Syria, Lebanon and burden of history

SYRIAN authorities have arrested prominent political activist and writer Michel Kilo. He was picked up on Sunday by security forces without offering any explanation. Which is hardly surprising given the Baathist regime’s propensity for routinely arresting and harassing those daring to question or disagree with the official narrative and policies and actions of the authoritarian state.

  • Follow us on
  • google-news
  • whatsapp
  • telegram

Published: Wed 17 May 2006, 10:11 AM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 5:20 PM

However, it is believed that Kilo may be paying the price for signing a much-publicised public petition calling for a change in Syria’s policy on Lebanon and urging the neighbours to mend their frayed relations. The petition, endorsed and signed by scores of intellectuals, activists and journalists from Lebanon and Syria, had appeared in the Lebanese daily Al Nahar last week.

If Syrian leaders have detained Kilo for backing this petition, then it is clear that they cannot tell their friends from their foes. The Nahar petition is a well meaning and genuine attempt to bridge the growing gulf between Syria and Lebanon, the neighbours that were not long ago close friends and allies. It not only sought to find common ground between the two Arab states and people, but it also warned them against the dangers that lay ahead —especially clever games played by big powers targeting their historical relations and interests.

This is why it’s unfortunate that the Syrian regime should punish those who indeed have their national interests at heart. Besides, what is so earthshaking about the petition itself? The Syrian and Lebanese leaders cannot deny the points and issues raised by the petitioners.

Who can question the argument that Syria needs to restructure and review its traditional policy towards Lebanon? It is true that Syria has played a positive and historic role in ending the long civil war and restoring peace and stability in Lebanon. But it is equally true that Syria’s overbearing presence in Lebanon in the last few years before its recent ignominious exit had had far from pleasant effects on the Mediterranean country. This was evident everywhere in Lebanon —from hopeless corruption to political mismanagement to economic stagnation.

The proverbial last straw came with the assassination of former prime minister and a detractor of Damascus, Rafik Hariri. The assassination, blamed on Syrian intelligence agencies, stepped up the pressure on Syrian forces to eventually leave Lebanon. But although the circumstances in which the Syrians had to leave were not exactly agreeable, doubtless the pullout was in the interest of both Syria and Lebanon. And the sooner Syrian leadership reconciled itself to the fact the better for it and Lebanon.

Syria and Lebanon have to free themselves from the heavy burden of their recent history. They share common interests and are faced with common threats. Wouldn’t it be better for the neighbours then to face these existential challenges together?

More news from