The “Syrian order” in Lebanon (1975-2005): Lebanon as a Syrian satellite during the Hafez Assad régime and the weakening of Syria’s hegemony under Bashar Assad

The assassination of Rafik Hariri, the Lebanese Prime Minister who refused to toe the Syrian line, and the dramatic events following it placed the 30-year old Syrian intervention in Lebanon back on the Lebanese, Arab and international agendas. This article will both analyze Syrian interests in Lebanon and examine the main stages of Syria’s assumption of control of it, from the beginning of the civil war to the régime of Bashar Assad. It will also examine the weakening of that control, culminating in Hariri’s assassination, mass demonstrations of opponents of the “Syrian order” and its Hezbollah-led supporters. The combined pressure exerted by the international (even Arab) community and internal Lebanese elements led to the withdrawal of Syrian forces from Beirut and north Lebanon, currently (April 2005) underway. All are harbingers of the end of the Taif régime (1989 to the present) and the beginning of a new era for Lebanon and Syrian intervention. Damascus’ dominance can be expected to decrease and be less visible than in the past while Lebanese power bases – Syrian supporters and opponents – will enjoy greater freedom of action. Those two factors wording together are liable to make Lebanon once again an arena for clashes between Lebanese, Middle Eastern and international forces, and a focus of regional unrest and instability which may spill into Syria per se as well.