Lebanon will demonstrate whether democracy stands a chance in the Middle East. Right now, it’s a flip of the coin. — Alan C. By Alan Caruba For anyone who is not Lebanese, trying to understand what is happening in a nation long regarded as an example of how Christians and Muslims could work together to govern and prosper remains a confusing matrix of competing religious factions. Lebanon, i.e. Beirut, was the Paris of the Middle East. It was modern and cosmopolitan. It was a financial hub. It was a place where a Muslim could go and enjoy its secular pleasures. That was, of course, prior to its fifteen year civil war from 1975 to 1990. It was triggered by an influx of heavily armed Palestinian refugees, many of whom arrived after being driven out of Jordan followed a failed attempt to overthrow the Hashemite monarchy. Today, Lebanon is the misbegotten child of French colonialism and its present troubles are usually dated to its independence in 1943. Prior to that it was a French protectorate,

Syria has also been busy undermining Lebanon’s economy, blocking its exports so that millions of dollars of produce rot at the Lebanese-Syrian border. Trucks that would normally carry agricultural and other goods imported through Beirut’s port on the Mediterranean to Syria, Iraq, and Gulf countries have been stopped. The closure, noted Robin Wright of the Washington Post, threatens “50,000 jobs in Lebanon” and had cost Lebanon $1.5 million by mid-July, an estimated $300,000 a day. In a nation of some 3.5 million people, everyone is affected.

A United Nations Security Council Resolution, 1559, sponsored by the United States and France, and adopted in September 2004, calls for all of the militias in Lebanon to disband and disarm. Hezbollah has made it clear it has no intention of doing that. It’s worth noting that Hezbollah is funded by Iran. As such, it poses a threat to the stability of Lebanon, though a significant portion of its population sees it primarily as a political organization. As we have seen in the past, fifteen years of similar UN resolutions regarding Iraq were finally enforced by the US invasion and the subsequent efforts to reform that beleaguered nation.

To understand Lebanon’s dilemma, one needs to stand back and look at the entire Middle East which is still in the grip of despots like Syria’s Assad, Muslim revolutionaries like the Iranian mullahs, or monarchies like the Saudis. The larger, strategic US goal of changing the Middle East will only be achieved when democracy is imposed and protected by the armed might of the United States.

In Lebanon, the old ways of governance must give way to the reality of a Muslim majority population. If they can demonstrate tolerance for Lebanon’s Christian population; if they can establish the rule of secular law; if they can make peace with Israel, tiny Lebanon has a chance to become a real nation again. As things stand now, the prospects are not good, but the Lebanese people may yet surprise everyone.