Sunday, March 27, 2005

The New York Times: Baghdad and Beirut: What Set Loose the Voice of the People

An excerpt:

"'Saddam's survival created an atmosphere where people literally got away with murder,' Mr. Mallat said. 'His removal became a precondition for change in the region.'
When the Americans finally returned to topple Mr. Hussein two years ago, and, more important, when millions of Iraqis risked their lives to cast ballots in January, the country emerged as a symbol for change across the region.

'Suddenly, there was a demand for democracy,' Mr. Mallat said.

Mr. Mallat's view, compelling though it is, is a minority one in Lebanon. Most Lebanese will tell you that Iraq had nothing to do with the popular upheaval now gripping the country, and not just because they opposed the American invasion of their Arab neighbor. Unlike Iraq, Lebanon has been a functioning democracy since 1990, when the civil war, which killed 100,000 people, finally came to an end. Lebanon's press is vibrant, with newspapers and television stations largely free to criticize the government in Arabic, English and French. While Iraq still requires billions of dollars to repair its crumbling public works, Lebanon, thanks in no small way to Mr. Hariri's efforts, has largely rebuilt itself.

Indeed, it is no accident that the main slogan of the Lebanese opposition is not 'Democracy,' but 'Sovereignty, Independence and Freedom.' The goal is to expel Syrian forces, who have been in Lebanon for 30 years.

At least to an outsider, the main difference between Iraq and Lebanon seems not just Iraq's inexperience with democracy, but its all too dreadful experience with terror. In Iraq, political discourse often seems stunted, if less by a lack of practice than by the lingering shadow of Mr. Hussein. In Lebanon, with some exceptions " ...

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