Despite its being a satellite state of Syria, Lebanon enjoys considerable freedom of press. There are, however, some things which never get said, such as criticism of Syria's President Hafiz al-Asad or a call for the end of the Syrian occupation. When Gebran Tuéni, managing director and chairman of the board of An-Nahar newspaper, broke this taboo in an editorial on March 23, 2000, "An Open Letter to Dr. Bashschar Assad," it attracted much notice.1 The following are excerpts from that editorial.
Without knowing you personally, allow me to write you this frank editorial.
You visited Lebanon several times and met many politicians, who perhaps told you what you would like to hear. However, what you hear is not always what you should hear about the Lebanese opinion of Syria's policy towards Lebanon. Many of these politicians are afraid of Syria. We believe fear never helps in uncovering the truth that can develop the relations we crave and desire.
You should know that many Lebanese are neither at ease with the Syrian policy in Lebanon, nor the Syrian "presence" in Lebanon. This does not mean that these Lebanese are traitors or Israeli allies. It only reflects a natural aspiration for sovereignty and independence.
Many Lebanese consider Syria's performance in Lebanon to be completely against the understanding of sovereignty, honor, and independence. You know that there is blood between some Lebanese and the Syrian Army. You know that our generation inherited a war. This generation was not the reason for this war. We do not want wars that last forever. Anyway, there are neither eternal wars nor eternal enmities. But, the Lebanese do want their freedom, honor, independence, and sovereignty and will revolt when they feel that Syrian activities are a threat. This is why the Lebanese fought, kidnapped, took people to prison and were imprisoned.
We approach you in your capacity as a member of the new generation, the generation of youth that believes in the future and might be held responsible for building the future in Syria. We approach you to tell you it is necessary that our generation be assured of the independence of Lebanon and that Syria recognize this independence, the sovereignty of the land, our organizations, and our freedom.
We must be assured that Syrian performance in Lebanon will not be practiced with the mentality of victor and defeated. We are not a Syrian province. We must be assured that Syria will deal with Lebanese politicians who really represent their people and their nation. What prompts our frankness is your responsibility for the Lebanese file and the change we feel in the Syrian performance in Lebanon since you adopted this responsibility.
People, Dr. Bashshar, ask if the price of peace [with Israel] is putting your hand on Lebanon for good. People are afraid that Syria does not and will not recognize Lebanon as a free and independent country. People reject this way in dealing with Lebanon. They refuse the principle of pre-fabricated voting lists in Damascus and the "blessing" that comes from above to be imposed on the people. People reject holding arrested Lebanese in Syrian prisons. You have to understand these things and understand the reasons that made many people feel this way towards Syria. There are people who believe that Syria is an enemy. You have to face this reality to be able to solve this problem.
The Lebanese people attach great importance to the extent of Syrian interference in the next parliamentary elections. They attach great importance to Syrian presence and the fact that the Ta'if accord is not yet implemented. Absence from negotiations [with Israel] causes Lebanese to think that Syria does not want Lebanon to be a sovereign country and that the price of its accepting a settlement [with Israel] is keeping Lebanon as a satellite country under its dominance. This is not acceptable and will not be accepted by our people after twenty years of war and sacrifices.
We approach you, Dr. Bashshar, frankly and with an open heart. It is time to be frank, whatever the costs. The fruit of frankness is steadfast relations and real cooperation. The fruit of lies is more fear and resentment damaging both Syria and Lebanon. Don't you think that a relationship built on candor means respect? Don't you think that we paid dearly for the policy of the old generation?
1 For example, Mark Lavie, "Lebanon Paper Urges Syrian Pullout," Associated Press, Mar. 24, 2000; Douglas Davies, "Lebanese daily calls for pullout of Syrian army." The Jerusalem Post, Mar. 26, 2000; and Susan Sachs, "Lebanon Chafing as Syria's Partner," The New York Times, Apr. 12, 2000.