Lebanon and the Bekaa Valley could be easily cut off; that Shiites inside Beirut might be trapped between Sunni and Christian quarters; and that in the event of war, Beirut's southern suburbs would find themselves under the guns of their foes. That is what the city is disintegrating into: a conversation on comparative military positioning.


There are many in the Middle East who would prefer to see Beirut destroyed rather than emancipated. They should be careful. Beirut may be dumb prey, but like any city that also doubles as a powerful idea, it tends to take down those conceited enough to imagine that they can kill it.
Read the whole thing.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at February 1, 2007 11:11 AM


Samir Kassir symbolized a lot of the good in the March 14 movement. An intellectual, a journalist and a young visionary whose goal was to see a modern, secular, free lebanon and a democratic Syria. He had a visceral understanding of Lebanese and regional politics and could predict future political events easily...
In short, Samir Kassir's assassination marked the assassination of the Beirut Spring and its transformation into the chaotic sectarian autumn that we see today.
I just hope that Beirut and Lebanon can overcome these hard times and become a true beacon for modernity in the arab world. However with a shortage of people like Kassir it becomes harder and harder by the minute...

Posted by: R at February 1, 2007 11:26 AM

Well, the reality is that secualr intellectuals and liberals are hard to hear and keep alive in arab/islamic societies. They get stifled/jailed/killed by either the islamists or by the autocrats in charge of most arab countries.
And yet the latter too get the west's support, even by the west's secular left. The inconsistency is mind-boggling.

Posted by: fp at February 1, 2007 02:10 PM

Western govts too do a lot of interfering in the Middle East, in Israel, in Lebanon, etc. That's part of Israel's problem and part of Lebanon's problem. In this regard, what is the purpose of the fleet of Western naval ships off the coast of Lebanon?? The flagship of this fleet is German, if I am not mistaken, and the others include American and French ships, and so on. I understand that there are thousands of soldiers sitting in those ships, well armed and ready to land if the order is given.
Does anyone know the purpose of those ships and of the troops sitting and waiting in them? Whose side are they on the internal Lebanese struggle?

Posted by: Eliyahu at February 1, 2007 03:05 PM

Do you mean the declared or real purpose?

The former is to "preserve peace". The real effect is protection of Hezbollah and its rearmament from any Israeli preventive moves.

Posted by: fp at February 1, 2007 04:05 PM

I don't know anything about ships off the coast of Lebanon, but France and the United States are not going to help Hezbollah.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at February 1, 2007 04:47 PM

To all those who complain about the West's interference let me ask this....what would the situation look like without it?

Remember, in this case there is a UN resolution that states Hezbollah should be disarmed. Should the UN just go away? (Personally I wouldn't mind)

Would Syria and Iran fund an supply Hez for a war with a) Israel b) the rest of Leb c)both?

Would any of those choices be preferrable?

Posted by: AlanC at February 2, 2007 05:36 AM

I like Michael Young.

Posted by: glasnost at February 2, 2007 07:15 AM


I thought that you delete only those who don't behave.

If so, any reason you deleted my reply to your claim that US/France not helping Hezbollah?

Posted by: fp at February 2, 2007 10:27 AM


I didn't delete your comment. I never even saw it. Are you sure it was actually posted?

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at February 2, 2007 10:28 AM


You obviously did not see my reply to Alan, which for some unclear reason was deleted.

The point is that they there are there BUT DO NOT disarm Hezbollah, neither do they prevent its rearming. At best, they just prevent Israel from monitoring it.

Posted by: fp at February 2, 2007 10:29 AM

Oops, I meant my reply to Michael that was deleted.

Posted by: fp at February 2, 2007 10:30 AM


You might have missed my comment above. I didn't delete your comment. I don't know what happened to it, or if it even showed up at all. You're welcome to re-post it.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at February 2, 2007 10:46 AM

My reply to France not helping HB was also deleted. I wasn't able to access the blog for a few hours last night, so I assumed you were doing some aggressive pruning or something. Maybe it wasn't you...

Let me try again. If it vanishes, we know it's the French:

Well, France certainly isn't going to do anything to help Israel, and ignoring HB is tantamount to helping it.

I knew that some EU countries had ships off the Lebanese Coast last Sept., because when the Germans took over the maritime arm in Oct., they said they were going to stop, search, and if necessary interdict ships with weapons bound for HB. There were complaints (I believe some were from the French) that doing so exceeded the UN mandate and would favor Israel over HB.... er, Lebanon.

Posted by: Pam at February 2, 2007 10:57 AM

There was a problem with Hosting Matters last night. Several blogs crashed, including mine and Instapundit. Some comments must have been deleted during the crash.

Sorry everybody.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at February 2, 2007 11:36 AM

No, I did not notice it. It was puzzling because it seemed inconsistent with what seems to be what you're all about.

Let me paraphrase the message that got deleted.
While the foreign forces and ships in Lebanon may not consciously help Hezbollah, that would be the net effect, whether they realize it or not.

There is ample evidence (to which they admit) that they are not there to disarm Hezbollah, they have not prevented its rearming, yet they sure try to stop Israel from monitoring it.

In fact, this has been the effect of every monitoring force in the ME, particularly from Eurabia (of which the French are tops). That's because Israel is a state which can be held accountable (and to unparalleled high standards), while its enemies get away with anything.

Posted by: fp at February 2, 2007 11:58 AM

Prior to the Islamic revolution in Tehran and the overthrow of the American backed Iranian Shah, the Ayatollah Khamenei was living in France. The French knew who Ayatollah was, and what he was all about.

