[FOUNTAIN]Democracy’s lone holdout in Lebanon

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[FOUNTAIN]Democracy’s lone holdout in Lebanon

Cedar is a tree we are all familiar with from the Old Testament. King Solomon of Israel said to Hiram, the King of Tyre, in Phoenicia, “And, behold, I purpose to build a house unto the name of the lord my God...Now therefore command that they cut me cedar trees out of Lebanon.” Cedar trees were the best building material he could find. Solomon had sent 10,000 porters to transport the logs to Jerusalem and build the temple. Cedar trees came to be known as a symbol of religious authority and beauty.
In contrast to his reputation as a wise king, Solomon undertook too many construction projects. He had built all kinds of temples for his many pagan wives. He was short of money to pay for the cedar logs to Hiram that he had to hand over 20 cities near Tyre. His imprudent construction projects became the financial cause of his kingdom’s short-lived prosperity.
In contrast, Lebanon was traditionally a rich nation of merchants. Thanks to relatively sufficient rainfall and the geographical location in front of a 3,000-meter (9,000-foot) high mountains, cedar trees are native to Lebanon. The ancients had already built a city here over 6,000 years ago.
Due to its strategic location, Lebanon suffered a series of invasions and has a very complex history. The president is a Maronite Christian, the prime minister is a Sunni Muslim and the speaker of the chamber of deputies is a Shia Muslim. In the beautiful port city of Beirut, which is known as the “Pearl of Middle East,” nearly every Islamic resistance group, from Hezbollah to Hamas to Jihad, is openly operating.
As the effects of the civil war from 1975 to 1990 are still being felt, Lebanon is maintaining relative stability today. The vestige that remains from the civil war is the presence of 14,000 Syrian troops. Infuriated by the assassination of a former prime minister, the citizens of Lebanon have called for democratization and withdrawal of the troops. Syria is suspected to be the alleged mastermind of the assassination. The pro-Syrian prime minister has stepped down, and Syria’s president promised to pull troops. Lebanon has become a test case for democracy in the Middle East. Americans have already started calling it the “Cedar Revolution.” The cedar tree is a Christian symbol. Naturally, President George W. Bush is putting his heart and soul in Lebanon’s future.

by Oh Byung-sang

The writer is the JoongAng Ilbo’s London correspondent.
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