Victory in Lebanon

Congratulations to Saad Rafiri on his victory in Lebanon's election. There is now a clear anti-Syrian majority in Lebanon's parliament. It is far from clear if Rafiri - a businessman who inherited his father's mantle as leading reformer - will actually carry through any economic or political reforms. But there is now a clear process of change underway in Lebanon.

The riots that led to Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon have had knock-on effects in Syria, too. Bashir Assad - another youngish man brought to power by his father's death - has pushed aside several more of his father's old-guard, and is asserting his own control of the armed forces and the spy network. So far his attempts at reform have been tentative, but there are signs that he understands his ba'ath party needs to adapt or die.

So far, since the liberation of Iraq:

1. Libya has disavowed its nuclear weapons programme.
2. Saudi Arabia has allowed pluralist local elections.
3. Kuwait - already pluralist - has agreed to extend the franchise to women.
4. Egypt has agreed that the next presidential election will have more than one candidate.
5. The collaberationist government of Lebanon has been swept from power.
6. Syria has begun a process of opening up.
7. The Palestinian Authority has held reasonably open and democratic elections.
8. Iraq has held multi-party elections and has a new government with broad support.

Of course, there are many Arab countries which have not even begun to reform, though I know of none which are actively getting worse. Equally, some of the above listed changes may have happened anyway. The Palestinian election was triggered by Yasser Arafat's death and Bashir Assad had made a few feeble attempts at reform before. But at least six of the points on my list of 8 would not have happened if Saddam was still in power.

Change is happening, and it is gathering pace with most of the good news coming in the last six months. I once predicted that within 20 years half the Arab world would be democratic. It may come faster than that.

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