Greater Middle East
Amidst ongoing pro- and anti-Syria protests in Lebanon, Damascus is beginning to call home some units stationed in the country—starting with the intelligence agents in Beirut and Bekaa Valley.
Following days of protests by predominantly Christians and Druze for Syria to pull out of Lebanon (their demands backed by the US and Israel), thousands of mostly Shi'ite demonstrators led by Hezbollah rallied in Beirut March 8 in support of Syria. The pro-Syria rally dwarfed those of the anti-Syria opposition. The following day, Parliament voted to return to power pro-Syrian Prime Minister Omar Karami, who had resigned a week earlier in response to protests.
A friend writes, translating from the Feb. 27 edition of the Turkish journal Aksam:
Thomas Friedman in his March 3 New York Times column, "Brave, Young and Muslim," hails restive and modern-minded reformers in the Islamic world, and especially singles out Irshad Manji, Canadian Muslim feminist author of The Trouble with Islam Today.
Lebanon's Prime Minister Omar Karami has resigned follwing a wave of angry protests in Beirut. "I declare the resignation of the government that I had the honour to head. May God preserve Lebanon," Karami said. Lahoud was a close ally of Syria, and often at odds with martyred former prime minister Rafik Hariri. President Emile Lahoud must now appoint a new prime minister, but his days may be numbered as well; "Lahoud, your turn is coming!" is a popular protest chant. France and the US alike are calling for the removal of Syria's 15,000 troops from Lebanon.
"Peak oil" theorists will be vindicated by a Feb. 20 report on al-Jazeera that Saudi Arabia, the world's top oil producer, has past its peak of production and may have in fact damaged its own extractable reserves through over-production. Writes al-Jazeera:
As oil stubbornly refuses to fall below $45 a barrel, a major market mover has cast a worrying future prediction.
With Lebanon possibly next in the US crosshairs following the Valentine's Day car-bomb assassination of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri, the Hezbollah militia movement marked the Shi'ite holy day of Ashura with a massive rally in Beirut. Amid requisite chants of "Death to Israel, death to America," Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah told hundreds of thousands of followers, "Resistance is the choice of our nation and the enemy cannot disparage us." He called the White House "an enemy to this nation because it supports Israel with money and weapons, because it wants to humiliate our people," and described the US government as the "biggest thief of our oil and resources, while hundreds of millions [in the region] remain unemployed." In a statement clearly directed Bush, he added: "Those who try to put us on the terrorism lists will fail again, for our being on the terrorism lists will make us more determined in continuing our path." (UPI, Feb. 19)
The US has called home its ambassador to Syria in protest of Damascus' supposed links to the Hariri assassination before the facts are even in. In response, Syria and Iran—traditional rivals, but both fearing they could be next for US aggression—have forged a "united front," said media reports today. "We are ready to help Syria on all grounds to confront threats," Iranian Vice-President Mohammad Reza Aref said after meeting Syrian PM Naji al-Otari. Denying any links to the killing, Syrian cabinet minister Buthaina Shaaban said: "To point to Syria in a terrorist act that aims at destabilising both Syria and Lebanon is truly like blaming the US for 9-11." Throwing down the guantlet in unsubtle terms, US Assistant Secretary of State William Burns, visiting Beirut for Hariri's funeral today, called for a "complete and immediate withdrawal" of Syria's 14,000 troops stationed in Lebanon. (BBC, Feb. 16)