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The Shape of a New Lebanon

The "Cedar Revolution" in Lebanon isn't a revolution yet. Indeed, the Bush vision of freedom easily unfurling across the Middle East will take more than simply a few weeks of people-power protests.

Much work remains. Despite the pressure to withdraw from Lebanon, Syria has only moved its troops away from the capital, where a puppet president is trying to retain Syrian influence. Syrian spies could still easily spark feuds between Lebanon's factions.

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In fact, on Tuesday, Syria helped its client, the radical Shiite group Hizbullah, stage a pro-Syrian demonstration in Beirut that dwarfed the earlier anti-Syrian protests. Most of the demonstrators were Shiites, Lebanon's largest minority, but many were actually Syrians.

Indeed, the protest only revealed what's wrong with Syria's awkward grip on Lebanon.

For one, even as Hizbullah leaders were warning of foreign interference in Lebanon in the protest, they were hailing the Syrian leader and the role of Syrian troops. That kind of hooey can't fool people too long.

And symbols revealed much. Instead of brandishing the militant group's yellow flag, Hizbullah leaders handed out the Lebanese flag - which has become the emblem of the opposition to Syria.

Hizbullah knows Syria will eventually need to leave. The Feb. 14 killing of Lebanon's most popular politician, which is blamed on Syria, has permanently altered Lebanon's political landscape. With elections slated for May, Hizbullah must start positioning itself for a power struggle with other Lebanese factions to win more seats in parliament and perhaps prepare for a decline in support from Syria (and Iran). It must also prepare to be disarmed, something the UN demands.

A democracy free of Syrian influence may then begin to take root in Lebanon.

Hizbullah might also recognize that, if the 1 million Syrians working in Lebanon leave, that provides a million more jobs for the Lebanese - especially the poorest, the Shiites.

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Like Hizbullah, Syria also worries that a free Lebanon might seek a peace treaty with Israel. That would reduce the leverage Syria has - through Hizbullah attacks on Israel - to negotiate its own treaty. The Israeli factor in Lebanon's future must be handled carefully by both Israel and the US.

If a free democracy does emerge in Lebanon, it would, as Mr. Bush stated Tuesday, then ring on "the doors of every Arab regime."


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