In Lebanon and Beyond, Sad Times for Reformers

In Lebanon and Beyond, Sad Times for Reformers

We can only begin to imagine the despair now coursing through the veins of Arab reformers as they watch the unfolding of the future New Middle East. In Beirut, killers eliminated yet another critic of Syria's strongman Bashar al-Assad, murdering Pierre Gemayel, a Christian cabinet member and a fierce critic of Syrian interference in Lebanon. Gemayel died in a hail of bullets just as the United States prepares to abandon the collapsing experiment to bring democracy to the Middle East, aiming to replace it with a return to the old-style "realpolitik" of making friends with distasteful characters, regardless of what they do when not shaking hands with American diplomats.

It seems one of the biggest beneficiaries of the shift could be none other than Assad, the Syrian president, despised not only by reformers in his own country, but also hated by most Lebanese outside Hezbollah. Assad, of course, is also the man many believe responsible for the murder of Gemayel and several other prominent pro-Western, pro-democracy Lebanese.

Reformist Arabs who have risked their lives to bring a version of liberal democracy, or at least a little more freedom, to the Middle East experienced a brief interlude of optimism before the Iraq war began looking like a catastrophe. Many of the region's despots, kings and presidents-for-life tentatively loosened their grip back then. Activists breathed a little easier, spoke a little more freely, and posted their ideas online, hoping they might survive the experiment.

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