Since the latest round of fighting in the Middle East began two weeks ago, tens of thousands of foreigners have been evacuated. Another few hundred thousand others, mostly guest workers and refugees from other war ravaged countries, have made Lebanon their home. Simply, Lebanon is a strange location for the newest front of the war on terror.
When one thinks of countries likely to be attacked to root out terrorism, one often thinks of places where Islamic extremists control the country, where mullahs approve all elected officials, if elections take place at all, and where law and order is carried out on the streets in the form of hangings and other executions without trial for crimes such as watching unapproved movies, showing too much skin while walking down the street, or cheering too loudly in a soccer stadium. Lebanon was everything that Islamic extremistshate.
Condoleeza Rice called this conflict the “birth pangs of the new Middle East”. She is a few years too late. Beirut was the capital of the new Middle East. It was a westernized tourist Mecca known as the “Paris of the Middle East”. After years of civil war, the various ethnic and religious groups were living in relative harmony, all part of the government. Compared to the other democratic experiments in the Middle East, it was an overwhelming success. Now it would be a minor miracle if the elected government remained relevant.
Lebanon was not perfect. Hezbollah obviously held too much power and refused to renounce violence. It was in the process of morphing into a legitimate political party and focusing more of its efforts on social services. Change was slow, but it was happening. As Lebanon continued to modernize, and as the Lebanese government gained power and resources, Hezbollah would have lost support. The capture of Israeli soldiers should have been seen as a growing pain of modernization, a desperate attempt by a group losing relevance to get back in the news. Instead, it may prove to be the death knell of the most successful Arab democracy.