[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
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
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
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
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
face the future together after peace is established, and not to pay its
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
enemies, but persecuted citizens who want answers that will dispel their
We expect Syria to permit Lebanon's presence at the negotiating table
once talks are restarted with Israel. We must be accepted as equal
in coordination with Syria to implement a joint strategy. Excluding
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
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
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
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.