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Lebanon: the Domino That Wouldn’t Fall

“Finally, you have broader considerations that might follow what you would call the ‘falling domino’ principle. You have a row of dominoes set up, you knock over the first one, and what will happen to the last one is the certainty that it will go over very quickly. So you could have a beginning of a disintegration that would have the most profound influences.”

–  President Dwight D. Eisenhower in his April 7th, 1954 news conference.

The “domino theory” as articulated by President Eisenhower was espoused in reference to the fear of communism’s spread in Southeast Asia; its “effect” presupposed that if one country in the region came under Soviet domination it would trigger a similar sequence of events in neighboring countries, akin to falling dominoes.

Although the notion was used during the Cold War to justify American interventionalism in Asia, the United States has embraced the operational end of the theory as it relates to the Middle East: Arab countries would likewise fall under the authority and control of the United States if just one did so.

To a large extent, whether by domino effect or otherwise, the desired outcome has been achieved. The oil-rich Gulf countries, Jordan, Egypt, Iraq, the Palestinian Authority and the countries of the Magreb have all, to a greater or lesser degree, been “toppled.” There are a few exceptions, such as Syria and maybe Yemen. The coveted prize however, was always Lebanon. The United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia – through their proxies in the ruling March 14 Coalition – have long sought to bring it into the fold.

But as the events of May demonstrated, it was a prize not to be had.

Over the past two years, the Siniora government and more specifically Saad Hariri’s Future Movement (the largest bloc within the March 14 Coalition), have done their utmost to provoke the opposition and their supporters. As detailed in previous essays, this included collusion with the Israelis during the July 2006 war, undertaking reckless initiatives to unleash al-Qaeda-affiliated militants on Hezbollah, and electricity and water cuts to the dahiya, Beirut’s Shia-dominated southern suburb. Despite the incitement, the opposition patiently held fast to its demands for veto power within the cabinet and formation of a unity government.

The tension between the two camps finally came to a head when the government, in yet another effort to inflame an already precarious situation, declared Hezbollah’s telecommunications network illegal and accused them of spying via secret cameras placed at Beirut’s airport.

In less than a day, Hezbollah and Amal fighters swept across West Beirut in what some analysts described as a “counter-coup.” Authority was then handed over to the Lebanese Army just as quickly. The cabinet’s decisions were ultimately rescinded. Acting under the auspices of the Arab League, Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani mediated between the parties in Beirut and thereafter invited them to Doha for a National Dialogue Conference to resolve the crisis.

The result was the Doha Agreement, reached on May 21st. A national unity government was formed. The prime minister’s 30-member cabinet will now be composed of 16 ministers from the majority, 11 from the opposition and three to be appointed by the president. This structure gives the opposition the veto power they’ve long demanded. General Michel Suleiman became the consensus candidate for president – a post vacant since November 2007 – and was overwhelmingly elected by parliament on May 25th to become Lebanon’s 12th president.

Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah addressed the Lebanese people the following day:

“The national unity government is not a victory against this majority. This country cannot rise and continue except through cooperation, consensus and solidarity.

We don’t want power. We don’t want to govern Lebanon or impose anything on the Lebanese people because we believe that Lebanon is an exceptional, diverse nation.”

After the Doha Agreement was finalized, Lebanon indeed became an exceptional nation. The toppling dominoes of the Middle East stopped at its border. The American-Israeli-Saudi plan for the country –  to effectively turn the Lebanese government over to themselves through March 14 – failed miserably. The opposition gained the important ability to veto cabinet measures; the very ones which attempted to emasculate those who ended the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon in 2000 and successfully fought them again six years later.

On May 21st, tiny Lebanon managed to defy the United States, Israel and the Arab client states by forming a national unity government representative of all parties; one in which unilateral decisions detrimental to its people will no longer come to pass. Alas, the Lebanese domino did not fall. On that day, the country stood as tall as its cedars.

RANNIE AMIRI is an independent commentator on the Arab and Islamic worlds. He may be reached at: rbamiri (at) yahoo.com.

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Rannie Amiri is an independent commentator on Middle East affairs.

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