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Dispatches From a Small Planet: Lebanon/Syria, April 2005

FRONTLINE/World dispatches: Lebanon/Syria

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May 10, 2005
Syria: Measuring the Mood in Damascus

May 3, 2005
Sunday at the Castle With Walid

April 26, 2005
Border Town: Stopping the Insurgents

April 22, 2005
Part 1: At Home in the Garden of Eden
Part 2: The Warning

April 12, 2005
Notes from the Road to Damascus

Quick Facts
Lebanon - Muslims and Christians share political power in Lebanon, according to a system called "confessional democracy."
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Syria - Bashar al-Assad, Syria's president, was elected in a referendum in which he was the only candidate.
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"Party of God," an examination of the role of Hezbollah in Lebanon.

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Dispatch 2

April 22, 2005

Part 1: At Home in the Garden of Eden
Watch an excerpt from FRONTLINE/World reporter Kate Seelye's personal documentary about growing up and working in the Middle East.
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Part 2: The Warning, by Stephen Talbot
Read the second installment in our series of dispatches from the road. This week FRONTLINE/World's series editor Stephen Talbot reports from Beirut where he talks with a survivor of a car bombing who remains hopeful about his country's chances for a democratic future.
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PART 1: At Home in the Garden of EdenSeelye interviewing at a demonstration, People burning the American flag, Camels in the desert

Watch Video
"These days, I encounter a level of hostility that previous family members never faced. I find myself grappling with the question of how the situation reached this point. Why has America become so hated?"  

–Kate Seelye, FRONTLINE/World reporter

At Home in the Garden of Eden is Kate Seelye's personal documentary about her connections to the Middle East. Using her family's long ties to the region and her position as a correspondent for National Public Radio in Beirut, she examines how and why Arab-U.S. relations have reached such a low point in their history. In this special FRONTLINE/World video preview, Seelye, who also speaks Arabic, shares old family footage and photos of growing up in Syria and Saudi Arabia; she interviews family friends about the halcyon days of US-Arab relations, when the Arab world not only appreciated America but was eager to adopt its values; and she discusses the challenges of reporting in the Middle East today.

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PART 2: The Warning
by Stephen Talbot


Marwan Hamade, a former official in the Lebanese government who was severely injured in a car bomb attack.
Marwan Hamade likes the view of the Mediterranean from his high-rise, seaside apartment in Beirut. But now when he looks out his window, he also sees the spot, just below, where a car bombing nearly took his life.

On October 1, 2004, moments after Hamade and his bodyguard drove away from his home, a bomb rocked his car. His driver was killed instantly. "He turned to ashes," is how Hamade puts it.

The explosion left Hamade, a former government minister and member of parliament, burned and battered. He had broken ribs, head injuries, and nearly lost an eye. What saved him, he believes, is the fact the car hit a wall and didn't turn over. "I did not lose consciousness," he recalls. "I was in flames, but I managed to get out of the car."

After six surgeries in six months, Hamade is recovering, though he still walks with a cane. When Kate and I and our cameraman Vatche Boulghourjian went to interview him, we interrupted his physical therapy. Wearing an Arab caftan over his sweat pants, he ushered us into his living room and began to tell his story.

The mess left from the bombing

The bomb that killed former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri also killed 20 others who were in his motorcade or on the street. (photo: Ramzi Haidar/AFP/Getty Images)
Hamade is part of the Lebanese opposition, a sophisticated, cosmopolitan politician closely allied with Druze leader Walid Jumblatt. The car bombing that almost killed him was a political message, he said, a warning to Jumblatt and former prime minister Rafiq Hariri that they would be next if they continued to oppose Syria's man in Lebanon, President Emile Lahoud, and to demand the withdrawal of Syrian troops from the country. On Valentine's Day, February 14, Hariri himself was assassinated in broad daylight in an enormous car bomb explosion that also took the lives of 2O others outside the St. George Hotel on Beirut's fashionable waterfront. It was a political murder that galvanized the opposition and sparked Lebanon's nonviolent revolution.

Hamade says he suffered no post-traumatic stress from his own car bombing, but that Hariri's death shattered him emotionally. "I will not recover from Hariri's assassination," he says.

On a table I notice a black and white photo of a younger Hamade, smiling, tipping a stylish hat, looking like a French New Wave actor or Frank Sinatra in the late Fifties. The man in front of our camera is older, ashen-faced, weary, but his spirit is clearly undiminished. "I was quieter, more diplomatic before," he says, "but after Hariri's death, I am more blunt and I am more determined than ever."

