As the the presidents of Syria and Lebanon meet to approve a withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon, Hezbollah calls for mass protests and warns of mayhem if Syrian troops leave. We speak with Lebanese activist Afami Kaddour about the current situation in Lebanon. [includes rush transcript]
The presidents of Syria and Lebanon are meeting today to give formal approval to a two-phase pullback of Syrian troops stationed on Lebanese territory.
The pullback was announced on Saturday by Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad after weeks of international pressure and demonstrations in Lebanon.
The first phase is expected to begin after the meeting, with troops moving east into the Bekaa Valley. Up to 5,000 of Syria’s 14,000 troops in Lebanon are deployed outside the Bekaa.
The U.S. has demanded that all the troops leave Lebanon by May, in time for elections. But Lebanon’s most powerful and only armed party–Hezbollah–called for peaceful protests on Tuesday in support of Syria and warned of mayhem if Syrian troops were to leave.
Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah told a news conference Sunday — "The aim of America and Israel is to spread chaos in Lebanon and — to find excuses for foreign intervention."
- Afamia Kaddour, an activist and researcher at the University of Beirut. She also writes for INDYMEDIA Beirut.
AMY GOODMAN: Joining us in our studio today is Afamia Kaddour. She helped make the film Leaded, Unleaded about a May 2004 military assault on a poor slum area around Beirut. We welcome you to Democracy Now!
AFAMIA KADDOUR: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you describe the situation right now in Beirut and after the killing of the former prime minister?
AFAMIA KADDOUR: Well, it’s kind of very messy the situation, because people are mobilized in the streets. People are very anxious about what’s going to happen next after the assassination and, you know, people — there are all these propaganda that the Lebanese want the Syrians out of Lebanon at this point, and we witnessed this sort of bourgeois revolution last week that — and people believe, truly, the people who went to the streets, they genuinely believe that they are letting the Syrians out. But I think the situation is more complex than that, because there are foreign interests in the country who are — who want to replace the Syrian presence, and their interference in the internal politics with either French or American interference. This very dangerous.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain what you mean? What are the sides in Lebanon right now? For and against Syria being there? Is that the way it breaks down?
AFAMIA KADDOUR: Actually, I would say that all Lebanese people want the Syrians outside the country.
AMY GOODMAN: They want them out.
AFAMIA KADDOUR: Yes. They want them out. But the difference in how things are getting revealed now to the international press is that people who don’t — who are allying with Syria at this point, they are aware that if the Syrians pull out now and under the terms of the Americans and the French and, of course, the Israelis, this means that Syria will become isolated. This means that Hezbollah, the only force that defeated the Israelis in Lebanon, will be disarmed, and this means that the sectarian system in Lebanon will be kept. This is not a fight to change the political system in Lebanon. So this in no means reflects the wills of the Lebanese people. And so, yeah, I would say the Syrians have a violent history in Lebanon. Everybody, I would say, every person in the country suffered from their presence and their interference, but what is happening is that we are treating Syria as if it is one body, as if it is — we treat the people and the state the same way. There are Syrian workers that, you know, they are very poor workers who work in very poor conditions in the country. Eleven of them got killed after the assassination of Hariri, and nobody mentioned this. There is an upsurge of fascism and racism against those people, and I think this ought to be known. I would say also that the Syrians want the troops out, because they don’t want to interfere in this way in the politics. But the positive thing about, not their presence in the country, but about their alliance with the Lebanese is that they were supporting Hezbollah, and what’s more important, actually, is that they are facing Israel. They hindered for a long time the signing of a peace treaty, according to the terms of the Israelis and the Americans. This is what’s more important.
AMY GOODMAN: How is Hezbollah seen in Lebanon?
AFAMIA KADDOUR: Hezbollah is a very well organized political party. It’s very well respected, because it has no corruption, but at the same time it is a totalitarian political party. There’s no white or black. There is no evil political party and a good political party. They have done a great job by defending the borders of Lebanon by defeating the Israelis and all of the Lebanese people, they thank them for this, they were the only power. Even our army did not interfere in all the attacks of the Israelis against Lebanon. It was always Hezbollah who was trying to defend the country.
AMY GOODMAN: Of course, Israel calls it a terrorist organization.
AFAMIA KADDOUR: Of course, but this is — it’s a guerrilla organization. It’s not a state organization. And there is a difference between terrorism of a state and terrorism of people. I would call the Israeli state or the International Defense Forces of Israel as a terrorist organization.
AMY GOODMAN: Will Hezbollah lose its power if Syrian troops pull out?
AFAMIA KADDOUR: It’s very hard to tell, because I think Hezbollah have the power to mobilize many people in the country, especially now. Because before the assassination of Hariri, the talk about the withdrawal of the Syrians was people were more for this, because it didn’t have all of these implications about the foreign interference and the replacement of their presence with other international forces. But I think at this point many people are reconsidering their positions, and yeah, I don’t know. I would be very hesitant to say that I know what will happen if the Syrian troops got out, but I think Hezbollah would resist very much, and I think they will get the support of many people inside Lebanon, even the secular people.
AMY GOODMAN: Afamia Kaddour, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Lebanese filmmaker, who did the film Leaded, Unleaded.