The visit of Lebanon’s President Michel Suleiman’s to Damascus in early August has put an end to a difficult period in the troubled narrative of Syrian-Lebanese relations.
Heralding a resumption of diplomatic relations, the opening of embassies and the possible demarcation of a border between the two countries, there is now the prospect of Syria and Lebanon forging a working relationship based on mutual consent and international law.
It is an important development that offers benefits to both sides.
The ambitions of Lebanon’s March 14 movement to create a pro-Western enclave free from Syrian interference may have been frustrated, but the new political settlement at least gives all sides a say in how their country is run.
Lebanon’s prime minister will no longer have to seek the humiliating support of Damascus for any major policy. The challenge for Syria is to forge a relationship with Beirut that ensures its own regional interests are protected, without undermining Lebanon’s autonomy. This is tricky and will require Syria to forego some bad habits from the past.
There are difficulties for Beirut too. It will have to strike bargains with a host of domestic political factions to implement much-needed economic reforms.
Lebanon’s politicians may find this new settlement as tricky to manage as any from the past, but at least it gives the country’s patchwork of factions a stake in making the system work.
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