The Mix

The Lebanese Model?

The Wall Street Journal goes off-script to raise an interesting point.
It looks like the Wall Street Journal went off its talking-points today with this Op-ed by Michael Totten:
Lebanon the Model
Iraq isn't the Arab world's first democracy.
Of all the rationales for demolishing Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq, the most compelling was the Middle East's desperate need for at least one free Arab democracy to act as a model and an inspiration for oppressed and demoralized citizens in the others. So far it is not working out, despite the recent successful elections. Most talk of Iraq on the Middle Eastern street revolves around occupation, terrorism and war. Iraq is not yet a model for anything. It looms, instead, as a warning. Hardly any Arab wants his country to become another Iraq. In time that may change, but right now that's just how it is.
Lebanon, though, is an inspiration already--despite the assassinations and the car bombs that have shaken the country since February […]
Last month the Economist Intelligence Unit's Index of Political Freedom ranked Lebanon the freest Arab country, followed by Morocco. Iraq came in third. (Libya brought up the rear, below even Syria and Saudi Arabia.) Lebanon's Cedar Revolution peacefully ousted the Syrian military, which had ruled the country as a raw imperial power since the end of the civil war in 1990. Free and orderly elections promptly followed. If Iraq becomes a success in the end, it won't be the first Arab democracy. It will be the second. […]
What makes this place unique is that the Lebanese political system is nearly incapable of producing dictatorship. The three main sects in this country--Christian, Sunni, and Shiite--do not share the same political ideals and values. They do, however, share power, since every group here is a minority. By tradition, the president is always a Christian, the prime minister a Sunni, and the speaker of Parliament a Shiite. Parliament decides who fills the top three government posts, and members of Parliament are elected by the people of Lebanon. Each sect's parliamentary bloc keeps the others in check. The result is a weak state and a de facto near-libertarianism. Syria and Iraq, which also are composed of rival ethnic-religious sects, may do well under a similar system.
I had a Lebanese friend who would recoil every time she heard someone say that Israel's the only democracy in the Middle East, or that countries like Iraq have no democratic model in the neighborhood to which they can look. It's a purely ideological belief, divorced from the facts on the ground. Which is why I was so surprised to see this piece in the WSJ.

How is such an article going to reinforce the narrative that the Arab world is entirely backwards and incapable of self-determination without the West's occasional interventions? And isn't the "only democracy in the neighborhood" meme supposed to deflect criticism of Israel? There'll be angry letters written to the Dow Jones Co. today.
Joshua Holland is a staff writer at Alternet and a regular contributor to The Gadflyer.
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