The French have one foreign policy, and that policy is anti Americanism. This, by extension, also means an anti Israel foreign policy.

Posted by: redaktor at February 2, 2007 12:09 PM

Wow. Much hate for the French here.

Redaktor's view "The French have one foreign policy, and that policy is anti Americanism. This, by extension, also means an anti Israel foreign policy." reminds me a bit of the bizarre conspiracy theories and general reality distortion Arabs like to spin about Israel.

French foreign policy is not driven by anti-Americanism or anti-Israelism. It is driven by what they perceive to be pro-French policy. Unlike the United States, which often has an ideals and ideology based foreign policy, French foreign policy is as unabashedly selfish and pro-France as they can be. That is no sin, and is in fact, a perfectly reasonable expectation a citizen can have of its government.

Today, France acts as if its influence in the World is most enhanced by acting as a counterweight to the United States, and charging for its services in the form of business development and political dealing. That this translates to anti-Americanism is confusing the effect with the cause. The anti-Israel policy comes, in large part from domestic appeasement but also a dose of the purpose I described earlier.

fp certainly seems correct in pointing out the effect UN forces will have on Hezbollah and Israel. They will do nothing to hinder Hezbollah from retaining and increasing their weapons, and, if came to it, from preventing the occasional salvoes being launched at Israel. Yet they will hinder Israel's ability to monitor the ceasefire violations or to strike back against Hezbollah.

If I were the Israeli public, I would be hiring Hezbollah to organize (incognito of course) a street protest in Tel Aviv to bring down Olmert and put Livni on the unemployment line. Israel may not have lost the war, but they sure lost the cease-fire.

Posted by: dontgetit at February 2, 2007 01:08 PM


Why do we need a counter to American ideals in the form of French foreign policy?

Posted by: redaktor at February 2, 2007 01:42 PM

(Especially when that counter to American ideals in the form of French foreign policy gave us Khamenei, Eurabia, an Iraqi nuclear plant and WND program, just to name a few).

Posted by: redaktor at February 2, 2007 01:48 PM

There are many in the Middle East who would prefer to see Beirut destroyed rather than emancipated.

It seems to be a pattern over there. There are many in the middle east who would prefer to see Israel destroyed rather than palestinians get their own state. They would rather see America go down in flames rather than Iraqis live free. There is no negotiating with such people. You go to war and you kill them, that's all.

Posted by: Carlos at February 2, 2007 02:20 PM

Dontgetit - great comment, completely agree.

Let's get over it. It's finally time to move on from the freedom fries and the cheese eating surrender monkeys.

French foreign policy is as unabashedly selfish and pro-France as they can be. That is no sin, and is in fact, a perfectly reasonable expectation a citizen can have of its government.

French foreign policy is also dictated by the need for France to look like it is still a great power.

In that sense it's not unlike the foreign policy followed by Putin's Russia which has a similar philosophy, and sometimes gets in the way of the US not out of any inherent anti Americanism, but more to stake a claim to sit at the top table.

I would argue that whether you agree or disagree with the French - and to be clear, more often than not I don't - they've probably succeeded in punching above their weight and maintaining influence. The disproportionate amount of airtime given over to French bashing in the comments section of a blog dedicated to Lebanon and the Middle East is one sign of that.

Posted by: Dirk at February 2, 2007 03:59 PM

In the case of a powerful developed nation, an "unabashedly selfish, pro-[insert country name here]" foreign policy is, I suppose, "reasonable." However, it's not something I'd be proud of, though. And it looks like it's the future for the USA, which makes me very, very sad.

Posted by: Gene at February 2, 2007 04:11 PM

Comments by dontgetit (appropriate alias, btw) and dirk are typica of those who don't know much about european policy towards US and the ME and who want to apply "being fair" to what is clearly unfair.

When it comes to foreign policy the french are pure whores. What elites perceive as the french interest has caused french demise and may well turn them into the first islamic european state. After utter appeasement of Khomeini and the arabs, what they got is fires in the streets, which they fully deserve.

I suggest reading Bat-Yeor's book on Eurabia. There is also a recent book about French policy in the ME, i'll try to track it down.

Posted by: fp at February 2, 2007 04:40 PM

Apropos french whoring:


Posted by: fp at February 2, 2007 05:25 PM

Comments on the french here is not sign of their success, but quite befitting given their links to lebanon and their major role in the UN force in Lebanon.

As to toppling Olmert and Livni, agreed. The only problem is, replace them with whom?

Netanyahu? Another awful failure. The only difference between him and Olmert is that he's another failure who speaks better english: all talk and nothing to show for it. After all, this is is second coming after a previous failure, which is a clear indication that Israel lacks leadership.

Posted by: fp at February 2, 2007 06:27 PM

In regard to the ways the French use their foreign policy in general, google [France Rwanda genocide] and find the Timesonline articles on how the Mitterand government aided in the planning of, and abetted the comission of the Rwanda genocide by the Hutus racist government. The hasic details have been known for some time. The Tutsi rebels had been living in Uganda and were contaminated by anglophonie and thus presented a threat to the glorie of France. The Rwandans just finally kicked the French out altogether late last year
You might wish to argue that, in this case, the Lebanese (and the Israelis) are not mere noires to be turned into fertilizer by the hudnreds of thousands or millions. However, if France is to finally become the poissance muselmanne (SP) it wants to be, and these people are brash enough to stand in its way...

Posted by: John Costello at February 2, 2007 10:46 PM

Here's the book I was referring to:


Posted by: fp at February 2, 2007 11:46 PM
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