Enough is enough

March 07, 2005

IN ARABIC, kifaya means enough. Thousands of Lebanese protesters have taken to the streets to say they've had enough of Syria's 29-year presence in their country. It has been a remarkable show of strength by democracy reformers, and it has led the United States, France, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Russia - Damascus' key ally - to demand an immediate withdrawal of Syrian troops. But it wasn't enough to force Syrian President Bashar Assad to comply.

His announcement this weekend that Syria will simply relocate troops to eastern Lebanon and the border region puts the onus on Lebanese reformers to stay strong and continue their civil protests until the May elections. The international community must wage its own campaign if Lebanese democracy is to have a chance to truly flourish.

Mr. Assad's decision, although objectionable, should not have been a surprise. The redeployment allows him to save face at home and retain some control in Lebanon. After all, it would take no more than an hour or so for Syrian troops to descend on Beirut from their new posts. And Mr. Assad made no mention of withdrawing Syrian security agents, who operate throughout Lebanon.

But a U.N. resolution demanding the end of the Syrian occupation provides the United States and other foreign powers with another way to exert additional pressure on Mr. Assad. Sanctions are an option that could hurt Damascus, especially if Syria's main trading partners in Europe supported them.

International support of the Lebanese opposition movement has been impressive since former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was assassinated Feb. 14 in Beirut, the trigger for the two-week-long public protests. Although Syrian officials have denied any involvement, Mr. Hariri's murder galvanized political groups opposed to the Syrian-backed Lebanese government and caused its downfall.

The opposition groups, which organized the protests under the Lebanese flag, have to maintain the pressure on their occupiers without succumbing to the historic ethnic and religious loyalties that helped fuel the 15-year civil war. They must push the Syrian-backed President Emile Lahoud to select a reformer as interim prime minister and organize their supporters to turn out for the May elections. Mr. Assad claims that he will discuss a full troop removal with the next Lebanese government.

The United States, France, Saudi Arabia and Egypt should insist on election monitors at the very least for the May elections to ensure that they are free and fair. The elections will determine if Lebanese democracy has a true chance to flourish or is battered by Syria's heavy hand.

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