Did Lebanon lose the democratic test? [Archives:2004/771/Viewpoint]

September 9 2004

The Editor
Many in the Arab world thought that Lebanon could have been the leading example of democracy. It is the Arab country with the freest press and the most liberalized media. It is also, amongst Arab countries, a country with one of the highest levels of education and political awareness.
But it has undergone a very difficult test that some predicted would be a decisive turning point in its history.
The constitutional amendment, to extend the presidential term of Emile Lahoud by three more years, was a grave disappointment to those who had bet on Lebanon's democracy. Overturning the amendment in parliament would have been a clear example of the insistence of the people of Lebanon to stick to the democratic principles established in their country. It was a pity that Lebanon didn't pass this test.
This has brought about major concern about the country's democratic experience. I personally believed that the parliament had been representative of the people of the country, but unofficial polls in the country show that the public, especially the enlightened public, didn't support the amendment by up to 70%. For many Lebanese, the amendment constituted a failure to stick to the growing trend in democratic practice in Lebanon, and a tendency to slip back to the domain of other Arab regimes, which manipulate constitutions and parliaments for their own benefit.
But if there is another side to blame, it would be the USA, and European countries, who passed a security council resolution that pointed figures towards Syria and Lebanon, and dragged a sovereign issue into the international domain.
This has caused extensive damage to the position of the Lebanese people who had opposed the amendment. A friend of mine, whom I met in Beirut, explicitly told me that his position changed after the exertion of external pressure from the security council, because, for him, it would be difficult to stand with the USA and others against a fraction of his people, so he would rather be united with other Lebanese against international interference. “It was a dumb, or maybe intentional, move to bring such an issue to the international arena, while we could have managed internally and, potentially, we could have stopped the amendment if this had not happened.” he said.
Three years may not be the problem. Some suggest that the amendment is being pumped up and exaggerated. However, it is important to note here that it is not the number of years, or reasons, that make the amendment a disappointment, it is rather the decision to go for it at a time when Lebanon was advancing very quickly, and being acclaimed as a liberal and free Arab state.
Is this a regression or weakening of Lebanese democracy?
Was our belief that Lebanon could be a state different from other Arab countries a myth?
Let's wait for three more years and see.