Burning Cedars - interview with Ahlam Ghadry
Will the democratic revolution in Lebanon survive the latest crisis?
An NRO Q&A
For Ahlam Ghadry, a native of Lebanon, democracy in her birthplace is a family affair. Ahlam is married to Farid Ghadry, president of the Reform Party of Syria, “a US-based Syrian opposition party to the Assad regime that has emerged as a result of September 11.” National Review Online editor Kathryn Lopez recently asked Ahlam for her thoughts on the current state of democracy in Lebanon.
Kathryn Jean Lopez: What ever happened to the Cedar Revolution?
Ahlam Ghadry: The Cedar Revolution is still alive, and its leaders hold on to the dream of a free, independent, and sovereign Lebanon. Their voices have been overcome by the crackle of weapons, during the July Israeli-Hezbollah war and the continuous assassinations of promising leaders of the movement, the last of whom was Minister Pierre Gemayel. As my husband said in an article in the Washington Times, Beirut is an Alamo and Fouad Siniora is the William Barrett Travis of Lebanon. Although the revolution is alive, we need Sam Houston to come to our rescue.
Lopez: What’s your affiliation with the March 14 Movement? How powerful is the movement?
Ghadry: All the Lebanese who want a free, democratic, and sovereign nation are affiliated with March 14. Personally, I believe and share their vision for the future of a free and prosperous Lebanon where all religious sects will live in peace and where Lebanese can live and work to benefit their country and stop the emigration of Lebanon’s young and promising next generation. As a Druze woman, I am particularly interested in the importance of minority women in Lebanon — an issue in which the present government is making progress, which Rafik Hariri successfully initiated.
Lopez: What will be the long-term effect of Pierre Gemayel’s assassination?
Ghadry: The assassination of Pierre Gemayel was a wake-up call to the Christian Maronites, some of whom have drifted away from the Cedar Revolution because of their leader Aoun’s affiliation with Hezbollah and his desertion of his principles. The majority of the Christian Maronites want Lebanon to be free from any Syrian or Iranian control.
The assassination was also a signal to March 14 leaders that they are not immune from assassination themselves: there is no place to hide and no one is exempt. The killers of Pierre Gemayel are one and the same (Syrian and Iranian agents) and their victims are one and the same (Lebanese who resist Syria and Iran). Pierre Gemayel represented the hope of the upcoming generation. His courage and enthusiasm were contagious, his love for Lebanon unconditional, his voice loud and clear: no compromise on the sovereignty of Lebanon. I believe Gemayel’s death has given more strength to the March 14 leaders to follow their plan for Lebanon.
Lopez: How entrenched is Hezbollah in Lebanon?
Ghadry: Hezbollah is deeply entrenched in Lebanon. It was a resistance movement that had a defined role throughout the “civil war” of the ’70s and ’80s, namely, that of controlling the south of Lebanon. And to do that it relied on Syria to be the conduit through which weapons were transported from Iran. As the last Hezbollah-Israeli war in August proved, one cannot underestimate the magnitude of the weapons arsenal that Hezbollah is still acquiring.
Besides the military role, Hezbollah has a critical political role now through its representatives in the Lebanese government. The resignation last month of their ministers in the legitimate Lebanese government, on the same day the government was to discuss and sign the Draft Resolution for the International Tribunal in the Assassination of Hariri, sent signals that they don’t want to partake in this mission; the havoc they created by calling for the downfall of Siniora’s government — claiming discrimination against the Shiia as an excuse — is still felt to this day. Hezbollah wants a Lebanese government that is controlled by a majority of pro-Syrian and pro-Iranian Lebanese politicians. And as the scene in downtown Beirut, where there are currently hundreds of Hezbollah tents, shows, Hezbollah is besieging the March 14 leaders and ministers; this is the real story, which is unfolding right in front of our eyes.
Lopez: What should Americans think of Fouad Siniora?
Ghadry: Siniora is very easy to read. Since the assassination of Hariri and as prime minister, Siniora’s message to all the Lebanese has never changed. He has been working on the revival of the economy through the Paris conferences (three meetings so far). He is always calling on all the parties to resolve issues that pertain to the national interest by means of dialogue. He is wise and patient, loyal, and patriotic, brave, and steady, willing to talk to friends and foes to find common solutions to national problems, fair and consistent, and most importantly, he is anti violence, a peaceful man who believes that we all need to talk and resolve peacefully our differences. He is irreplaceable and a target for those who still harbor grudges or are considering fomenting chaos. Americans should support Siniora in every venue they can.
Lopez: What does the current state of Lebanon mean for President George W. Bush’s “democracy project”?
Ghadry: The present state of Lebanon is a clear indication that achieving true democracy is easier said than done. President Bush’s call for democracy in the Middle East sent a clear signal to Arab reformists and to the Lebanese government that it can rely on the United States for support. We hope that we still can, because nothing will do more to suck the oxygen out of a reform movement, eager for and in need of support, than the knowledge that our greatest advocate no longer yields the power to support dissidents. The Cedar Revolution in Lebanon encouraged those with yearnings for freedom and independence to go ahead and continue their steady efforts for change; they were confident because “America supports them,” as the president said in a speech.
Unfortunately, there has been a lot of Syrian meddling in the internal affairs of Lebanon. During the 30-year span of Syrian control over Lebanon, the Syrian influence has become so entrenched in all aspects of life that though the Syrian army has left, there has been a strong continuing presence of allies of Syria in Lebanon — for example, Karami, Frenjieh, Nasrallah, and others who are willing to do anything to keep their Syrian friends happy, even if it means putting the national interest to the side and sacrificing the future of Lebanon as a free and independent country.
The new democracy that evolved in Lebanon as a result of the Hariri assassination needed support — not just words, but action. Syria is a threat to this new democracy, and its alliance with Hezbollah continues this threat. The world is watching the new democracy pay a heavy toll for the price of freedom, and the struggle is not over yet. We need to move from words to action, or the continuous threat of violence may cause the dream of Lebanese freedom to evaporate, and President Bush’s call for democracy will be rendered nothing but an echo.
Lopez: What does the current state of Lebanon mean for the region?
Ghadry: As we watch Lebanon suffer from the interference of Syria and Iran, the whole region has become a powder keg. Syria controls the northeast border, through which weapons are continuously smuggled to Hizballah. This border is so porous it’s impossible for the Lebanese to control it on their own. Syria has the upper hand in permitting weaponry to find its way to the most violent groups, and from the look of it, Syria will continue to interfere in Lebanon, in spite of the many calls by the international community to respect U.N. Resolution 1701. Assad views the application of U.N. Resolution 1559, which required Syria to evacuate its soldiers from Lebanese soil, as a defeat, and he is trying to correct it by meddling in internal Lebanese affairs — and most openly, I might add, by trying to bring down the democratically elected Siniora government.
The dream of democracy in Lebanon will always be threatened by the dictatorial regime of Bashar al-Assad and the Iranian militant regime of Ahmadinejad by means of their proxy, Hezbollah. As other countries in the region watch, Hezbollah is calculating [wanting to spread out further still]. Democracy in Lebanon is threatened to be strangled in its cradle, and it’s only due to the courage and resilience of the Cedar Revolution, March 14 leaders, and true patriotic Lebanese, that this dream will not be abandoned. As for the region, pro-democratic activity is key, and pragmatic support of the Siniora government will carry it the extra mile.
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