Lebanon’s Hidden Dangers

Daniel L. Byman
Daniel L. Byman
Daniel L. Byman Director and Professor, Security Studies Program - Georgetown University, Nonresident Senior Fellow - Foreign Policy, Center for Middle East Policy

March 1, 2005

A dark specter looms over Lebanon as the democratic momentum grows to oust Syrian forces: the risk of civil war. From 1975 to 1990, a bloody civil conflict claimed about 150,000 Lebanese lives. Many of the problems that plagued Lebanon in the past may recur in different forms or, worse yet, new forms should Syrian troops withdraw. This fear should not stop the international community from pressing Damascus to end its brutal occupation, but steps must be taken to ensure that freedom and peace remain long after Syria is gone.

Lebanon was an island of democracy in the Middle East until its civil war began in 1975. The war had many causes, including political meddling by Iraq, Syria, and other neighbors; the Israeli-Palestinian border war; a frozen political system that gave disproportionate power to the country’s Christian minority; and a weak government that could not prevent minor spats from escalating into violence. The war ended only when Syria forcibly intervened, crushing dissent and imposing a brutal peace by deploying tens of thousands of troops and intelligence agents. Many Lebanese accepted Syria’s presence as the price of stability. But today, their patience is at an end.

The good news is that most Lebanese recognize that a return to civil war would be disastrous. The bad news is…

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