The Lebanese Labyrinth

Lebanon is poised to hold a presidential election that none of its contending factions – indeed, none of the rival parties in the region – can afford to lose.

Let’s start with Syria. In 2005, President Bashar Assad’s regime was forced to withdraw its army from Lebanon, following the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. Syria is widely believed to have been responsible for the crime, and domestic Lebanese and international pressure helped force Syria’s pullout. Yet in a speech soon thereafter, Assad warned that nothing could sever the Syrian-Lebanese relationship.

Assad knows that the election of a president who bolsters Lebanon’s sovereignty and independence would make Syria’s return difficult – and Assad, as even his allies privately admit, wants nothing less. Indeed, it was his decision to extend, unconstitutionally, the term of the reliably pro-Syrian Emile Lahoud as Lebanon’s president in 2004 that triggered the political crisis leading to Hariri’s murder and the emergence of a coalition of anti-Syrian groups, which included many former Syrian allies.

Assad is particularly worried about the creation of a mixed Lebanese-international court to try suspects in the Hariri assassination. The court was approved under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter and will be situated in Holland. Once the trial begins, Syria may find itself in the dock.