Middle East Intelligence Bulletin
Jointly published by the United States Committee for a Free Lebanon and the Middle East Forum
  Vol. 2   No. 4

April 2000 


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Gibran Tueni: Open Letter to Bashar Assad

Al-Nahar
23 March 2000
translation by MEIB Staff

[MEIB editor: Gibran Tueni is the managing editor of al-Nahar, Lebanon's leading daily newspaper]

Please forgive me for addressing you so frankly at this delicate and decisive time in the history of our region -- a moment that necessitates the utmost straightforwardness and candor. You have visited Lebanon several times and met with many politicians who have perhaps told you what you want to hear, not what you should hear about the opinions of many Lebanese regarding Syrian policy in Lebanon.

Many of these politicians speak more out of fear of Syria than love. However, we believe that fear can never help in uncovering the truth and in creating the kind of relationship we want. You must realize that many Lebanese are not at ease either with Syrian policy in Lebanon and or with the presence of Syrian troops in our country. This does not mean that these people are traitors or collaborators with Israel, as some have said. It means only that these Lebanese have a natural aspirations for sovereignty and independence. It also denotes their resentment and rejection of the way Syria deals with Lebanon.

As a man of science, you should make a simple and honest cost benefit analysis of your country's policies in Lebanon to find out what these policies entail and what the Lebanese really think about them.

I wish that you would ask yourself the simple questions: What would the Lebanese reaction be following a Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon? How would this affect the development of relations between the two countries? Would Syria still have any true allies in Lebanon? Has the Syrian presence created friends or enemies in Lebanon during the last quarter century? I must tell you quite frankly that many Lebanese feel that Syria's behavior in Lebanon completely contradicts the principles of sovereignty, dignity and independence.

To people of our generation -- the war generation -- Syria's presence in Lebanon has never meant anything more than periodic military and political disputes. Our only knowledge of Syrian policies we got from political elites that Syria helped install in power, and who did more to distort these policies than serve them.

You must understand that there is bad blood between some Lebanese and the Syrian army, that our generation inherited the civil war, but did not initiate it, that we are not warmongers, and that there are no such things as eternal wars and eternal enmities.

You must have undoubtedly realized by now that the Lebanese are utterly devoted to their dignity, liberty, independence, and sovereignty, and that they are understandably angered when they feel that "Syrian behavior" -- threatens these values. This is why they fought, died, were kidnapped, jailed, exiled, or fled.

We are addressing you as a representative of a new, youthful and progressive generation -- a generation that will someday have to shoulder the responsibility of building Syria's future. We want to tell you that it is essential that our Lebanese generation feels reassured of Lebanon's independence and of Syria's recognition of this independence. Syria must recognize the sovereignty of Lebanese territory and institutions, as well as the civil liberties that we hold sacred, and for which we have sacrificed so much over the years.

We must be reassured that Syria will not continue treating Lebanon with a victor's mentality, as just another Syrian province. We must be convinced that Syria has decided to start dealing with free Lebanese politicians who truly represent the people, rather than with those who merely submit to its diktat. We want to convince Syria that it must deal with us as allies, not vassals, and that such a relationship should form the basis of its future policies.

What persuaded us to address you is the fact that President Emile Lahoud is in power, which reassures us that a qualitative improvement in relations is possible. Since you took over the Lebanese portfolio in Damascus, we have felt a change that has made us relinquish our hostility towards the Syrian presence and adopt a position of positive apprehension which might prove to be the first step on the road to the changes we desire.
* * *
Dr. Bashar, the people here are asking themselves about Lebanon's future, about the need for the Syrian military presence. They are wondering if Syrian control over Lebanon is the price of peace in the region. People are apprehensive about the future and worried about Lebanon's identity and its fate. They believe that Syria has never recognized and will never recognize that Lebanon is a sovereign, free, and independent state.

The Lebanese are wondering whether Syria would ever agree to be treated the way it has treated Lebanon. Would Syria agree to Lebanon interfering in all aspects of its domestic policy, like Syria has been doing in Lebanon? Our people reject this heavy-handed Syrian approach. They reject the idea of busing people to polling booths, of drawing up lists of our parliamentary candidates in Damascus and of holding Lebanese citizens in Syrian prisons. Such an approach angers the Lebanese, even though matters have improved since President Lahoud assumed office and you became responsible for the Lebanese portfolio.

You, Dr. Bashar, must understand these matters and the reasons that have led some Lebanese to feel this way towards Syria. We tell you of these matters with the utmost candor, with the candor of youth, because President Lahoud has advocated honesty and transparency. Syria needs Lebanon as much as Lebanon needs Syria -- if both of us want to face the future together after peace is established, and not to pay its price. That is why we say that a healthy and strong Lebanon will bolster Syria's position. We demand that Lebanon be made a full partner, not just a mere puppet, in order that we may face Israel together.

Syrian policies have been a cause of concern for Lebanon. Time has not managed to allay this concern-- in fact, the passage of time has exacerbated it. There are those in Lebanon who see Syria as an enemy. You must face up to this problem and try to solve it, even if it is described by some as "psychological."

You should help your allies, not your minions, in Lebanon. You should help President Lahoud convince the Lebanese people of your new policies in Lebanon. Thus a new page may be turned in relations between our two sovereign countries. You must understand that civil peace in Lebanon is still brittle. The Lebanese feel that there is still a major problem concerning representation in the legislature. There is still a big inter-Lebanese problem caused by direct Syrian interference in Lebanon's politics.

With this in mind, we say to you that the Lebanese people have pinned their hopes on the upcoming parliamentary elections. They will be watching closely to see how much Syria interferes in these elections. Syria's military presence in Lebanon is a cause of great concern, as is its failure to implement those clauses of the Taif accords that call for Syrian redeployment.

The people are asking for a timetable for Syrian redeployment, and are still waiting for answers. Redeployment would be a Syrian gift to the Lahoud administration. Those asking for this redeployment are neither traitors nor enemies, but persecuted citizens who want answers that will dispel their justifiable fears. We expect Syria to permit Lebanon's presence at the negotiating table once talks are restarted with Israel. We must be accepted as equal partners in coordination with Syria to implement a joint strategy. Excluding Lebanon will convince the Lebanese that Damascus isn't interested in a strong, sovereign and independent Lebanon, and that Syrian domination of Lebanon is Syria's price for participating in the peace process. This is a situation that no Lebanese can accept, especially after 20 years of war and sacrifice. Lebanon's absence will also weaken Syria to the advantage of Israel.

The Lebanese are a noble and heroic people, but they feel no loyalty to the political elites that Syria has sponsored over the years. These elites haved proved to be more of a liability to Damascus than an asset. It is for these reasons, Dr. Bashar, that we are addressing you with the concerns of the silent majority. Had these concerns been openly expressed in the past, Syrian-Lebanese relations wouldn't have deteriorated so much.

It is time for us to speak honestly at whatever cost. Straight talk can lead to strong, healthy relations, shile deceit can only result in more hate, fear, revenge and destruction on both sides.

Don't you think that a relationship founded on straight talk and mutual respect, rather than hypocracy and deceit, will last? Don't you think that we've paid a high enough price for the policies of a bygone era?

Some will question the timing and motives behind our candid communication. Our answer to you would is this: never fear those who speak frankly. Never fear their transparency. However much you may disagree with them, the result will be a lasting agreement. You have to beware those who deceive and fawn, for they are with you one day and against you the next, depending on their own self interests. Where their interests are concerned, these liars don't differentiate between patriotism and treason, nor between stabbing their enemies and their allies. In fact, they may even stab themselves in the back.

Gibran Tueni
2000 Al-Nahar.

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