Tuesday 24 Nov 2020 | 17:22 | SYDNEY
Tuesday 24 Nov 2020 | 17:22 | SYDNEY

Middle East in 2010 (part 4)


Rodger Shanahan


3 February 2010 08:57

Part one here; part two here; part three here.

And finally, to the Levant. Hopes were high following the pro-West coalition's 'victory' in the June 2009 elections that Lebanon would stay in the Western camp and cease to be hostage to external actors, but most realistic observers of Lebanon understand that elections are one thing and influence another.

On that score, the departure of Druze leader Walid Jumblatt from the coalition in August and the inability to form a 'national unity' government under Sa'ad Hariri until November (as portfolio distribution was incessantly debated) showed how little Lebanon was in control of its destiny. As if to confirm that Syria was a main player in Lebanon again, Sa'ad Hariri visited Damascus in December. But despite the political infighting and shaky security, Beirut is still Beirut and so Lebanon enjoyed its most successful tourism season ever in 2009.
While the new year began with the normal sabre-rattling involving Hizbullah, this year international conflict involving Lebanon may take place not on its border with Israel, but in New York as it takes up its place for the next two years as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council. With votes likely this year on sanctions against Iran and the Hariri tribunal, there are fears that Lebanon's voting patterns may favour Syria and Iran, and place it in conflict with many of the Government's Western aid donors.  
Over the mountains, things are looking up for Syria in 2010. It is being wooed heavily to distance itself from Iran, it has enjoyed increased influence in Lebanon, a reciprocal visit from Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, and the US announcement of its first ambassador to Damascus for nearly five years. Not bad for doing nothing.

Economically, increased growth is forecast for 2010 and economic liberalisation policies are now beginning to bite. To top it all off, the New York Times has just voted Damascus no.7 of the 31 hot places to travel to in 2010. Before you know it, the Old City is going to be overrun with men in white runners, socks, belted short pants and fanny packs (aka. 'bum bags').

I can at least report one positive development in the Levant in 2010 that has already occurred. I would like to think that my three-part critique of the limited role of women in Arab politics had a hand in it, and although I know The Interpreter is widely read, I don't think it has that much influence in the salons of Damascus or the fancy restaurants of Beirut.

Regardless, on 18 January Syria appointed its first female economy and trade minister, Lamia Assi (former ambassador to Malaysia), while in neighbouring Lebanon the Cabinet set a 20% quota for women in the next municipal elections.

Photo by Flickr user spdl_n1, used under a Creative Commons license.