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Turkey can help Lebanon into a new ‘long peace’ 10 août 2006

Posted by Acturca in History / Histoire, Middle East / Moyen Orient, Turkey / Turquie.
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The Daily Star (Lebanon), Thursday, August 10, 2006

By Chibli Mallat * 

The United Nations Security Council draft resolution on Lebanon currently being negotiated in New York mentions the deployment of an international force, to be included in a follow-up resolution. Once the resolution is passed, and presuming it will avoid a widening of the conflict, the composition of the force, its area of deployment, and its mandate will be the next pressing item on the international agenda. We Lebanese must have a say in the shaping of this force. 

France has offered to be part of this force, despite the trauma of the Drakkar bombing in 1983, in which dozens of peacekeepers were killed, as has Malaysia. A strong Turkish contingent is also envisaged. Lebanon should strongly support Turkish participation, not only because both Syria and Israel would, thus, take the force seriously, but also because its presence would better tie Lebanon in  to Euro-Mediterranean concerns. 

Turkey has had a historically contrapuntal relationship with Lebanon. Going some 150 years back, a « long peace » was imposed on the country (to borrow from the title of historian Engin Akarli’s excellent book on the Mutasarrifiyya period between 1865 and 1917), thanks to an agreement between the European powers and the Ottoman Empire. This ended Lebanon’s succession of civil and regional wars between 1840 and 1865. 

The similarities are daunting: Lebanon’s cycle of wars started in the wake of an occupation by Egyptian troops under Ibrahim Pasha, not unlike Syria’s « brotherly » three-decade hegemony over Lebanon, which ended in 2005 thanks to the « Cedar Revolution. » Foreign intervention, originating in a combination of European imperialism and humanitarianism, came on the back of sectarian strife where the Lebanese engaged in a spate of nationalist rebellions and ethnic cleansings. However, some things, hopefully, are different today, including the yearning for democracy across the region and the fact that Europe is no longer imperialist. 

Can Turkish leadership on the ground, as part of a UN, European Union or NATO arrangement, provide another long peace for Lebanon? From Turkey’s perspective, other calculations need to be made. It’s only legitimate that a country that succeeded in avoiding the trauma of World War II, and most of the difficulties associated with the invasion of Iraq in 2003, would be reluctant to sacrifice its young men to help the Lebanese get back on their feet. Turks will have to decide, and it will not be easy Certainly, one thing was all too apparent in Turkey’s behavior during the 20th century: The country largely turned its back on the Middle East, while the Middle East continued to solicit Turkey’s return, whether to deal with the Kurdish problem, Iraq, or the impact of Islamism on Turkish politics. Getting involved in Lebanon would draw a historical line for Turkey of unprecedented magnitude, and make it squarely a Middle Eastern power. 

If Turkey chooses to do so, its participation is preferable as part of a European rather than chiefly a NATO or UN force. That’s not only because of the sensitivities in the Arab world relating to NATO, or because of the failure of UN forces since they were stationed in the South after 1978; it is first and foremost a call to look to the future, to build up the famous continental bridge that the Turks have always projected as part and parcel of their destiny. Lebanon also thinks of itself as a bridge between East and West, and between the worlds of Islam and Christianity. The Turkish bridge is very different, though, and in the present context far more momentous, since the Turkish-Muslim democratic experiment is maturing into a model for the entire Muslim world.

Successful Turkish participation in a Lebanon force, alongside France, would also help remove European obstacles to accelerating Turkish membership in the EU. It could also help force a different, European logic on managing the Arab-Israeli conflict, one that focuses on citizens as the first building blocks of any regional construct. So, from Lebanon at war, this is an appeal for a robust Turkish contingent to contribute to bringing about a new long peace that we all can benefit from.

* Chibli Mallat, a Lebanese presidential candidate, is EU Jean Monnet professor of law at Saint Joseph’s University in Beirut. He wrote this commentary for The Daily Star and the Turkish daily Sabah.


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