‘Opposition deal with regime frustrating’

BEIRUT — Two months after a one-million-strong march against Syria’s domination, many Lebanese feel cheated by opposition politicians who compromised with Damascus and failed one of their leaders — slain journalist Samir Kassir.
“Leave us alone. None of you could protect him,” cried Gisele Khoury, during the funeral of her husband who was blown up in his car last week.

Kassir was an active member of the opposition which led the popular upheaval against Syria’s domination, triggered by the February 14 assassination of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri.

“Samir Kassir was killed because the popular upheaval was killed, our hope for change was killed and he was the one incarnating it” said Christine, a 22-year-old student.

“The opposition sought to exploit the achievements of the upheaval, so it brokered a deal in Paris in mid-April, which allowed the Lebanese-Syrian police regime to buy time,” said prominent opposition figure Elias Atallah.

Saad Hariri — the son of the slain premier — and Walid Jumblatt, leading Lebanon’s Druze minority, reached a compromise with French President Jacques Chirac and Saudi de facto leader Crown Prince Abdullah Ben Abdel Aziz to enable Lebanon’s general elections to start in May.

The two agreed to allow close aides to serve as ministers of justice and interior affairs within a pro-Syrian government.

Atallah said the compromise was reached because of the opposition’s unease over the massive anti-Syrian demonstrations of recent months, which it feared it would not able to control.

The protests, gathering more than a million people at their height, brought to the fore a new generation of Lebanese, critical of the country’s old guard politicians, among them pro-Syrian elements. “The Lebanese during their uprising went too far, as they put in question all police regimes in the Arab world which risked to reflect badly on Syria,” said Atallah. The protests, along with intense international pressures inspired by the United States and France, brought down Lebanon’s pro-Syrian government, ousted Damascus security chiefs and forced Syria in April to end its 29-year military presence.

But political haggling for general elections, the first round of which was held on May 29, further shattered the once close ranks of the opposition.

Hariri and Jumblatt fell out with General Michel Aoun, who returned home after 15 years in exile after losing his “war of liberation” against the Syrians. They are now fierce opponents in the elections which continue on the next two Sundays.

The opposition is also divided over the timing of action to try to oust Lebanon’s Damascus protege, President Emile Lahoud.

One young Lebanese woman who participated in the anti-Syrian rallies criticised Washington for what she called its failure to let calm return to her country before pushing for elections to be held.

“The West, led by Washington, first backed the `Cedar Revolution’ but then only cared about holding elections on time, despite the fact that conditions did not favour change, and so we were left alone with the killers of a police regime,” complained Sarah.

Fifteen years after the end of the country’s long civil war, Sarah, who spoke on condition that her family name was not used, said she was particularly shocked by the return of bomb attacks, which killed Hariri and Kassir and dozens of others.

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