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    Younger Faces, Same Old Routine

    Ever since local authorities took over full responsibility for running the affairs of Lebanon and Syria, following the Mandate era, it’s been a rough ride.

    Lebanese-Syrian relations have had their explosive moments over many decades, irrespective of the political flavor of the regime in power, going back to the infamous abolition of the customs union back in the 1950s.

    Whether Arab nationalists or anti-Arab nationalists have been in power, the interface between state authorities in the two countries has left much to be desired.

    The latest incarnation of the bilateral relationship is being spearheaded by Syrian President Bashar Assad and Lebanese Premier Saad Hariri, and this week’s cancellation of a visit by a Lebanese delegation to the Syrian capital is yet another sign of poor performance.

    One would think the last six decades would provide enough material from which to draw lessons, and young leaders like Assad and Hariri might provide a fresh start.

    The breakdown of bilateral talks, over a supposedly bureaucratic issue of representation, indicates a sad state of affairs: for the Syrian regime, the Lebanese political system, and the peoples of both countries. When the two sides can’t get their act together to discuss bilateral issues, it means less political security, less economic opportunity, and less social stability.

    Let’s consider Syria’s reported bureaucratic excuse on its face: surprise that the list of Lebanese included a number of technicians for which the Syrians had no exact counterparts. One would think with the presence of a Syrian Embassy in Beirut, and with almost two decades of experience with the Higher Lebanese-Syrian Council as a functioning institution, officials could have better prepared the protocol groundwork for the meeting. In case Lebanese officials are unaware, the Syrian regime is a stickler for bureaucratic and administrative procedures – we might disagree with the method, but it’s not exactly news. If a visiting delegation arrived in Lebanon and officials request a meeting with our human rights minister for example, we’d be equally surprised.

    The stalemate is a worrying sign of missed opportunities. Leaving aside the global issues of regional conflict and the peace process, Syria and Lebanon can complement each other. Lebanon needs Syria’s market and its lower production and labor costs. Syria needs Lebanon’s international expertise and connections as a marketer of Syrian products and initiatives.

    Syria can certainly “bite” when it comes to Lebanon, but it doesn’t have a stomach to digest the entire, fractious country. Lebanon can certainly ignore Syria, but it does so at its own peril.

    Until both countries declare a completely new way of conducting the business of state, Lebanese should know they need to do their homework and have a cohesive, detailed plan of action when they’re headed for a meeting in Damascus.

    The Daily Star
    15.04.2010

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