Originally created 03/02/05

Winds of freedom



The resignation of Lebanon's pro-Syrian government Monday is the latest gust in what appears to be the winds of democracy blowing through the Mideast.

Consider the following comment from one of Lebanon's most prominent anti-Syrian leaders, Walid Jumblatt, as quoted in The Washington Post last week. It came as Lebanese protesters poured into the streets of Beirut following the assassination of Rafik Hariri, the hugely popular billionaire industrialist, former prime minister and critic of Syrian occupation.

"It's strange for me to say it, but this process of change has started because of the American invasion of Iraq," Jumblatt said. "I was cynical about Iraq. But when I saw the Iraqi people voting three weeks ago, 8 million of them, it was the start of a new Arab world. The Syrian people, the Egyptian people, all say that something is changing. The Berlin Wall has fallen. We can see it."

A few days after Jumblatt's remarks, Hosni Mubarak, the autocratic president who has ruled Egypt with an iron fist since 1981, announced that he would allow an open election later this year.

The Arab world's most populous country's presidential election is held every six years and only one candidate is on the ballot. With "yes" or "no" being the only choices, Mubarak regularly won at least 90 percent of the vote.

That may happen again this year, as there's more than one way to fix an election. Yet the fact that Mubarak felt he has to allow a rival on the ballot speaks volumes about the effect honest elections in Iraq, the Palestinian territories, Ukraine and Afghanistan are having on many undemocratic states.

Freedom is building up in other ways, too. Syria, whether responsible for Hariri's assassination or not, is under enormous global pressure to end its occupation of Lebanon.

To relieve the pressure, Syria, which for months denied it was harboring fugitives from Saddam Hussein's toppled regime, said it had just captured and turned over to Iraqi authorities the ex-dictator's half-brother. The timing of the capture is quite a coincidence.

Syria also says it will pull its troops back to the border from sensitive areas of Lebanon. But in light of the resignation of Damascus' puppet regime, that will not be enough.

Thousands of Lebanese protesters, emulating Ukraine's peaceful "orange revolution," want Syrian troops out altogether. But despite a U.N. resolution also demanding Syria end its occupation, the Syrian foreign minister says that won't happen. He even has the gall to say the Lebanese don't want it to happen.

Matters are coming to a head in Lebanon, but there's no doubt freedom is on the march, and anyone who says President Bush doesn't have something to do with it is in serious denial. Would freedom and democracy be generating global momentum if John Kerry or Howard Dean were president?