Rami Khouri of the Beirut Daily Star contemplates the demonstrations and counterdemonstrations in that city, and glimpses, beyond the press of bodies and the waving flags, an Arab future very different from the thuggery and misery of the last century.
Having attended all the demonstrations, I am convinced that Lebanon these days represents a historic, unprecedented drive for national self-determination by Arab citizens. The Lebanese seek to define three crucial aspects of their national identity and power structure that no Arab citizenry has ever done in the past eight decades or so of nominal Arab independence: first, the nature of their sovereignty and political configuration; second, the nature of their relations with neighboring states and foreign powers; and third, the relationship among their own military-security sector, the average citizen, and the institutions of governance.
In simpler terms: the people of Lebanon crave democracy, national independence, and rule of law. Khouri notes the promotion of democracy by “major Western powers” but recalls, rightly, that the same “powers” – meaning the United States – colluded in the rule of “stubborn autocrats whose long reigns have made the Arab world the globe’s last nondemocratic region.”
The democratization of Arab countries world can only be brought about by their populations, by the Arabs themselves. This will be as much a matter of moral courage, of facing down thugs and car bombers, as of political wisdom, something Khouri is well aware of. It won’t be a cakewalk – it won’t be Czechoslovakia or the Ukraine. People will die. The warriors of freedom in the Arab world face a titanic struggle. But by the very nature of the difficulties that must be overcome, the possible future Khouri glimpses, if won, will redeem the horrors of the past.
These enormous challenges reflect the epic valor and complexity of national self-determination for any country or people, as Lebanon contemplates the potential reconfiguration of its entire national power structure. Half a century ago, Lebanon briefly and incompletely offered the Arab world an intriguing model of parliamentary democracy that soon was swamped and disfigured by the combined weight of the cold war, the Arab-Israeli conflict, its own civil war, and the stultifying modern Arab security state. Today, Lebanon may again lead the way for other Arabs who covet the same personal and national goals of normal statehood, a decent and accountable government, and reasonably equal opportunities for all its citizens.