Hamade and Kate

Marwan Hamade speaks with FRONTLINE/World reporter Kate Seelye about his friendship with Rafiq Hariri.
When Kate asks him who he thinks is responsible for Hariri's murder and his own near death, he answers firmly and immediately: the Syrian and Lebanese intelligence services. Or as he told a massive pro-democracy rally at Martyrs' Square in downtown Beirut, "You want the truth about the assassination? It's lying in the dark chambers of the intelligence services that are ruling us and that you are in the process of sweeping out."

Hamade became a target after he resigned from the Lebanese government last September in protest against Syria's heavy-handed pressure to extend Lahoud's presidential term beyond its constitutional limit. Hamade describes a kind of Syrian-Lebanese political "mafia" that regarded Lebanon as a cash cow and saw Hariri as a threat to their political and financial control. "Lebanon had become a police state," he says.

As to who ordered and carried out the Hariri assassination, Hamade says, "I rely on the United Nations commission to find out [exactly] who and how, but I know why."

Hamade was impressed by the man the UN dispatched to Lebanon to write an initial report on the Hariri killing, Peter Fitzgerald, who castigated Syria for causing a political crises in Lebanon and blamed the Lebanese government for gross negligence in failing to protect Hariri. "Fitzgerald was a real Irish cop," Hamade says admiringly. "Like the one in that movie, A Quiet Man." Hamade knows it will require a tenacious UN investigative team, backed by international pressure and the ongoing reform movement in Lebanon, to unearth the truth of the Hariri assassination. For Lebanon, Hariri's murder is the same as the Kennedy assassination, Hamade tells us, and whether the truth is uncovered - or covered up -- will determine the fate of the nation.

There are two prominent photographs in Hamade's living room that bracket Lebanon's violent modern history. One is of Hamade with Hariri just an hour before his death. The other shows Hamade comforting Walid Jumblatt shortly after Walid's father, Kamal, was assassinated in 1977 -- a murder they also attribute to the Syrians.

"They [the Syrians] came into Lebanon on the body of [Kamal] Jumblatt, they are leaving on the body of Hariri," Hamade declares.

800,000 people crowd Martyr's Square

In Beirut's Martyrs' Square, where Hariri is buried, an estimated 800,000 people gathered to protest nearly three decades of Syrian military and political domination of Lebanon. (photo: Haitham Mussawi/AFP/Getty Images)
Hamade recalls that his friends Hariri and Walid Jumblatt "discussed in my presence who was going to be next." Jumblatt took precautions, according to Hamade, perhaps because of what had happened to his father. But Hariri thought his wealth, his popularity, and his longstanding relationships with the Syrians would protect him. Hamade recalls a dramatic account of Hariri as prime minister being summoned to Damascus last fall and commanded by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to support a parliamentary move to extend Lahoud's presidential term, threatening to "break the country over your head" if Hariri did not comply. A shaken Hariri returned to Lebanon, voted for the extension, then resigned from office, and began to prepare for elections to oust the Syrian-dominated regime.

Before those elections could be held, Hariri was killed. The departing defense minister, Abdelrahim Mrad, told us last week that "a matter of a two to three month delay would be fine." A few days after we spoke with Mrad, President Lahoud appointed pro-Syrian businessman, Najib Mikati, as the new Lebanese prime minister. Despite strong ties to President Bashar al-Assad, Mikati won enough support from Lebanon's opposition movement during negotiations to secure the post, edging out Mrad for the position, and making elections in late-May early June more likely.

When we catch up with Marwan Hamade again, he is leading a peace march commemorating the start, 30 years ago, of Lebanon's infamous civil war, which resulted in some 3,500 car bombs, more than 100,000 deaths, and close to a million displaced people. Under the hot midday sun, Hamade walks alongside another member of parliament, Bahia Hariri, the late prime minister's sister, who has become a symbol of the opposition.

Standing in front of a poster of his martyred friend, Hamade reads a letter of support from former Czech president Vaclav Havel, calling for a "path of freedom and independence, complete withdrawal of occupying troops, and renewal of the democratic system in Lebanon." The Velvet Revolution worked in Prague, Hamade hopes a Cedar Revolution can happen here.

But the hard part, he tells us, is still ahead. We must have elections, without delay.

Watch full coverage of Kate Seelye's reports on recent events in Lebanon and Syria in the May 17 broadcast of FRONTLINE/World. (Check local listings.)
For more history on the complex relationship between Lebanon and Syria, and the role religion has played in political life, read two additional reports from correspondent Kate Seelye.
Lebanon's History of Occupation - In one form or another, Syria has exerted its influence over Lebanon for nearly a century.
Lebanon's Religious Mix - Hariri's assassination has united some sects and divided others.

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