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Letter from Lebanon: Divided We Fall

Letter from Lebanon: Divided We Fall

The Opposition in its concrete form: the protesters have been camped out on Martyr’s Square since 1 December 2006.

Column and images by Yasmine Ryan


(BEIRUT – 28 March 2007) – One unified Lebanese delegation? Yeah, like that was going to happen. Today the Arab League Summit begins, and on Tuesday afternoon the Saudis met two separate delegations at the airport – each with very different ideas on how the negotiation process should go. Now the Lebanese are leaning on the other regional powers, especially Saudi Arabia, to resolve their domestic dispute.

But how realistic are these expectations, when the two political camps couldn’t be civil enough to present a unified team? The Palestinians have managed to do so after all. For any progress in the political deadlock to be made at Riyadh, there must be at least some small hint of compromise. Meanwhile, there are growing suspicions that certain factions are rearming
(click to see Franklin Lamb’s Another Civil War in Lebanon?)

Speaking at a conference on ethics and politics at Beirut’s Université Saint-Joseph last week, Pope Benedict XVI's ambassador to Lebanon bluntly bemoaned a general lack of responsibility from Lebanese decision-makers. Monsignor Luigi Gatti despaired that his work here makes him suffer through "a dialogue that involves mostly negative perspectives and analyses" on a daily basis.

Gatti just won’t buy the wearied excuse that the Lebanese "are politically, economically, religiously manipulated and controlled by outsiders." Although such a view undoubtedly holds some truth, insisted Gatti, "it is not the whole truth."

Emphasising many diplomatic initiatives to resolve the Lebanese conflicts past and present led by the Pope (particularly Pope John Paul II during the Civil War), Gatti questions the myth of Lebanese political naivety. Besides outside "troublemakers," he said there are also those who allow themselves to be manipulated, and who do so knowingly.

"Not a single diplomacy in the world - the pope's included - can support the 'Lebanese cause' without the help of the Lebanese people," ended Gatti. As the Pope’s ambassador underlined, local initiative is an essential complement to any diplomacy, papal or otherwise.

The same goes for Riyadh and for present Arab diplomacy efforts. Particularly in a context where Arab leaders have so many nightmares on their hands (and such a poor track record on resolving them). If Lebanese politicians are not prepared to take a proactive role in the political crisis into which they have plunged their nation, no magic wand is going to wave away their problems. And as the deadlock approaches its fourth month, something has to give. One way or another.


Yasmine Ryan is a graduate of the University of Auckland, in Political Studies and French language. She is currently interning with a Lebanese newspaper in Beirut, as part of her Masters degree in International Journalism at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques, Aix-en-Provence.


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